A fairytale romance where, in order to win his love, the heroic Tristan (Charlie Cox) must retrieve a fallen star by venturing into a magical realm. But he's not the only one after the star…... More
It's been compared to The Princess Bride and called a sword and sorcery take on Star Wars. It's based on a graphic novel by fantasy guru Neil Gaiman, directed by the talented Matthew Vaughn (gangster flick Layer Cake) and features an array of cameos by the likes of Robert de Niro and Ricky Gervais.Hide
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BY Flicks Writer
Let's face it here: while we all like these big sweeping fantasies just fine, they're brute-force storytelling. If you're doing it right, you don't have to overstate your plot loudly and slowly, like a tourist talking to a foreigner: your story's just not that clever.
Stardust does not realise this. Stardust, penned by the insufferably smug Neil Gaiman, really believes itself to be the cleverest, most subversive fairytale since... well, since The Princess Bride. And while it's unfair to compare a trifling frivolity with the all-time heavyweight in the genre, that's the comparison everyone seems to want to make.
But where a Neverending Story or a Krull would get on with the business of telling their tale, confident that audiences of any age would pick up on the important bits, Stardust is constantly stopping to make sure you know what's going on, and doing it via horrid, embarrassing attempts at down-with-the-kids dialog. Which is a shame, because when it just chills the fuck out and lets you wallow in its world, Stardust is really quite engaging. The big-name bit-parts disappoint terribly (De Niro's part seems entirely centred around the notion that gays are funny; Gervais' the assumption that we have watched The Office), but the core cast are singularly charming in a sprightly, winking, Sunday panto kind of way. The plot is shockingly inconsistent as a fairytale, but also gleefully plausible as - work with me here - an olde-worlde twist on the high-school-drama theme of fitting in with the popular kids.
Will Stardust be remembered with anything approaching the fondness of its esteemed antecedents? It's not likely, but then again, not quite inconceivable.
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To his credit however, his is an uphill battle; his competition here, Reiner's The Princess Bride, is a masterpiece. Yet Stardust is hardly without merit. It must simply be looked at in a kind of dual glance, with tongue in cheek and with the occasional knowing glance to other viewers. For while Vaughn's direction is at best poor, Gaiman's skill drags this commercialised paint by numbers film kicking and screaming into, and surprisingly, past, the realm of 'good'.
For while Bride relayed its opening half hour with a straight face, before delving headfirst into self parody, Stardust's remarkably similar opening, the notion that the hero has already gone someway towards winning the heart of his beloved but must leave to win it completely, does just the opposite. Those familiar with Gaiman will see the early twist coming a mile off, as he quickly throws out the initial premise, having his hero Tristan preferring, as do we all, the fallen star Claire Danes to the overly plain and so very annoyingly british Sienna Miller.
This is a sign of things to come, as Tristan(Cox) and Yvonne(Danes) travel across the kingdom of Stormhold, meeting a series of characters, both charming and irritating. Michelle Pfeiffer suffers from a watered down part, her Witch Queen now serving merely as a kind of default villain, with only the most simplistically contrived motivation (but then again, it IS a fairytale); De Niro serves a purpose and is occasionally quite entertaining, more importantly serving as the turning point for the film, his character dragging the plot up and out of its until then downward trend (perhaps Gaiman knew his story was briefly wavering, De Niro's Shakespeare is a sky pirate who literally whisks up the two leads from their own journey and carries them along on his), while Gervais' merchant is insufferably irritating, playing exactly the kind of sell-out character Gervais' Extras persona claims to despise. Vaughn even transposes that character's 'Are you havin a larff?' line from that show, Gervais appearing to glance 'cleverly' at the character, bringing only cringes and groans from a somewhat shocked audience. How on earth Gervais survived the cutting room floor at all is beyond me, his less than 5 minute cameo not in the slightest deserving of his face covering the posters for the film.
Best of all, however, are Stormhold's princes. A who's who of minor British supporting and cult actors, including Jason Flemyng, a Ritchie regular, Little Britain's David Walliams, Adam Buxton, most recently seen in Pegg and Wright's marvelous Hot Fuzz, overwhelmingly English Rupert Everett, and of course Mark Strong. As each lets their own bad luck, ego, or more commonly, stupidity, bring about their demise, they join the bench of royal ghosts overlooking the survivor(s), able to comment sarcastically upon the events unfolding. They serve as Gaiman's own voice in many places, not propelling the action, but critiquing it from within, never so hubristic as to break the fourth wall, but more than happy to point out interesting tidbits or to the viewer, or make sure the kiddies don't miss the important stuff without interrupting the plot, as Bride's own characters and narrator (often intentionally) had a tendency to do.
De Niro's introduction serves a number of purposes, frustratingly, largest among these is to rush the development of the characters that should have begun the moment Tristan left his village of Wall and Yvonne crashed to earth. This is largely a flaw of Vaughn's rewrite; while Gaiman had Shakespeare tutor Tristan, both characters development had begun much earlier in his original text. Instead, Tristan is reclothed in regal attire, taught swordplay in it's entirety, and made aware of Yvonne's feelings through a simplistic visual trick whereby she begins to glow in the presence of her love (as any good star should), which I am ashamed to say the romantic in me found enormously appealing.
From this point on, the film gains speed, the flaws fall away, and Gaiman's story shines through brighter and brighter. Plotlines which had until this point remained seperate join and intertwine in both satisfying and unusual ways, while the tension created by several events will make many casual viewers be surprised at just how much they have come to care for these characters.
Stardust is no Princess Bride. It may not last the test of time, as Bride certainly has. It is poorly directed and at times cringeworthy, but it is cleverly written, and the last half more than makes up for the first, particularly the clever turnaround of the film's opening, and the sweet short satisfaction of Tristan's return to Wall. Do not miss this film; go and see it simply to acknowledge its place just a step behind Reiner's classic. Then go home and watch The Princess Bride.Hide
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