Directed by Matthew Vaughn
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.