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  • Blake

Function Over Form

Recently, my wife and I watched Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. While it was only rated 6.5 out of 10 stars, we felt it did an okay job. Sure, they applied cliches like they were going out of style, but they also had new and interesting approaches to the agent movie formula. They had scenes that took place in multiple dimensions, new and interesting species that had unique abilities and behaviors, and new gadgets that may have had a little more science fiction than plausibility. One of the biggest complaints wasn’t anything with the story or any CGI, it was the armor they made in their practical effects department.

The main characters armor with a sleek design

The practical effects department did a great job of creating great armor for the two main characters and also made some fantastic military dress greens that pulled from past military uniforms and culminated all of them into a believable futuristic uniform. The sets all looked fantastic and I’m sure that they were a great help for the actors when it came to getting into their roles. However, the place they failed the most was when they created standard infantry costumes. Both the scene at the Big Market and on Alpha when the troops are about to fight the “enemies” on the ship, the armors look simply ridiculous.

The soldiers at Big Market with their huge helmets.

The helmets and armor were all extremely tall and would extend well past their heads. No armor at any point in humanity’s future would have armor that sticks 3 inches above the head while having very little protection on the sides. This is a case where the prop designer went WAY off target. When designing armor for a futuristic military, it’s important to look at what is currently in place and then to imagine what improvements could take place in the future with possible innovations with armor technologies. For example, military armor is designed to strike a balance of mobility, weight and protection. We could strap steel all over our soldiers to protect them but that would weigh too much and would limit their mobility too much. Meanwhile, we could strap aluminum to soldiers but we would either get way too little protection or would require so much metal that their armor would begin to hinder movement. If we couldn’t find something that could do the job better without much of a change in weight and size, our military would most likely pass on making the change.

Meanwhile, if technology is integrated into armors, you need to consider where that tech would make the most sense. In the movie, one person is controlling another and what that person is seeing gets fed through their helmet and is displayed in front of their eyes. This is most likely the explanation for why the helmet is so massive on his head. I feel that this could have looked much better if they had realized that we currently have technology that could fit into a smaller space but would receive a signal and display it on a screen. Meanwhile, if this body control technology really did take up that extra space, history has shown multiple times that military designers place extra loads onto the soldiers back and not on top of their heads.

Thinking about these reasons and looking at the history of military hardware can cause the design of a set of armor in the future to look and feel much more believable than this movie actually ended up having. If no one sees the armor as something that makes sense for a soldier to wear, then it ends up taking away from the project.

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