CAPSULE: With little pre-release fanfare, Neil Gaiman's STARDUST, directed by Matthew Vaughn, comes to the screen as a first-class fantasy film, one of the best. The story is convoluted but not really confusing. A young man from our world on a quest to win his love ends up being the fulcrum in a battle for the rule of a kingdom in a magical world. Gaiman is a fresh and a different voice in fantasy writing so the film is full of surprises and some genuinely funny jokes. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Right now is the Golden Age of fantasy films. This year I have already seen for the first time three fantasy films that are among the best I can ever remember seeing. One was PAN'S LABYRINTH and two have been based on the writings of Neil Gaiman. The earlier one I got to too late to give it a review while it was playing. That was MIRRORMASK. The story is in the range okay to good, but the visuals are hypnotic. And now I was caught by surprise by STARDUST. The title seems a tad twee and the trailer was not very encouraging. It showed the film as mixing unicorns and pirates, which seemed a little over the top to me. Actually it mixes a lot more including ghosts, witches, human- goats, and even some of the feel of the Gormenghast books. And the film does work. It works so well in fact that while I was watching it I was asking myself what other fantasy film could I a make a good case was better. It is not easy to find one that combines character, wit, a fast-paced plot, and visuals that are done as well. (THE WIZARD OF OZ, for example, is a sentimental favorite, but I would have to say that this film beats that one on each of these counts.)
The combination of high fantasy and comedy make THE PRINCESS BRIDE an obvious comparison. That film has considerably more comedy, but the fantasy is a little threadbare (sometimes intentionally as in the case of the giant rodents). STARDUST has a better plot with more original fantasy, but in spite of some very good humor, the older film has the edge.
When this film started I had no idea where it was going. An hour or more into the film I had little better idea, and still was not sure. The film begins with an odd little town in England called Wall. It is so named because it has this circular wall that nobody dares cross. It is claimed that inside the circle is another world. Young Dunstan Thorn crosses the wall and surely enough finds a mysterious land where magic works. He also finds love with a mysterious princess held captive by a magical chain. He returns home the only man knowing what is on the other side of the wall. Uh, actually Dunstan is not really even an important character in this story. What is important is that nine months later he is presented with a son, the result of the romantic encounter. It is Tristran (played by the relatively unfamiliar Charlie Cox) the son with this magical beginning who will be our hero. Well, actually not much of a hero. He is a sort of misfit store clerk in love with a beautiful woman who finds him nearly as fascinating as wallpaper paste is. To win her he sets himself a quest to retrieve a fallen star from the other side of the wall. The star has human form as Yvaine (Claire Danes). The star is also sought by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer). Also involved are the sons of a recently dead king (the king played by Peter O'Toole) who are blithely murdering each other since only one can possess the throne. And I have not even mentioned how the Robert De Niro character fits in since the less that you know the better.
The idea of a celestial star in human form may be a bit sugary, as we have in this film is a tad cloying. This is a film full of strange fantasy ideas. Robert De Niro's character is a fresh idea, but I am not sure I like how he takes the role. Still, I like his dialog and the film's wit. One thing that cannot be denied is that STARDUST has a lot of screen fantasy for a single film. This is a creative, fresh, and subversive fairy tale and a lot of fun. I rate it a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0486655/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper