So about 5 years ago all the foppish hipster types started going on about a film called Stardust. These where the fangirls (Mostly girls) that always cream themselves whenever a Neil Gaimen book comes out so I pretty much ignored them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Gaimen’s writing but, like say Tim Burton, he has a gaggle of fans that just irk me. They just love everything he does without reason. Tim Burton fans are far worse of course, but I digress… I avoided Stardust because the trailer was a bit weak, it had a Take That song attached to it and I don’t need teenage girls that wouldn’t know a good story if it smacked them in the face telling me what to watch. These same fangirls totally forgot to hype up Coraline though because by that point there was talk of Twilight being turned into a film and they were gushing all over that now. Coraline is awesome. Also, I should have watched Stardust sooner.
Stardust tells the oft convoluted story of a young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) who’s father, 18 years and 9 months earlier, had passed over a wall (Which is actually a portal) to another world and promptly boned the first woman he saw. Now, aged 18, Tristan is in love with a self centred… Screw it I’m quoting Loki here, a mewling little quim called Victoria (Sienna Miller) and, after taking her out for a picnic and seeing a falling star, Tristan tells her he plans to recover that star and bring it back to her to prove his love. Tristan, with a little help from his dad, manages to get over the wall and into the fantasy world of Stormhold and wouldn’t you know it, the star turns out to be a woman! This woman called Yvaine (Claire Danes) agrees to travel with Tristan to be presented to his potential love Victoria in exchange for use of a Babylon candle which will allow her to return to the stars. So far so fantasy. This being based on a Gaimen epic novel though means that there’s a lot more strands to be followed, strands which in the end do a fair bit of harm to the films progression.
To complicate matters a king has died and it was a little magic incantation of his, made on his deathbed, that caused Yvaine to fall from the sky. This spell was used to help decide who would become the next king of the 4 remaining brothers of a family of 7. Their goal is to get to Yvaine and claim the necklace around her neck which will turn the stone back into a ruby. Along with this a witch named Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) has seen that the star has fallen and intends to find Yvaine and cut out her heart for Lamia and her sisters can have their youth restored. So that’s 3 plot threads running in parallel now leading to a total of three people actively hunting down Yvaine (two of the brothers are killed early on leaving two) and one person travelling with her. Oh yeah, Tristan’s mum is also a lost princess sister of the princes hunting down Yvaine. That little bit of information is there from the start of course and once you hear what the princes prize will be you can pretty much figure out where this film will end up.
The films only real problem is this story. Writer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn had quite the task adapting the sprawling epic fantasy tale, one of the few that has the decency to be only one book long to their benefit, into one nice two hour long movie package with the fairly modest (for its genre) budget of $70 million. What seems to have happened is that such an effort had been made to retain as many plot threads from the book as possible that we end up with a film that is entirely unsure where to focus its story telling efforts. We’re following multiple threads, especially with the villains, and not really getting enough time to build the relationship that develops between Yvaine and Tristan. Thankfully though Goldman does a good job making sure that the time they have is largely not wasted. This may be a unfocused story but it tells what it needs to efficiently. It also doesn’t help that the films final scenes are telegraphed from very early on. It would have been to the films benefit to have not had the character of Una (Tristan’s mother) not reveal that she is a kidnapped princess. That way we wouldn’t have the logical conclusion to the film in our head from the beginning. If you haven’t guessed how the film ends already then, well, this films for you.
The contents of the film are sufficient to satisfy most movie goers though. The film is very much in the vein of 80s fantasy’s such as The Princess Bride and pretty much anything Terry Gilliam made then that wasn’t called Brazil. No surprise that he was once attached to direct this film. Matthew Vaughn isn’t the most subtle of directors and his passion for the quirky comedy of Gilliam is quite clear. For example a character that could have easily been a one note cameo from Robert DeNiro ends up becoming one of the films most lovable side characters thanks to his personal character quirks. Speaking of characters and performance, most of the cast are pretty likeable especially Pfeiffer’s Lamia who makes for quite a fun villainess. Charlie Cox though is pretty forgettable and seems to be fairly uncomfortable in a lead role, never really commanding any sort of screen presence.
As mentioned, for a film of this type, the films budget was fairly modest. To create unique worlds you need a hell of a lot of effects or a hell of a lot of imagination. Preferably both. Mostly Stardust pulls off its world and its inhabitants successfully but you can tell that it has been shackled by it’s budgetary limitations. There are certainly one too many scenes set either in a field or in a mountainous field. Most of the interior locations are modestly designed sets, I say most because the witches home is quite an extravagant set that clearly shows where a large amount of the production time went into. While the films locations may lack ambition in places the witches home does make up for it somewhat by providing a well designed location for the film’s well staged finale.
Overall Stardust isn’t a bad film by any means. It’s certainly above average. It’s just too cluttered to be considered, by me at least, a truly good film. It is memorable though and when it’s plot manages to focus on one group of characters long enough it manages to maintain interest and investment well. Really could have done without a Take That song on the end credits though. Dunno what it is with Matthew Vaughn and shit music at the end of his films. Kick-Ass had a Mika song and X-Men: First Class had a Take That number too. Maybe he’s a big fan of the way Japanese horrors always have the most bizarre ending themes. Death Note had Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stardust gets Take That. Anyway, Stardust is worth a watch and it is entirely within reason to understand if some people, such as Neil Gaimen fangirls, view this as a cult classic. Except in their eyes it wouldn’t be “just” a cult classic, it would be the greatest film ever made and way way waaay better than some shite like Chinatown or Casablanca. In their mind I mean. Kids today huh? With their loud music and their Dan Fogelberg and their Pac-man videogames…