At The Picture Show
Gaimain, DeNiro and Co. infuse obvious story with the creative juices it needs
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, based on the novel by Neil
Starring: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mark Strong, Robert
DeNiro, Ricky Gervais, Sienna Miller, Jason Flemyng and Peter O'Toole
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 8 minutes
Opens August 10, 2007
(out of four)
Another movie wouldn't have gotten away with this. It's too easy. From the
opening expository scenes of Stardust, we know exactly how all the pieces are
going to fall into place. We know the identities of all the "mysterious" characters,
and how they fit with everyone else. When the objectives of the plot are
introduced, we know exactly how every hole is going to be filled. It's almost
That is a recipe for boredom. In a movie driven by
story (converging stories in this case), what could be more boring than knowing
how it all fits together before it's even gotten started?
That should be the case, at least. Stardust is as predictable as an episode of House,
M.D., and that may dilute the intended sense of urgency. But there's so much
inventiveness on display that the film works anyway. It becomes not about where
we're going or even how we're getting there, but about what happens along the
The essential storyline involves the young Tristran (Charlie Cox), a young lad
with dubious origins of birth who longs to impress the beautiful Victoria (Sienna
Miller). When they see a falling star one night, Tristran promises to bring her back
the star and thus win her hand.
To do so, he'll need to cross the wall separating
his village from the mysterious Stormhold, ruled by its dying king (Peter
O'Toole), who is about to bequeath his kingdom to one of his three remaining
sons - whomever can find and restore some kind of magic ruby necklace (just go
Needless to say, Tristran gets over the wall - after taking a beating from the wall
guard first - and finds not a pile of stardust or "a bit of celestial rock," as he
expects, but a lovely girl, Yvaine (Claire Danes) who was knocked out of her
perch among her fellow stars by a flying ruby necklace, which she now wears
around her neck. And so for the rest of the film, everyone who is anyone is after
Yvaine . . . for varying reasons.
For the three brothers, they need the necklace. For the evil, Shakespearean witches
three - led by Lamia (the still-exceptionally beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer, even at
49) - they need her so they can cut out her heart and be young again. Tristran
needs her so he can have Victoria as his own . . . though, needless to say, the
romance in the movie is between he and Yvaine, not Victoria.
Adapted from a short novel by Neil Gaimain -
whose works have only just recently started to be adapted to film, with this one
joining 2005's MirrorMask and others, including Coraline, on tap in the next few
years - Stardust is a fairly conventional boy-meets-girl, boy-saves-girl, boy-becomes-man, action-adventure-romance, but that's not what drives it forward.
In the moments when the main thread languishes in monotony, there always seems
to be some creative element to pull us out of it. Whether it's the comic relief of the
king's dead sons - who, as ghosts, observe everything and provide resigned,
sardonic commentary - or action setpieces that continually find new ways to do
old things, the film is practically buzzing with creative energy. There is a great and
surprising swordfight scene that shouldn't even be possible. There are scenes that
defy and toy with convention, and moments of sly adult humor.
I assume much of the creativity comes from
Gaiman's own ideas, so he deserves a lot of credit. Matthew Vaughn, directing his
second feature after 2005's Layer Cake, does a solid enough job and has the
benefit of a mostly excellent cast at his disposal. While Danes - one of the few
American members of the cast - can't master the English accent (why does the star
have to have an English accent in the first place?!) and could have easily been
replaced by a handful of other, better actresses, the film's many supporting actors
more than carry their weight.
In particular, Robert DeNiro - as the menacing Captain Shakespeare of a flying
pirate ship - gives a fantastic supporting turn full of unexpected delights and wry
humor. The king's sons - both dead and alive - are consistently entertaining as
played by the likes of Rupert Everett and Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock and Two
Smoking Barrels and Snatch, both produced by Vaughn).
And then there's the great, inimitable Ricky
Gervais, who has rapidly become the British Christopher Walken, an actor who
immediately makes every movie - even the bad ones - better. He's in classic
Gervais form as Ferdy the Fence, a provider of goods and services like two-headed
guard dogs and the like.
Anyone who has ever seen a movie will have Stardust figured out in the first few
minutes. However, there will be things over the course of the movie that they have
not seen. Even when the story is cluttered and the outcomes obvious, it is those
inventive action setpieces and special effects and subtle comedic touches that
make it all work.
Read more by Chris Bellamy