Stardust [Retro Review]

“Does it look like anything non-human is down there? No. And do you know why? Because it’s a field!”

The Scoop: 2007 PG-13, directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer

Tagline: This summer a star falls. The chase begins.

Summary Capsule: A lovesick youth vows to recover a fallen star to prove his devotion to a fickle girl. Things… don’t go exactly as planned.

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Drew’s Rating: To prove my love, I made an epic quest to the Land of Dave’s Jewelers to recover the shining star of round cut and no less than three-quarter carats.

Drew’s Review: You and I, we’re mature people, right? Relatively speaking, I mean. We may be in different walks of life, but we’re all essentially adults here — certainly enough so that we don’t read fairy tales anymore. Back when we were kids, sure… that’s different, we didn’t know any better. But those days are long behind us. Now we read biting satire and historical biographies and tell-all books about celebrities. None of that storybook nonsense for us.

But in some tiny way, it’s a shame we don’t go for that sort of thing anymore. Because if we did, I could tell you about a new fantasy film called Stardust, based on a book by Neil Gaiman. I’d explain how, in many ways, it is a “traditional” fairy tale, but deftly plotted and suffused with the sly humor Gaiman is renowned for. I’d tell you about Tristan (Charlie Cox), a young man whose village borders the only gap in the Wall that separates our world from the magical kingdom of Stormhold. About how he sets out to prove his love for a village girl by retrieving a star that fell from the sky and bringing it back; and of how he learns that the star is actually a beautiful woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes), who’s being pursued by an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) bent on cutting out her heart and eating it. I could describe the bloodthirsty Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) and the secrets he holds, and why using animal entrails for prophecies carries its own set of risks.

If we were going to talk about such a movie (which we aren’t), I’d probably say that it’s the little things that add up to make Stardust so enchanting. That it isn’t the relatively straightforward adventure or love story that win you over, but all the minor details that Gaiman and his collaborators so excel at. Things like the goat-man who gallops his feet at all times and open doors with his mouth. And the guy who becomes a woman and can’t stop staring at his… feminine wiles. (Let’s be honest, we would all do the exact same thing.) And Prince Septimus bleeding blue blood, and the (heh) gravitational penalties of dark magic, and the hilarious ghost brothers. I’d likely point out that Gaiman has always been a master of background details and subtle jokes in his writing, and it’s great to see that carry over to film. I might mention that Claire Danes seems more worldly than you’d expect of a pure, innocent star, but that would be a minor quibble. And I’d probably conclude by saying that, despite not being wholly original, Stardust‘s sense of humor, cool scenery, and good performances add up to one hell of a fun movie.

Those are the things I’d likely say about Stardust if we weren’t all rational, mature adults here. Fortunately, it’s been years since you and I were lame enough to be impressed by naive fairy tale drivel. Because otherwise, I might — just might, mind you — be tempted to end this review with my favorite Neil Gaiman quote of all time:

“Well, there’s only one way to end a story, really.”
“Don’t tell me: they all lived happily ever after?”
“That’s the one.”

Mike’s Rating: 3 out of 7 princes. Wait… 2 out of, uhm 1… ok, we’re out of princes.

Mike’s Review: There are a lot of good writers out there. Writers who can craft an intricate, thought-provoking story that you’ll read again and again. Only the best writers, however, can cast a spell over your imagination and send you spiraling into another world. Not just any alternate universe filled with unfamiliar and bizarre landscapes, but rather a place you know you’ve seen somewhere, like in a dream where you’re in familiar, yet askewed surroundings. Everything is recognizable, but just a little off, and the deeper you go, the more unsettling and wondrous things become.

This is where Neil Gaiman lives.

After stories like American Gods, Sandman, Neverwhere and Mirrormask, it’s clear that Gaiman can do fantasy like no other. You almost are forced to wonder if he’s not a kind of wizard, chronicling a very real magical realm that only he can see. I’m happy to say that his latest film, an adaptation of his book, continues that trend. In Stardust, he’s sculpted a contemporary, quirky fairy tale practically dripping with whimsy.

