I am a sucker for shiny things. That’s the first thing any of my friends will tell you about me. Whether it be new people, new books, new things to do — if it’s pretty or cool, I’m into it. And that goes for movies, too. If it’s aesthetically pleasing, if it’s fantastical, if it’s visually stimulating, I’m there for it. So when I saw the trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, it fit all those things.
Based on a graphic novel (and I’m a nerd, so I was there for that).
Basically everything I’d want in a film.
(Just so you know, I’m going to ruin this movie for you, but you can thank me later and Venmo me the $5 you would have spent at the matinee.)
I do not know who greenlighted the script, the casting, or the cameo of Rihanna as a shape-shifting alien burlesque dancer with a taste for Shakespeare (yes, that actually happened), but I can say, without a doubt, that I have never asked, “Good God, is it over yet?” in a theater as much as I did toward the last 45 minutes of this film.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is gorgeous. When it comes incredible and varied animated environments, gorgeous androgynous alien characters, and exciting space chase scenes, it’s quite the sight. But that’s where the sensation ends. As far as the writing, character development, or anything else that makes someone want to stay in their seat during a film: no, there’s nothing. I think the filmmakers spent all their money on production and animation in an attempt to distract the audience from the fact that there was zero substance.
Yet to me, these kinds of movies always get the most attention, the most press, the most notoriety, while smaller films and indie filmmakers have to fight and crowdfund to create a low-budget but lovely film. And we rarely hear about them. We rarely see them.
Now, as a self-proclaimed mystic and someone who doesn’t separate anything in my life, be it matters of cinema or matters of the spirit, I was mulling over how to write about this, and I drew some pretty parallel comparisons between life as a Christian in America and this film.
You ever been to a church service that was pretty, and that’s about it?
Pretty people, pretty good music, pretty good pastor, and pretty decent coffee, but lacking any actual depth?
I look around my own city of Atlanta, and I see that far too often. Beautiful churches, but boring. I feel like we throw money at creating these environments to elicit a certain feeling from people. However, when it comes to creating art — when it comes to communing with the Divine and engaging with new thoughts and ideas and stories — we aren’t really challenged.
Because maybe we don’t want that. We want pretty or feel-good. We only want a veneer of depth, not actual depth. We throw around words like community, relationship, authentic, and, yes, Jesus an†d expect everyone to just be like, “Wow, that was great.”
In other words, we throw money at one aspect of church hoping to distract people from the lack of substance. And it’s working, mostly. These churches have the bigger budgets because they have more people coming and donating to them.
But while they soak up attention, smaller churches work quietly on the streets of their cities to create something meaningful. And these churches could do more if they could get a little extra coin.
How much could we do if we weren’t spending millions (and yes, there are churches spending millions) of dollars on production but rather on meeting the needs of the community? What if we weren’t so concerned with eliciting a feeling but instead with showing people how to engage with their world, with each other, and with themselves?
I’m over pretty. I’m over the beautiful but boring.
And I don’t have an answer, just the question: what if? What if we cared more about others than ourselves? What if we cared more about substance than aesthetics? What if we gave to things that are actually making a difference in people’s lives?
What if I didn’t spend $5 at a matinee to see Valerian?
Dunno. But I imagine it would have been better than this film’s attempt to distract me from what I could have done, had I been given the space to really engage with something meaningful.