© 2007 Ray Wong
Fans of fantasy have adored Neil Gaiman's graphic novels. In the tradition of The Princess Bride, Gaiman's Stardust is an epic fairy tale and adventure that tickles our imagination.
As the narrator (Ian McKellen) tells us, the story begins about 150 years ago in an English town named Wall, which was built beside a guarded wall that separates the real world and the magical kingdom Stromhold. A local boy, Dunstan (Nathaniel Parker) crosses the wall one night and meets a slave girl named Una (Kate Magowan). Nine months later, Una sends their infant son to Dunstan to raise.
Years later, before the King of Stromhold (Peter O'Toole) dies, he hurls a ruby necklace into the sky and tells his sons that whoever finds the ruby will be the rightful king to Stromhold. The stone knocks a star off the sky and falls to Stromhold. Tristan (Charlie Cox), now a young man, promises the object of his affection, Victoria (Sienna Miller), to bring back the star for her. Meanwhile, the wicked witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) also looks for the star so she and her two sisters can consume its heart to restore their youth and beauty.
Tristan is the first to find the star, which is actually a woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Tristan promises to send Yvaine home after he's presented her to Victoria. On the way, they are chased and attacked by Lamia as well as the princes headed by Septimus (Mark Strong). Helped by pirate king Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro), they barely escape. While trying to return to Wall, Tristan and Yvaine falls in love.
As Tristan, Charlie Cox (Cassanova) effectively conveys the character's cherubic and naive qualities. His boyish good looks and ernest disposition also help make us care for the hero. Claire Danes (Evening) is not quite spectacular as the (literal) star. She's fine with her sarcasm and feistiness, just not as impressive as I'd expected.
While the young protagonists are adorable, it is the veterans who shine. Michelle Pfeiffer (Hairspray) is delicious as Lamia: she's self-absorbed, ruthless, conniving, giddy, frustrated, impatient, and the list goes on. She plays Lamia with a delightful energy and purpose. Robert De Niro (The Good Shepherd) is equally fun and delicious as Captain Shakespeare, the pirate king with a secret. His scenes alone were worth the price of admission. The rest of the cast is a fun bunch, including Peter O'Toole (Ratatouille) as the King, and Mark Strong (Sunshine) as Septimus.
Adapted from Neil Gaiman's successful novel, the screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) maintains a whimsical, fun, tongue-in-cheek spirit. The story and treatment take after the same feel of favorites such as The Princess Bride and Ella Enchanted.
The plot is, of course, fantastical and magical and requires a good dose of suspense of disbelief (but that's why it's fun). There are enough inconsistencies to make one go "Wha?" but the point of the story is to live by the moment, and once we learn to do that, the plot moves along briskly with strong energy and twists.
It's not to say it's not devoid of cliches and conventions. You can't really get away from such with a story about witches, princes, pirates and star-crossed lovers. Yet, when combined, the plot elements and characters breathe some fresh air into the genre, and the imagination is rather magical.
It's all about execution, and director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) brings a good energy to the production. The visuals are wonderful and the storybook technique works extremely well. There's a consistent jolliness throughout the film, and Vaughn doesn't clutter or bog down the story with convoluted plot threads. The story maintains its focus until the "happily ever after." Stardust is a delight for adults and older children alike.
Stars: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Peter O'Toole, Rupert Everett, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Ian McKellen
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (based on Neil Gaiman's novel)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some fantasy violence and risque humor
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.9 out of 10