Charlie Cox as Tristan is maybe my favorite fantasy protagonist ever. As a dreamer who is constantly looking to the horizon, causing him to jump from job to job, he reminds me so much of myself I just can’t help but cheer him on. I just dig that even as he loses his latest job, it doesn’t take away from his unrealistic idealism. He doesn’t listen to anyone telling him this is all he is. He knows he is meant for more and simply hasn’t found the right road to take yet. His driving force is Victoria, a not-quite-rich-but-still-richer-than-Tristan socialite. Gaiman makes it fun by not portraying Victoria as a harpy or an overly sweet beauty. She makes no secret of of the fact that she plans to marry Tristan’s biggest enemy, a jerk whose sole form of entertainment seems to be belittling him. When a star falls and Tristan promises to fetch it in a week for Victoria, the adventures begin in earnest.

His first challenge is traversing “the Wall,” a border between our world and the magical realm of Stormhold (I freakin’ love that name). Before his task is completed, Tristan will have run afoul of at least two witches, joined a gang of sky-pirates (led the aptly named Captain Shakespeare, played by Robert DeNiro), made friends with a beautiful but rather hard to get along with heavenly body, and met a rapidly decreasing number of princes.

The acting is great. Michelle Pfeiffer owns her part as the witch Lamia, being nastier than we’ve seen her since Witches of Eastwick. DeNiro is, of course, genius as the flamboyant Captain. His performance may be the funniest thing I’ve seen in the theater this year. The scenery and special effects blend together seamlessly and are gorgeous without overpowering the story. The plot has some nice, if slightly predictable twists and turns, great comedic moments (blue blood! HA!), surprises, scares and a brilliantly funny narration.

By the end of the movie, it becomes glaringly apparent that Tristan does indeed have a great destiny in store, but the real lucky ones are those of us who get to watch it unfold.

Would it be tasteless to make a joke about eating her gingerbread house? Yeah? Okay then.

Intermission!

  • Stardust was originally published in 1997 as a 4-issue comic miniseries, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by longtime collaborator Charles Vess. In 1999 Gaiman adapted the story into a novel without illustrations. Numerous changes were made for the movie, such as the inclusion of Captain Shakespeare and the overall ending.
  • One character who was left out of the film adaptation is a large talking tree, based on Gaiman’s close friend Tori Amos. Amos references this in her song “Horses” with the line “And if there is a way to find you, I will find you/But will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?”
  • Secundus’ death – and the king’s reaction to it – is pretty hilarious.
  • If possible, Michelle Pfeiffer looks even more satisfied at the sight of herself naked than most men would. And that is no mean feat.
  • “Hold me tight and think of home”? Tristan’s such a playa.
  • Gravity is a cruel mistress, Ms. Pfeiffer.
  • More of a “whoopty”: Captain Shakespeare or Jack Sparrow? Discuss.
  • If I were fighting a reanimated corpse, I think I’d try to cut off his sword arm. But that’s just me.
  • Didja notice the wink between Shakespeare and Humphrey at the end? HA!
  • Ted Raimi plays the second-in-command pirate.

Groovy Quotes

    Narrator: A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we’re human?” Pointless, really. “Do the stars gaze back”… now that’s a question. 

    Dunstan: Does it look like anything non-human is down there? No. And do you know why? Because it’s a field!

    King: Look out the window, Secundus, and tell me what you see.
    Secundus: I see the kingdom, father. All of Stormhold.
    King: And…?
    Secundus: My kingdom?
    King: Maybe. Look up.
    *PUSH*
    Secundus: AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
    King: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

    Gatekeeper: I’m guarding the portal to another world, and you’re asking me to just let you through?
    Tristan: ….yeah.

    Lamia: You’d better be telling the truth, you two-faced dog.
    Ferdy the Fence: I can get you one of them, actually. Very good guard dogs, they can watch the front and the back door at the same time.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • The Princess Bride
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Roughly 25% of Pan’s Labyrinth
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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Neil Gaiman da su opinión sobre la piratería | La Cueva del Lobo

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