Stardust (2007) dir. Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller
Every three months or so in the past two years there’s been another Tier 2 fantasy film. If Tier 1 is “LOTR”, “Potter” and “Narnia”, Tier 2 would be “Bridge to Terebithia” or “Eragon”. “Stardust” features a top tier cast, a hot new director, a lauded novel, but unfortunately “Stardust” settles into the lowly Tier 2 level of fantasy.
After some voiceover from Ian McKellan (puh-lease) the film jumps right into the story. We are told there’s a city called “Wall” built next to a wall to another world. The hole in the wall that leads to the other world is protected by a singular old man. A young man approaches, tricks him into the looking the other way and jumps to the other side. Is that it? Is that all the backstory explanation we get of this other world? There’s no cinematic build up or reveal or mythology to nuance. It all happened to too fast for me to accept. Remember “Narnia” took its time before revealing the new world in the closet. Same with “Wizard of Oz” – both films used its first act to lay the groundwork and foreshadow the events about to take place. Gaiman, Vaughn and the bunch throw us into the deep end right away.
I digress. The young man who crosses into the fantasy Kingdom of Stormhold beds a witch’s slave (a yummy Kate Magowan) and fathers a young boy. This boy grows up in the real world to be a young gent named Tristan (Charlie Cox). While gazing into the stars he sees a shooting star and offers to collect it for his girlfriend (Sienna Miller) as a show of his love. Tristan crosses the wall and the adventure begins.
But the falling star isn’t a falling star, it arbitrarily turns into Yvaine (Clare Danes). So Tristan decides to escort Claire Danes back home. How would he explain that to his girlfriend? There are the evil witches, led by Michelle Pfeiffer (Lamia) who need the fallen star to recapture their youth. There’s also a group of warring princes who need the star in order to claim their right to Peter O’Toole’s dying throne. Along the way Tristan and Yvaine are helped by a group of pirates who ply the skies in a flying pirate ship. Tristan and Yvaine bicker throughout the journey but eventually realize they are falling in love.
None of the scenes gave me the sense of wonder or myth we expect from a film of this genre. Though I can’t substantiate it, much of the film seemed to take place at night. Visually this is dull, especially for fantasy. As mentioned, the backstory is given to us too fast and so the ‘rules’ of the world are never clear. Things just jump out at us because we are told to accept it. Nothing is earned. Also, with some great actors like De Niro, Pfeiffer, Danes and even supporting characters like Ricky Gervais and Peter O’Toole, the choice of Charlie Cox (who?) as the lead is a head-scratcher. He’s uncharismatic and dull as dishwater. And how he’s able to snag both Claire Danes and Sienna Miller requires a big leap of faith.
“Stardust” feels like an 1980’s fantasy film - “The Neverending Story” or “Time Bandits” - but nostalgia for these films isn’t enough to sustain a subpar narrative and unimaginative visuals. I’ve never read Neil Gaiman, but he’s often spoken in the league of Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Matthew Vaughn, who produced the first two Guy Ritchie films and directed his own Brit-crime “Layer Cake” is the director. You may remember he bowed out of “X-Men 3” and took on this project instead. Despite these high credentials the film is lackluster fantasy.
“Stardust” is now available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment. Buy it here: Stardust (Widescreen Edition)