Review contains mild spoilers.
Synopsis: In a countryside town bordering on a magical land, a young man makes a promise to his beloved that he’ll retrieve a fallen star by venturing into the magical realm. (Synopsis from IMDb)
Review: Stardust is a fairytale about a fallen star who crash lands in a magical kingdom. The star, who manifests as a beautiful woman named Yvaine and not a lump of rock, is soon pursued by a myriad of desperate seekers. All but one desire the magical powers contained in her still beating heart. This surreal fairy tale is adapted from Neil Gaiman’s 1997 four-book DC comic mini-series, which was later turned into a novel. The movie is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who is best known for directing X-Men: First Class. This wacky fairytale has everything from an outrageous witch, a cross-dressing pirate, murderous princes, to a motivated hero.
In this world, England is separated from the kingdom of Stormhold by a decrepit wall. In the village of Wall there lives a love struck lad named Tristan, called Tristran in the novelization. He is in love with the vain Victoria and is terrified of losing her to the odious Humphrey. After seeing a shooting star, Victoria sends Tristan off to steal the star in order to win her heart. There is just one problem: vilagers are not allowed to cross the wall. However, due to the wickedness running through Stormhold, the wall is crumbling. But the guard on the English side of the wall keeps Tristan out. Our plucky hero’s dad then uncovers a magical candle and Tristan is transported to the site of the star’s crash landing. Upon discovering that the star is actually a woman, Tristan puts a magical leash on Yvaine and attempts to forcibly drag her back to Victoria. And then the story really takes off at a wild pace.
Charlie Cox plays Tristan, his first leading role. Cox is believable as a love struck village lad who decides to undertake a daring quest. He strikes the right note of a likable romantic who happens to fall into a mythical land full of wicked beings. Claire Danes plays the fallen star Yvaine. She is an opinionated and sassy starlet who just wants to go home. Danes and Cox have a great onscreen chemistry and play off of each other extremely well. Danes is a tad stiff in some scenes, but it does not detracts from her character. Michelle Pfeiffer is fantastic as the main villain, the decaying Lamia. She really comes across as a deranged and youth obsessed witch, her performance is probably the best in the film. Mark Strong does a credible job as the wicked Prince Septimus. The ghosts of the Princes of Stormhold provide most of the comic relief in the film. The most confusing character is the narrator, voiced by Ian McKellan. While the narrator does a credible job opening and closing the film, he is really not required. The narration gives the film a storybook quality, but is not needed for any real purpose.
Gaiman is a huge fan of William Shakespeare and references the Bard’s plays several times. For instance, Lamia and her sisters greatly resemble the witches depicted in Macbeth. Peter O’Toole has a brief cameo as a dying Lear type King and Robert De Niro plays a pirate named Captain Shakespeare. The pirates are my favorite secondary characters in the film, there are deliciously over-the-top and specialize in the ridiculous. Plus they have a fight scene choreographed to the Can-Can. All these characters manage to sidetrack Tristan and his mission is soon superseded by trying to outrun everyone who wants to eat Yvaine’s heart. The story also contains a nice exploration of the differences between love and lust, and the emptiness of a life consumed with trying to forever young.
The movie is not boring and the narrative sweeps you along. However, parts of the story suffer from scene cluttering. There are a couple shots where too many characters are in play at the same time. This can be a little disconcerting, but the narrative eventually finds its footing again. Also, the film is filled with sweeping gorgeous shots of the magical Stormhold. The cinematography zooms along from a tiny quintessential English village to an imposing castle in a mythical realm. Vaughn creates a breathtaking world and the cinematography is wonderful. It is not on the scale of Lord of the Rings, but it is gorgeous none-the-less. It looks like a different but eerily similar world.
Stardust has no problem poking fun at itself and the strangeness of the fantasy genre. The film contains a lot of wickedly sarcastic dialogue and has a great sense of fun. Because this is a grown up fantasy, there is a lot of killing and attempted murders. But it is all done in a self-aware and over-the-top manner. The film will never be part of a huge fantasy franchise, but it is undeniably enjoyable. The actors do a great job and the world building is gorgeous. Stardust will not appeal to everyone and some critics consider it to be a discount Princess Bride. In a sense, the critics are right. Both Stardust and The Princess Bride are slightly satirical takes on the fantasy adventure genre. But both films are enjoyable in their own right and really should not be seriously compared. Overall, Stardust is an enjoyable stand-alone fantasy romp.