Valerian and Terminator 2: Has Sci-Fi Had Its Hay Day?

Recently science fiction films have not been living up to the audience’s, or critics, expectations. It seems that they are following a successful formula, but consistently there is a crucial element missing. Terminator 2 is arguably one of the most successful science fiction movies to date and the industry is still attempting to mimic the qualities of this blockbuster hit. However, it never seems to quite work out as demonstrated through the disappointing response to Valerian and The City Of A 1000 Planets, which was released June 21 2017. With an award winning director, an incredible budget and a superstar cast the movie seemed to have all the ingredients for a cinematic masterpiece and yet it can’t even hold a candle to Terminator 2. Why was T2 so successful, while Valerian flopped?

When Terminator 2 was released in 1991 it boasted incredible graphics for the time, that had previously never been seen on the big screen. The visual effects reportedly cost $5 million and a team of 35 people working for ten months. After all of this time and expense the CGI sequences only total five minutes of the movie’s total running time. It was experimental and a financial gamble to put such a large investment into a relatively small amount of the movie. However, the ambitious imagery paid off. The expenses were clearly well spent as the audience was awed by the then-revolutionary graphics of the futuristic robots. It helped to put Terminator 2 in numerous publications as one of the best science fiction movies of all time.

Terminator 2


The technological aspects of the film were inspirational. It paved the way for future films, such as 1993’s Jurassic Park, which was hailed for its impressive dinosaur recreation with computer imagery (CGI). Terminator 2 stretched beyond this and served as a source of inspiration in other fields ranging from gaming to printing technology. In 2015 a new printer was revealed that manipulates light and oxygen in order to create 3D objects from liquid resin and the creators revealed that they were inspired by a scene from Terminator 2 in which a robot rises out from liquid metal.

The character has also starred in a series of video games based on the films and more recently has cracked the online gaming industry through themed slot machines on QueenVegas, which can be played in conjunction with a bonus of 150% up to £100 and 40 free spins. There are also a collection of toys and references throughout popular culture. The Terminator characters have even made frequent appearances on The Simpsons over the years and elements of the films have been parodied in numerous seasons.

CGI effects are now standard in this industry and most movies have an element of computerised graphics in them. While some movies seem to overload on the post-production effects, Terminator has stood the test of time through balancing these graphics with excellent and controlled storytelling, which captured the audience’s heart. One of the most memorable moments of the film, if not in movie history, is the iconic thumbs up from the Terminator as he is lowered into the flames. It further suggests a human element to the Terminator, makes his self-sacrifice all the more emotionally resonant and tugs at the heart strings of the viewer. It is an expertly crafted scene, made complete with the soundtrack and deserves its place in movie history:

The movie explores complex concepts such as human emotion and the relationship between man and machine. As robots are becoming more advanced and capable this remains topical over twenty years later. Moreover, critics claimed that the film was ‘the opposite of the terminator character, it’s a machine with a human heart’. In other words, the film did not get swallowed by the Hollywood action that is so commonplace in sci-fi movies today. Yes, the action scenes are expertly created, but there is also an emotional element to the movie that is equally valued.

This is where the latest sci-fi epic, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, has faltered. The film has not fared well commercially or critically, with both audiences complaining about muddled storytelling and a structure that is generally difficult to follow. Whereas each scene in the Terminator seems to complement and lead to one another, Luc Besson’s latest venture is too packed with action and CGI to be able to hold a good narrative. This is despite the rumoured $200 million budget, almost double Terminator 2’s, which also makes it the most expensive French film ever made. Science fiction clearly cannot rely upon graphics alone. Typically these narratives are set in far-off planets with strange alien creatures and/or lots of complex futuristic technology and it is such a stretch of the human imagination that good storytelling is imperative to keep the audience on board. The film cannot be faulted on its stunning graphics, impeccable effects and imaginative worlds, but if anything there is too much of it and everything else has been lost in what has been described as a “3D fairground ride” by The Independent.

A successful story also relies heavily on thoughtful casting to ensure it is delivered in such a way that brings the narrative to life. This is where Besson has been heavily critiqued because the all-star cast of his new film lack any on-screen chemistry and as such they are not believable in their roles. Moreover, some characters, namely Bubble, appear to feature for little reason other than to boast about their hiring of that particular star, which in this case is Rihanna. Her performance in the movie was stunning although it contributed little to the plot and the audience was confused about her inclusion altogether. A lot of the movie’s marketing was based around the cast, as evidenced by articles titled “See Rihanna and Cara Delevingne in the Valerian and The City of 1000 Planets Trailer”.

Terminator 2

“Rihanna, Cara Delevingne Turn ‘Valerian’ Red Carpet Into Couture Runway” byNaveed jawaid ()

Dane DeHaan in particular is considered a peculiar choice for the lead role of a smarmy and womanising male. He has been dubbed the poster boy of indie films, but his personality and physical appearance does not lend himself to the role he has been given in Valerian. Therefore it seems he has been selected based on his name and previous experience rather than suitability. His co-star, international supermodel Cara DeLevingne, has received similar critiques with some stating that she relies upon her famous facial expressions and her performance is simply not believable. The two, unfortunately, have been dubbed the worst on-screen couple in history and their dialogue is forced and cringe worthy in both speech and delivery.

Comparatively, Arnold Schwarzenegger was praised for his performance in Terminator 2, winning the MTV award for best male actor and catapulting him into mainstream fame. For many Schwarzenegger is the quintessential Terminator as the actor has blended seamlessly with the role. Before he became an actor, Schwarzenegger was a professional bodybuilder. He began training when he was just fourteen years old and was the youngest person to win Mr Universe at age 20. He went on to win Mr Universe again, amongst numerous other awards. When he decided to pursue a career in acting he was frequently turned down for roles because of his uncommon physique, accent and his difficult surname. Yet these are the qualities that made him perfect for the Terminator role. No other actor could have made the phrase “I’ll be back” as iconic as Schwarzenegger did. It seems that big names cannot rescue a film. Rather, complementary casting can make a film.

Clearly, there is no recipe for cinematic success. While there is no shortage of imagination in current science-fiction films, Valerian suggests there is too much reliance on CGI and famous faces. Therefore, the story gets lost within the special effects and the characters aren’t believable. In a genre where believability is somewhat stretched to begin with this is crucial. Sci-fi definitely hasn’t had its hay day, but maybe we need to strip back the Hollywood and return some of the simplicity to storytelling.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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