Science fiction is a hard genre to get right, which is why so many sci-fi films tend to skew toward being standard popcorn flicks (and sometimes go all the way into so-bad-it’s-good territory). One man who seems to understand what it takes to get sci-fi to work is Luc Besson, director of The Fifth Element and the upcoming Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Screen Rant caught up with Besson at Comic-Con and spoke with him briefly about the upcoming film. One of the topics discussed was the size of the universe that Valerian takes place in, and how diverse it is compared to what you see in some other science fiction films.

According to Besson, there are over 8,000 alien species in the Valerian universe. They aren’t just there to be antagonists for the human hero, either. He compares the interconnected alien races to the different nationalities we have here on Earth, with trade and cultural exchanges occurring between them despite their differences. As Besson put it:

“What’s interesting for me here is we are humans dealing with thousands of different kinds of aliens, 8,000 to be precise, and the world is pretty nice. I mean, they exchange science, art, commerce… I mean, they do deals together. So, it’s not like ‘Boo! The aliens are like, the mean guys.’ It’s kind of like a reflect of who we are today, you know. We have American and French and Albanian and Greenland, and you know, like we’re all different, but it’s the same except that it’s different races in the galaxy.”

luc besson valerian comic book movie 2017 Valerian Will Feature 200 Alien Races & a Timely Story of Diversity

Of course, just because there are so many aliens in the universe doesn’t mean that we’ll see them all onscreen. The number of different species that appear in the film is still impressive, though; when asked to clarify whether he meant that we would actually see all 8,000 species of aliens in the film, Besson answered “No. More than 200.” Later, he also discussed how many of the alien creatures were created using human actors:

“Most of the aliens were played by people, most of them. Almost 90 percent. Some of them are so weird that you can’t even put someone. You put a guy with pieces of wood, that’s all you can do. I won’t change that, because it’s always good to have an actor to play with. Even if the guy’s in gray with dots, at least you have a human to play with. I think with Dane [DeHaan] and Cara [Delevingne] that was way much more agreeable.”

Given how easy it is to associate sci-fi with CGI spectacles, it’s refreshing to see yet another major production using practical effects when possible. Valerian has had a long road to get here and is currently undergoing a long post-production, but it certainly sounds like it will be worth it in the end.

Next: New Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Photo

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets hits U.S. theaters on July 21, 2017.

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