Stardust

Cast:
Charlie Cox as Tristan Thorne
Claire Danes as Yvaine
Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare
Sienna Miller as Victoria
Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia
Sarah Alexander as Empusa
Jason Flemyng as Primus
Rupert Everett as Secondus
Mark Strong as Septimus
Kate Magowan as Una
Melanie Hill as Ditchwater Sal
Ricky Gervais as Ferdy the Fence
Peter Goodall as Tristian’s Son
Peter O’Toole as King Of Stormhold
Nathaniel Parker as Dunstan Thorne
Ben Barnes as Young Dunstan Thorne
Mark Burns as New Bishop
Adam Buxton as Sextmus
Henry Cavill as Humphrey
Jake Curran as Bernard
Olivia Grant as Girl Bernard
Frank Ellis as Mr. Monday
David Kelly as Old Guard
Terry Murphy as Very Old Pirate
Ian McKellen as Narrator
Josie Rees as Xenia
Joanna Scanlan as Mormo

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Summary:
Vaughn infuses the best elements of Neil Gaiman’s writing into a delightfully fun and magical fantasy film, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the first “Pirates” or “Lord of the Rings.”

Story:
Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), a resident of the village of Wall, named after the unpassable wall that runs along it, has fallen head-over-heels in love with a spoiled local girl named Victoria (Sienna Miller) and in order to win her heart, he agrees to bring her back a fallen star from across the wall. It turns out that across the wall is a magical world called Stormhold where the star is a living and breathing being named Yvaine (Claire Danes) who is being chased by an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a group of princes that need her to gain control of the kingdom of their dying father (Peter O’Toole).

Analysis:
Fantasy can be tough, especially in this day and age where everyone is so caught up in the craziness of the real world. Very few modern writers have been able to capture the feel of fantasy masters Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as well as comic writer Neil Gaiman, and it’s somewhat surprising that “Stardust” is the first major feature film based on one of Gaiman’s printed works, a graphic novel done in the late ’90s with artist Charles Vess. (Gaiman previously co-wrote the mostly-animated film “MirrorMask” with his artistic collaborator Dave McKean, but that was never a comic or novel beforehand.)

Opening with a voice-over by Ian McKellen–the perfect narrator to get one in the mood for fantasy–we’re transported to the village of Wall where an adventurous young man named Dunstan Thorne skirts the guardian of the wall (the always-lovable David Kelley) to venture into the world of Stormhold. There, he meets a beautiful woman at a market, they fall in love and nine months later, a baby is left on his doorstep. (And yes, we’ll find out much later the reason for this prelude.) That baby grows up to be Tristan (Charlie Cox), a romantic shopboy who has a thing for the seemingly unattainable Victoria, who promises to marry him if he can catch a falling star for her. He follows his father across the wall into Stormhold where the adventure begins in earnest, as he encounters the beautiful Yvaine (Claire Danes) and promptly chains her to himself in order to bring her back to Victoria with a group of unsavory characters wanting her for their own means.

Being from the mind of Neil Gaiman, “Stardust” is a bit more complex than traditional fantasy tales, but instead of being about ogres or dwarves, it’s about the characters. (There’s a unicorn in there for those who need something more grounded in fantasy archetypes.) It takes some time to adjust to Claire Danes’ awkward attempt at a British accent but after a few “meet cute” moments with Charlie Cox, a star in the making if ever there was one, it’s easy to enjoy their rapport as they meet all sorts of strange people on their journey across Stormhold. Robert De Niro is particularly funny as the pirate captain with a big secret, while Michelle Pfeiffer is deliciously evil as Lamia, one of three witches trying to capture Yvaine in order to revive their youth. They’re also being chased by a group of squabbling princes who need a necklace found by Yvaine in order to win the crown of Stormhold. They conspire and kill each other one by one until they’re left as a comical Greek chorus of apparitions reacting to events as they take place. Just when you think that they’ve shot their load with zaniness, along comes the inimitable Ricky Gervais as a suitably sleazy shopkeeper that specializes in the bizarre.

Fans of the original graphic novel might be slightly peeved by the flagrant omissions and embellishments, but Vaughn and his cast capture the feel of Gaiman’s light sense of humor, taking the epic nature of films like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lord of the Rings” and infusing them with the eccentricity and whimsy of Terry Gilliam. Vaughn also should be commended for the way he’s able to create organic special effects and establish the world with sweeping shots of the landscape. While not particularly reverential to the source material, he has created something far more cinematic using Gaiman and Vess’ work as an outline. While it’s highly British and quite odd at times, it’s set firmly enough in the world of fantasy that fans of the genre can embrace the effort regardless of their familiarity with Gaiman’s work.

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