Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Not the Amanda Donohoe film, yuk yuk.

            Neil Gaiman (which sounds like a dirty imperative) has amassed quite the cult over the last decade or so with his turgid fantasy comics, melodramatic fantasy novels, and witty fantasy convention appearances. I admire the scope of imagination that he puts into some of his comics, although the one novel of his I read left me cold.


            “Stardust,” directed by Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake”) does incorporate Gaiman’s snarkiness toward most conventional fairytale elements, but doesn’t reach the level of satirical fun of “The Princess Bride.” In fact, most of the story elements and images are really familiar to most fans of the fantasy genre: if you’ve seen “Willow,” “Legend,” or any small part of “Lord of the Rings,” then “Stardust” will have nothing new to show you.


            This doesn’t mean that “Stardust” is not enjoyable, though. Vaughn handles the special effects with skill, and the actors play their parts well. The overall tone is very light and even a bit fluffy. It doesn’t strain for humor (even through the scenes of Robert De Niro in drag), and isn’t overly eager to get to the action. It is a little crammed with incident (so much so as to be rather episodic), but things were clear throughout.


            Charlie Cox plays Tristan, desperate to win the hand of his town’s local babe Victoria (Sienna Miller). Their town is bordered by a magic wall that, if crossed, transports one to a magic land of witches and ancient kings and all that jazz. Tristan crosses said wall to retrieve a fallen star for his lady, only to learn that the star is actually a pretty blonde woman named Yvain (Claire Danes). It turns out stars are all pretty ladies watching over us all, but occasionally stumble to Earth. The star, however, is also sought by a trio of ancient wyrd sisters, led by Lamia (a very good Michelle Pfeiffer) who want nothing more than to eat its heart and regain their youth (whenever Pfeiffer uses too much magic, she ages a little more). Oh, and the star is also sought by a pair of princes (Mark Strong and Jason Flemyng), who have been steadily killing off their other brothers, vying for their dying father’s (Peter O’Toole) throne.


            Tristan and Yvain wander about the countryside dodging witches and princes, meeting unicorns, swapping spells, and running into air pirates (who capture and sell lightning for a living). De Niro heads the pirates, and is secretly a transvestite. Oh, and the ghosts of the princes’ brothers are around to crack jokes. And there’s a bunch of transmogrifications. And of course Yvain and Tristan fall in love.


            Yeah, there’s a lot going on, but, like I said, “Stardust” is mercifully clear. Despite occasional feelings that I was watching “The Great Race,” (Here’s one party racing on horseback to the first location! But party two is already flying there thanks to a magic candle!) the director kept things easy-to-follow; I was never lost.


            And, yeah all of this is stuff we’ve seen before. The witches were an old conceit when they showed up in “Macbeth,” the dying king tries his hardest not to resemble King Lear, and the appearance of a unicorn is always a bad sign. I’m sure this is all even more familiar to regular readers of fantasy novels, and second nature to fans of Gaiman. Luckily, all of this is handled with fun and skill, and I left the theater satisfied.

             “Stardust” represents a recent spate of fantasy films which are riding the wave started by “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” six years ago. There are more of these films to come (“Stardust” had no less than four fantasy film previews), and it’s easy to assume that they will only deteriorate in quality until the fad fades. Let’s hope that we’ll at least encounter some decent ones on the way down.

Published in: on August 12, 2007 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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