On the surface, Stardust looks like a cheesy little fluff fantasy. In many ways it is. Yet at the same time, it’s also the most fun I’ve had with a film since watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Filled with imagination, comedy and restrained special effects, Stardust is above all charming.
The film centers around the young and awkward Tristan (Charlie Cox), a dreamer who is in love with Victoria (Sienna Miller), a snobby girl who is clearly out of his league. In order to win her hand, Tristan promises to get her a shooting star. Little does he know that as he sets out on his quest that the shooting star in question lands in the form of a beautiful girl name Yvaine (Claire Danes). Yvaine is the lightning rod for several other subplots as others seek her out for various reasons. There’s the princely brothers in search of the magic necklace Yvaine wears around her neck. Whomever retrieves it becomes the king. There’s also a witch (Michelle Pfeiffer in a devilishly delightful turn) who wants to capture the star for her anti-aging sensibilities.
Blending an old-fashioned sense of adventure with comedy, romance and fantasy, Stardust is tons of fun. Even with a huge cast, all of the characters are distinct. They all have believable motives, not to mention looks and voices that differ from the hustle and bustle around them. This makes for exciting and often hilarious interactions that are constantly changing and pushing the film forward.
The vision of Stardust is classical, like a Technicolor dream. There’s air pirates, witches who age before your eyes, a peanut gallery of ghosts and lots of other little magical twists and turns. Yet the look of the film doesn’t go overboard with the effects like it easily could have. The climactic battle in particular is an example of where director Matthew Vaughn goes to great lengths to provide some bang but not in the dizzying way that a lot of today’s action films do. Unlike a Michael Bay opus, I don’t get a sense of vertigo or a migraine just trying to keep up with the battles. Rather, Vaughn grounds the action into a couple of key spots. This makes the action more intense as you aren’t already exhausted after the opening ten minutes.
There’s a lot going on in Stardust. Perhaps a little too much. Adapted from the novel by Neil Gaiman, there’s one storyline too many as things sometimes gets sidetracked. Like a kid walking by a candy store, it’s hard not to get distracted because everything inside is so yummy, but there are times when the story loses its rhythm. There’s enough going on to fill an epic miniseries yet here it is squished into a two-hour package.
Although it’s not as quotable as The Princess Bride, Stardust is nonetheless a worthy alternative to hold alongside it. It offers something for everyone whether it’s love or war, action or comedy. It’s a rare film that truly captures the playful spirit of film and fantasy.
Stardust DVD Review
Perhaps it’s because I’m so fond of Stardust that I wish it were given a better DVD release. The film looks and sounds great (enhanced widescreen picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio in English, French and Spanish) but it’s severely lacking in creative bonus features. All you get is a pretty typical “making of” feauturette entitled “Good Omens”, some bloopers, five deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer and trailers for The Spiderwick Chronicles and Arctic Tale.