Stardust is the fairy tale adventure about the innocent young Tristan (Charlie Cox) who sets out to capture a fallen star to bring back to his unrequited love Victoria (Sienna Miller) in exchange for her hand in marriage. To do this, the 18-year-old must for the first time leave his secure home in Wall, a village which gets its name from the guarded stone wall that separates England from the magical land of Stormhold.
In Stormhold, the seven princes (three living, four as ghosts) gather around their father’s death bed to find out which of them the king (Peter O’Toole) will choose as his successor. The king takes from around his neck a jeweled pendant, which contains the power of Stormhold, and tosses it out the window into the night sky. The son that retrieves the necklace will assume the throne.
It’s this pendant that wraps around the star, causing it to fall from the sky in the form of a beautiful young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Unfortunately for Yvaine not only are Tristan and the princes of Stormhold pursuing her, but so is the evil Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), a decrepit-looking witch who plans to eat the star’s heart to restore her once youthful appearance.
If you’ve a fan of the Stardust illustrated novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, you’ll have the urge to scrutinize director Matthew Vaughn‘s liberally adapted film — not because the film is bad, but because the book is that good. That’s why I suggest you leave your knowledge of the book behind if you truly want to enjoy this film.
What Vaughn, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jane Goldman, gives us is a much-need addition to the romantic fairy tale movie genre, complete with glorious special effects and gorgeous scenery, sticking with the basic components of Gaiman’s story (although why Tristran’s name was changed to Tristan is puzzling).
The nature of Tristan’s conception, his heritage, and the reason for and result of his quest are all still intact, as is the humorous, yet bloodthirsty, backstabbing ways of the princes of Stormhold. Also true to the book is Yvaine’s cranky behavior, which is to be expected considering her circumstances, but when she’s happy, light emanates from her, making her simply adorable.
It takes awhile for Yvaine to soften to Tristan, who starts out as a bumbling naive boy. During his time with Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro), the lightning-catching master of an airborne pirate ship, Tristan montages it through to maturity and into a suave, sword-wielding fairy tale hero.
De Niro’s Shakespeare — a character who was not in Gaiman’s original story — starts out as the typical New York-accented De Niro typecast, which obviously has no place in this movie. Luckily, De Niro quickly assimilates, turning out a humorous performance while providing Tristan with a much-needed mentor.
But it’s Pfeiffer’s foul-intentioned Lamia, who’s thwarted at every turn, who steals the show. She’s hideous, horrible, and heinous, yet you can’t help but like her in the same way you like Darth Vadar. When she’s in her old crone stage, she does her best hunched-over Emperor impression, complete with shooting magical beams from her fingertips. It doesn’t take long to realize that while Lamia is seductive in her youthful appearance, she’s always deadly and dangerous.
My only problem with Stardust is that it should have been longer, as the events in the film seem to resolve themselves a little too quickly. I can’t help but think that there must have been some pressure from the movie studio to keep this film short. Stardust has all the makings of an epic fantasy the likes of Lord of the Rings, with the humorous undertones of The Princess Bride, while still retaining its originality. It definitely would have benefited from longer running time, which hopefully we’ll get with the DVD release.