When we are very young children one of our first exposures to literature is the fairy tale. They contain adventure, a beautiful damsel in need of saving and flights of fancy in wondrous worlds of the imagination. Even when we grow up there remains a love for this kind of story. With modern special effects anything that can be imagined can be brought to the screen. The thing that gets a film like this in some trouble is when the enchantment of simplicity is abandoned. This is just about the only ting wrong with the film Stardust. It tries too hard to bring so many aspects of fantasy to bear that it sometimes forgets the point it is trying to make and what it tries to be, a modern day fairy tale. With a little trimming it could have been fantastic. That is not to say it is a bad film, it isnít. Stardust is actually very good I just hate to see potential go unrealized.
The film is based on the popular illustrated novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. You can have a more complex story in print but all the nuances donít always translate to film. The film is beautiful shot with excellent direction and a fantastic cast. All of this helps a lot in making the most of the story and get the audience past the more muddled parts. It is intense, too much so for younger children. Older kids and adults will find it an enjoyable experience. What is created in this movie is a fully populated world of magic and adventure. For adults it allows you to forget the problems of the world for awhile and go back to those long forgotten bed time stories. With so many flicks out there that take themselves too seriously it is refreshing to see one that just wants to provide a good time. It is great to see a movie with social relevance but every so often you just need to kick back and be a kid again. The film has its flaws but it does succeed in this.
The story begins 150 years ago in the English village of Wall. It gets its name from the crumbling battlements that surround it. There is another very special attribute of the wall; it contains a portal to another world, one of magic called Stormhold. An adventurous young man named Dunstan Thorne (Ben Barnes) challenges the keeper of the portal demand to go through the wall to the field that apparently lies beyond. Dunstan slips past the old man and winds up in a market place with such things as tiny elephants on sale. He winds up rescuing a princess, Una (Kate Magowan) from an evil witch, Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill) and gets a glass flower and a night of passion for his reward. He goes back home and nine months later a baby is sent through the portal, his son Tristan. Eighteen years later Tristan (Charlie Cox) has grown to a fine young man. At this time the king of the realm (Peter O'Toole), is dying. His four remaining sons; Septimus (Mark Strong), Primus (Jason Flemyng), Tertius (Mark Heap), and Secundus (Rupert Everett) fight over which one will inherit the crown. The other three brothers, Quartus (Julian Rhind-Tutt), Quintus (Adam Buxton), and Sextus (David Walliams), are still around albeit as ghosts. The king fashions ruby into a diamond and propels it into the sky. Which ever son finds the gem and returns it to a ruby shall be king. The gem has the unforeseen side effect of knocking a star out of the sky. Tristan and the object of his affection, Victoria (Victoria (Sienna Miller) see the falling star and Tristan vows to retrieve it as a token of his love. It turns out that others have seen the star fall. Three witches Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), Empusa (Sarah Alexander) and Mormo (Joanna Scanlan) also took note of the event. Lamia realizes that the heart of the star can restore them to youth and full magical ability. She takes the last portion of another starís heart they have been hording and becomes young again to start her quest. Tristan tries to cross the wall to get the star but is stopped by the guard. His aged father gives him a package from Tristanís mother; a magical candle and the glass flower for luck. The candle has the ability to transport him anywhere he wishes. Tristan uses the candle and travels to the site of the fallen star. There he finds a beautiful young woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes) who is revealed to be the incarnation of the star. He captures her with an enchanted chain and promises her the candle if she comes with him to Victoria. Yvaine would then be able to use the candle to return to the heavens. As they trek back Tristan and Yvaine are captured by a pirate, Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) in a flying ship. He seems tough but actually he enjoys cross dressing and has a distain for killing. Tristan is trying to get home; Lamia is after them for the girlís heart and back home the princes are killing each other off.
This film has all the elements needed for a fairy tale. There is even an appearance by a unicorn for good measure. The adventure comes from the chase and in that this film works very well. It does get a bit bogged down during the more romantic moments but that could also be said about many fairy tales. The special effects are great although not quite up to the leaders of the fantasy genre but they are fun to watch. This film reminds me of a grandfather telling his grandkids a story. Now and again pops may get off the track but you donít care, it is the story that matters. The scrip does exhibit a sharp sometime too adult wit. There is a balance between action, romance and humor that few films can muster.
The cast goes a long way to make this film as much as it can be. I have been a fan of Claire Danes since she took on her angst ridden role in ĎMy So-Called Lifeí. She has matured as an actress and is now one of the better young members of her profession. She captures the right tone for the part of a star incarnate. She could have gone easier on the affected accent but otherwise she does very well here. Michelle Pfeiffer proves that actresses over thirty can still be sexy. She is also very funny here especially in the scene where she regains her youth. While not as menacing as an evil witch should be she gets the job done nicely. The real treat here is Robert De Niro. He is, of course, best known as the ultimate tough guy. Here he plays so against type that it not only proves what an incredible actor he is it makes the film. Think of everything you feel defines De Niro and turn it completely around and you have a glimpse of his character here. Every good fairy tale needs a narrator and this film has the best, Ian McKellen. He has a voice that goes back to that kindly story telling grandfather with perfection.
Once again Paramount Pictures scores a hit with a DVD release. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video is incredible. There is also a full screen version but lets face it, why bother. You will want to see this film in its original aspect ratio. There are so many details to each frame that only the widescreen version gives you the whole picture. The Dolby 5.1 audio is breathtaking. The room is filled with every little sound possible. The sound field is also one of the best balanced that has come around in a very long time. For extras there is a making of featurette called ĎGood Omensí. It does a good job of showing how this film was produced and the fun the cast and crew had in its making. There is also a blooper reel and some deleted scenes to round things out. This is a very good choice for an entertaining watch so take advantage of it.