When You Wish Upon a ‘Stardust’
Whimsical, thrilling, enchanting, touching, wry, knowing…heck, let’s just cut to the chase and call Stardust what it is: magical.
I’ve been accused of speaking in blurbs before, but since the above pretty accurately represents my unfiltered thoughts as the final credits rolled at the Stardust screening I attended a few weeks ago, I’m standing by them now.
Stardust is that rarest of rarities, a genuinely original fable containing equally spellbinding delights for both adults and kids. The movie is rated PG-13, but I’d humbly suggest that you could safely go several years younger — certainly any child old enough to be reading and grooving to Harry Potter should eat this up. Which is not to suggest that it’s a kid’s movie, but simply to state that it deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.
I should probably admit that I haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s original novel since it was first serialzied by Vertigo (and latecomers should note that the gorgeous Charles Vess illustrations in the collected Vertigo edition make it the definitive presentation of the book), so if you’re looking for a beat-by-beat breakdown of where the movie “gets it wrong,” you’ll have to look elsewhere. I prefer to view movie adaptations on their own merits, putting as much distance between my reading of the original source material and the release of the movie as possible. In the case of Stardust, with regards to my (fond) memories of the original text, the filmmakers seem to have gotten the spirit of the book exactly right. In fact, if anything, they’ve amplified certain aspects of the original story to make an even stronger movie than a by-the-numbers faithful adaptation would’ve likely yielded.
Capturing the spirit of the novel is one thing, but it’s the heart of a movie like this that really counts, and Stardust has heart in spades.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Tristan is a young man of, shall we say, “mixed” parentage –a phrase which when used here means only one of his parents is strictly, well, human– living in the sleepy hamlet of Wall in the English countryside. While picnicking with his intended one night, they see a shooting star streak overhead and appear to touch down some miles from their picnic site. To win the hand of his intended, Tristan vows to prove his love by seeking out and returning with that fallen star as a gift for his beloved. The catch? The star has fallen somewhere deep in the land on the other side of the wall for which his hometown is named … and on the other side of that wall, behind a guarded entryway and unbeknownst to all but a privileged few of the townfolk, lies the magical realm of Stormhold. The kingdom of Stormhold is a fairy tale come to life, peopled with a dying King, murderous princes, a captive princess, scheming witches … and it’s a place where Nothing Is As It Seems, including falling stars.
Being a fable, and a quest at that, there are Lessons Learned in Stardust, there is Love Lost and Love Found, there is humor both broad and veiled, there’s magic and mystery. All of this is deftly achieved in the hands of the gifted director Matthew Vaughn (whose last movie was the gritty British crime flick Layer Cake) as he and his A-List cast work their own special brand of magic with the material. Oh, did I fail to mention that among the stars of this movie are such notables as Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Peter O’Toole and Robert De Niro? The entire cast shines, but De Niro in particular deserves some sort of commendation for his performance as Captain Shakespeare, a fearsome pirate of the skies who isn’t all that he seems at first blush. To say any more would be to cheat you of one of the movie’s great comedic turns but, suffice to say, this is De Niro as you’ve never seen (or imagined) him before.
There were also a pair of unexpected (by me anyway) guest appearances that I won’t give away but that I suspect will be cherished by a great many viewers. Unless my eyes deceived me, one of these is an uncredited cameo by an American actress who many in the movie’s target audience should be delighted to see involved, and the other is a more substantial role, played by a noted British comic actor who handily steals every scene in which he appears.
Being a fable, the adult viewer is probably going to figure out pretty much exactly how the movie will end fairly early on, and will likely also see many of the “surprise” plot twists coming before they’re revealed but, trust me, none of this should detract from your enjoyment of the movie. Even if you don’t usually tend to go for fantasy flicks, I would humbly suggest that you not resist the many pleasures that await you in Stardust…just surrender and let yourself be borne away on wings of pure cinematic joy.