Review: Stardust

August 12, 2007

It is very important (according to Douglas Adams) to annoy the fans. By which he means, some people are going to obsess about every tiny detail of your adaptation (“But the ship appeared with a ‘fop’ in the book, while that was clearly a ‘fwow'”), and these people are worthy of the author’s – indeed, everybody’s – contempt.

Stardust would annoy perhaps only the fiercest of Neil Gaiman aficionados. It skips over vast swathes of plot, takes liberties with others, yet remains somehow faithful to the essence of the story. I have heard it touted as the next Princess Bride and I can almost see why – both are fairy stories of the type we’re not supposed to like once we’re grown up. The fundamental difference is that Princess Bride is a lot more obviously silly – the script is more packed with gags, while Stardust merely revels in a few absurd characters and scenes.

Of which there are plenty. Ricky Gervais’s fence is as odious as any other Ricky Gervais character (in fact, identical in almost all respects to every other Ricky Gervais character). David Kelly’s guard takes on almost Yoda-like powers. The show, though, is utterly stolen by Robert deNiro as Captain Shakespeare – the finest piece of casting I’ve seen in a long while.

So, the plot. Less convoluted than it might be: Tristran Thorn (Charlie Cox), son of an Englishman from the village of Wall and a servant from the world the other side of the eponymous, promises his beloved Victoria (Sienna Miller) to win her heart by bringing back a fallen star by her birthday – in a week – at which point Humphrey (Henry Cavill) is planning to propose to her. The fallen star – Yvaine (Claire Danes) – transpires not to be a lump of rock, but a young woman*. Of course, Tristran isn’t the only one after the star: there’s the witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) who plans to cut out her heart and renew her and her sisters’ eternal beauty with it; and there’s the Princes of Stormhold, each of whom needs her necklace to establish his right to the throne. Naturally, the necklace is secondary to fratricide; the demised brothers form a ghostly gallery commenting on their survivors’ efforts. A chase ensues.

It’s not an action-packed chase – there are plenty of buckles swashed, for sure, but the thrust of the plot is trickery, cunning and deceit – except for the naive Tristran, who is simply trying to get Yvaine back to Wall. It’s a beautifully-done film, blending light touches with a compelling storyline. I’ve been looking forward to this one, probably more than any other movie this year; I’d have to rate it the tiniest fraction below Pan’s Labyrinth in the Kensson movie-of-the-year running, but it’s quite possible that I’ll change my mind in the future.

* Unnecessarily bitchy footnote: Claire Danes’s acting isn’t that bad.

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