Posted on 11/22/11 09:46 AM
Like 300, Stardust is one of those few films based on a graphic novel that isn't a superhero movie. While 300 was a war epic with bits of fantasy thrown in, Stardust is a pure fantasy film, and like nearly all fantasy films that aren't Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia, it disappointed at the box-office. That's a shame, because it deserved huge success.
Tristan is a young man of 18 who lives in a small village called Wall (it's named that way because it's right next to a wall that is guarded by a 98 year old man who doesn't let anyone cross) He's sweet on a girl named Victoria, who is far above his class, doesn't share the same feelings for him, and prefers another guy, Humphrey, over him (though she doesn't mind toying with both of the guys affections) Meanwhile, on the other side of the wall, there exists a magical realm, called Stormhold, where the king is on his death bed. He calls forth all his sons (well, the ones who are left, as they do have a knack for killing each other) and tells them that the one who can achieve his precious ruby will be the new king, which he launches into the sky just before dying. The ruby goes up into the stars before heading back down to earth. However, in doing so it caught a star with it, and brought it down to earth. Victoria and Tristan see the star shooting across the sky, and in an effort to prove himself, Tristan vows to get the star for Victoria.
Unfortunately, he can't even get past the old man guarding the wall and returns home dissapointed. That's when his father tells him the story of his past. 18 years ago, Tristan's father made it past the wall and discovered the magical world behind it. There he fell in love with a beautiful woman who was captured by an old peddler lady, and in the one night they spent together Tristan was brought into this world. Unable to keep him, his mother sent him back to his father, along with several gifts, one of them being a Babylon Candlestick, which can transport the owner to anyplace they think of. Eager to see his mother, Tristan lights the candle, yet while doing so, his mind returns to Victoria and the star, and instead of being transported to his mother, he is sent crashing down on the star, which turns out to be a girl named Yvaine. She is not particularly impressed with Tristan, but he does have a Babylon Candlestick, which is the only thing that can send her back to the sky. Since there is only enough left in the Candlestick for one more use, Tristan makes a deal with Yvaine - if she can come with him back to Victoria, he will give her the candle. Yvaine reluctantly agrees, and they both set out on a journey back to Wall. Unfortunately, the remaining Princes (there's now only two of them left; they're habit of killing each other has only intensified after their father's death) are after the ruby Yvaine now wears on her neck, while three witches saw her falling from the sky and want to capture her and eat her heart, which will make them all beautiful. Along the way there's also a Unicorn, goats that aren't all what they seem, Pirates, and Robert De Niro in a dress.
Yeah, I'm sure we can guess what happens between Tristan and Yvaine. If you're looking for a film that offers a new twist on the fantasy genre, you'll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're looking for a good old fashioned adventure movie, well they don't get much better than this.
The story may seem bloated with way too many characters, but on the contrary, the amount of characters is part of what makes the film work. Like all the best fantasy films, it creates a rich universe filled with fascinating creatures and objects from two headed elephants to ships that fly in the air collecting lightning to sell, as well as many great characters. It also manages to make all these elements work together and be crucial to the plot instead of just making it an obstacle course.
At the heart of all this is a tale of a boy learning to become a man and the growing romance between him and the girl. The two main characters seem to have been written as nods towards fairytales and classical mythology, and like the good old fashioned nature of the story this helps give the film a certain charm. Tristan is like many heroes we grew up reading; he's not very bright or strong, and he seems to survive mainly through an array of magical objects given to him by older wiser characters; however, he's also very loyal and kind of heart. All this helps make him a person we can sympathize and relate to. Yvaine is in many ways like all those princesses in fairytales; she seems to have a knack for attracting trouble wherever she goes; However, the filmmakers wisely decided to give her a few more traits to not make her feel so helpless. She can have quite a bit of a temper at times, and she's pretty sarcastic (particularly when she's expressing her displeasure at being taken to Victoria - "hmm...Murdered by Pirates. Heart torn out and eaten. Meet Victoria. I can't decide which sounds more fun..."). Both are played very well by Charlie Cox and Claire Dane respectively, who have great chemistry together.
While the two main leads are the heart of the film, it's the supporting players that steal the show. Mark Strong and Michelle Pfeiffer are both great as the two main villains of the story, particularly Pfeiffer, who is both cunning and (despite the fact that she was pushing fifty by the time the film hit theaters) beautiful, at least at the beginning (one of the amusing parts about her character, Lamia, is that she loves both being beautiful and using magic whenever she can, particularly on helpless victims. However, every time she uses more magic, she loses more of her beauty, so you can imagine the type of conflict this creates) Mark Strong plays Septimus, who is not as powerful, but just as cunning and ruthless. Robert De Niro, meanwhile, is hilarious as the fearsome Pirate Shakespeare (apparently, the name sounds really fierce to the ears of Pirates) who has the funniest scene in the entire movie (it's cheesy, but in a good way). The rest of the cast is also strong, while Ian Mckellen offers a great narration to the story.
Given the amount of characters in the film, I was kind of worried how the climax would pay off, but thankfully, my worries were misplaced. Everything comes together perfectly in the finale, which is both big, tense, and emotionally rewarding, while even managing to squeeze a little bit of humor as well (curtsey of the princes, whom whenever they die come back as ghosts to follow the living ones)
Stardust is a perfect example of what a lighthearted fantasy film should be like. In fact, outside of the Lord of the Rings films, this is arguably my favorite fantasy film of the last decade. It's full of humor, heart, and great performances, and is just a whole blast of good fun.