Stardust

The movie industry keeps doing this to me. Some weekends I absolutely can't decide between two films, and other weekends, there's just nothing new out there that I'm getting paid enough to see. Actually, I'm not getting paid at all, but you know what I mean. And though I was interested to see Rush Hour 3, this is the one I was really after this weekend.

This is based on a novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, creator of the Sandman universe, among other things. I love Sandman, and loved this novel, so though I couldn't wait to see the film, I was also nervous. I mean, books to movies often don't work out well, and lots of times it's better not to have read the book. This time, though, it was actually okay.

Stardust is really a fairy tale. A young man hopes to woo the young woman he loves, and takes upon himself a quest to prove how much he adores her. In this case, the quest is for a falling star that he and the young lady in question see fall one night. The catch in this case is that the star falls beyond the Wall, for which the village they live in is named. Beyond the Wall is the realm of Faery, where mere mortals like the young man (Tristran Thorn, played by Charlie Cox) dare not venture.

Except Tristran isn't a mere mortal, but the child of a mortal man and a Faery woman. He gets past the wall (fiercely guarded by a 97-year old man) and finds the star, which -- to his astonishment -- is actually a young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Yvaine, unsurprisingly, isn't too keen on being a present for some random girl, but Tristran captures her with an enchanted silver chain, and they begin the long journey back to Wall.

But it wouldn't be a fairy tale without all sorts of weird dangers along the way. Other people want the star, too, including Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia, one of three witches who keep their youth through stealing the hearts of fallen stars. Then there are the princes -- their dying father (Peter O'Toole) flung the jewel that is the symbol of the next ruler up into the night sky, knocking down Yvaine in the process, and now the four princes are after the poor star as well, since she has the gem. Pretty soon there's only one prince after her, though, namely Septimus (Mark Strong, the guy under all the makeup in Sunshine), because it's traditional for princes around here to kill each other off until only one is left for the throne. Seems wasteful to me, but apparently it works for them.

There are more people causing mischief, of course, but those are the main ones, and everyone and everything interconnects, so pay attention so you can catch everything. Just assume everyone has a hidden agenda or a deep dark secret, or both -- except our two heroes. Yvaine just wants to go home, and Tristran just wants his true love, but since this is a Gaiman fairy tale, they both get what they want in a way they never expected.

Now, up until they meet Robert de Niro as the sky-pirate captain, you've pretty much been watching people act out the book. There are characters missing and things glossed over, of course, but overall, it is the book. Then Captain Shakespeare shows up, and things take a sudden, sharp left turn. It isn't entirely a bad turn, not too jarring, but a turn nonetheless, and I'm pretty sure it's just there so they can jazz up the end with a lot of swordfights and magic and swashbuckling that really wasn't in the book. Actually, Robert de Niro does do one extremely jarring thing, but I'll let you see that for yourself. Words wouldn't do it justice.

Anyway, different from the book it certainly is, at least from about the middle on, but I still really liked it. Gaiman was one of the producers, so I think he managed to keep things at least sort of on track even while they were making the film more Hollywood. (I keep wondering why they wrote in that sky captain part, because the character's barely mentioned in the book. Really, I guess I keep wondering if Robert de Niro asked for the part for some reason...) That's usually a very, very tricky balance, but it worked out all right here, and I'm terribly relieved.

Four and a quarter idols. It's not family-friendly -- I'd expected them to leave out the ghosts of the dead princes, but they're in there and slightly disturbing, in a darkly humorous sort of way, and there's also a part not from the book where a corpse runs around doing things that's a little icky. But there is a nice mix of lighthearted humor, Yvaine's sarcasm, and slightly over the top action that ends up being a very good combination. The accents are pretty good (thankfully, Robert de Niro does not try to sound British), and the acting is all great. Ricky Gervais (boss David Brent from The Office -- the real, British show, not that terrible version here in the States) has a small but very funny part as Ferdy the Fence; and Rupert Everett (probably best known to U.S. audiences from Shreks 2 and 3 as the voice of Prince Charming, and Christopher Marlowe in Shakespeare in Love) gets to chew a little scenery as the mostly-dead Prince Secundus. So go see it, enjoy, and watch out for falling stars on your way home.

Originally published 08/2007. Still a neat flick.

Image: 
De Niro actually does something even more jarring than teaching Yvaine to waltz.

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