Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looks like The Fifth Element with the voltage cranked up five notches. It has more aliens, more special effects, and looks even wackier than the 1997 sci-fi classic. The second trailer for the film debuts online tomorrow, but we got a sneak peek at the footage and caught up with Besson and his star Dane DeHaan earlier this week.

First, the footage. The second trailer for Valerian (which you can now watch online) opens on a high-speed chase on a desert planet. DeHaan’s titular special operative and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are being pursued by a giant four-legged creature. Then the two arrive in the city of Alpha, a giant space station that’s home to many alien species. One of the creatures describes The City of a Thousand Planets as a “paradise.” And Besson’s visualization of that world looks absolutely stunning. There’s shots of hundreds of ships hovering in the air, giant electric blue bubbles, and tiny creatures crawling inside caves of neon pink and blue. But as beautiful as it all is, the fate of Alpha and its citizens are at stake. An alien leader tells Valerian and Laureline they’re “the guardians of our future.”

The trailer also gives the first look at Clive Owen’s character, Arün Filitt, who tells the two heroes they have ten hours to save the city. There’s also a new shot of Rihanna’s shapeshifting burlesque dancer transforming into a nurse costume. It’s a nice little taste of all the nutty, dazzling fun you could ask for from a new Besson space opera. And though Besson has been wanting to make this movie for years, it was only possible to do it now.

During a breakfast in Manhattan on Monday, the director told a small group of journalists how much has changed since making The Fifth Element 20 years ago:

It was the last film before digital, where you have to put dots on the screen for six hours and lock your camera. It was a nightmare.

Besson has been a fan of Valérian and Laureline, the French graphic novel the film is based on, since he was a boy, but he knew it was impossible to visualize the novel’s intergalactic world two decades ago. He started writing the script for the film ten years ago, just in case technology caught up to him. But he mainly credits James Cameron for making Valerian possible. “Avatar [came] and then everything [was] possible, thanks to Jim.”

STX Entertainment
STX Entertainment

Just how much bigger and grander is Valerian compared to The Fifth Element? “The Fifth Element has 188 shots with special effects. This one has 2,734,” Besson said. Much of those effects went into creating the film’s creatures. And you won’t just see one Diva Plavalaguna-looking creature in Valerian; this movie has more than a hundred different alien species. Besson also created backstories for each of his aliens and intricate details of the city’s history to ensure DeHaan and Delevingne knew everything about the film’s world.

First I have 6,000 drawings, so I feed [DeHaan and Delevigne] with the world. Every time they go to a world they know exactly everything. Then the station, the giant space station Alpha, I have a bible of 100 pages about the construction of Alpha from 1972 to 2750, every year, what happened on this day, who built what, which alien arrived at what date, where they come from. Then I have like 10 pages on each alien, where they come from, what they eat, how they reproduce, where they live. Actually in the bible, if you take the address, it’s a real address. You can go in the sky and you can see the address and that’s where they live.

Stay tuned for the new trailer that arrives on Wednesday. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which also stars John Goodman and Ethan Hawke, hits theaters July 21.

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