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Stardust

starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro
written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn and directed by Matthew Vaughn
rated PG-13 for some fantasy violence and risque humor.
87%

Somewhere in the English countryside lies the village of Wall, named after the long stone wall that runs next to it. For as long as anyone remembers, a group of the villagers have diligently guarded a gap in the wall that leads to the magical kingdom of Stormhold. Now, a star has fallen from the sky and landed deep within the fairy kingdom, and young Tristran (Charlie Cox) is determined to retrieve it to prove his love to Victoria (Sienna Miller).

He is not the only searcher, however. The evil witch, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), need the heart of the star to restore their youth, and Stormhold’s remaining princes will cut any throat (including each others’) to find the star and claim the throne. Add a few subplots involving sky pirates and an enslaved princess, and you just might have the makings of a quirky fantasy classic. That’s what Paramount hopes, anyway.

If you’ve seen a trailer for Stardust, you already know more than I’ve let on here, and you still don’t have anything approaching a complete picture of how the story plays out. This is all to the good: a more detailed synopsis would be far too long and complicated, and half the fun is seeing it for yourself.

There have been a lot of truly awful attempts to introduce an element of whimsical silliness into the traditional fantasy or fairy tale movie setting in recent years (Ella Enchanted, Happily ‘Never After, and the Shrek sequels, just to name a few), but it’s been a long time since I have seen it employed as successfully as Stardust employs it. And the movie itself is (if I may gush) totally frickin’ cool. Perhaps that is because Stardust is solid fantasy-adventure first and comical fairy-tale fun second, instead of the other way around. We laugh at the comical characters and doings in Stormhold and Wall, but we also want to visit.

I have not read Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, but my interest in the movie version was definitely piqued when a friend first pointed me to a trailer several months ago. I was further intrigued when I read a short story by Susanna Clarke, author of the brilliant Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The story (“The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” from The Ladies of Grace Adieu) was set in Gaiman’s universe, and has Wellington unwittingly chasing his horse through the gap in the wall with comical results.

The defining characteristic of Clarke’s fantasy is that it is quintessentially British. I don’t know about Stardust the book, but probably the only definably British thing about this movie is that part of it is set in England. One thing it does share with Clarke’s fanciful realms, however, is that while many of its elements are silly, whimsical, and comical, there is a dark and deadly-serious edge not far beneath the surface.

It is a delicate balance, well-maintained, but not the same sort of thing as, say, The Princess Bride. Princess Bride is simple and sweet, both gentle satire on and affectionate homage to “Once upon a time,” and by now firmly entrenched as a nigh-unassailable classic. It doesn’t need special effects because it’s all charm.

Stardust, by contrast, has pulse-pounding excitement, CG gloss, and an epic feel. It is unapologetically more adult than The Princess Bride (which I first saw at about age 5), but also more juvenile. It isn’t particularly fresh or original, but it feelsas though it is. What it lacks in meaning and substance, it makes up for in sheer entertainment. And if many elements of the plot are transparently contrived, at least they mesh well and keep things moving. With a run-time of over two hours, I never felt the need to check my watch.

So, as I say, Stardust is not the next The Princess Bride, but for a group of friends in search of a good time, the effect will be much the same. Loaded to the gills with action and fun and magic, it has strange characters, exotic locations, breathtaking visuals, and a rousing soundtrack. A few flaws aside, it’s really just about all an uncritical theatergoer could ask for in a fantasy adventure movie.

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~ by Jared on August 11, 2007.

3 Responses to “Stardust”

  1. So, I picked up the book shortly before the movie came out. QUICK read, only a couple hundred pages. I enjoyed the book quite a bit more than the movie, as is usually that case. ;) I’ll just give you a hint, the main theme of the movie is same as the book, but the details are quite different. The time within the book takes place over months, not one week. Veronica isn’t a complete ditz without any compassion, and the ending in the book is COMPLETELY different. I much prefer the book ending. ;) It’s just so much more … fairy tale, and fitting. *shrug* Even so, yeah, I enjoyed the movie. :) It was a nice departure from the typical fantasies we’ve been seeing, it was just so much more light-hearted, and the book is even more so. And, even better … we agree! ;-p

  2. Yeah, that was one other thing I noticed. They have that big montage on board the ship where Tristran learns to fence really well and Yvaine learns to dance and she starts falling in love with him . . . and then you realize when you think about it that that must have been about 2 days. That isn’t much time to go from oaf to skilled swordsman, I must say.

  3. See, I basically hated the movie. Dunno why, exactly, other than that it just has a completely different atmosphere than the book did, and I couldn’t manage to get over that. I have a full-on rant about how the ship captain was changed, but somebody might take it the wrong way, so I’ll leave it be for now.

    I think if I could get to the point where I completely forget about the book, I could enjoy the movie. I don’t think that’s likely to happen, though.

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