Stardust (2007)

stardust

“Does it look like anything non-human is down there? No. And do you know why? Because it’s a field!”

The Scoop: 2007 PG-13, directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer

Tagline: This summer a star falls. The chase begins.

Summary Capsule: A lovesick youth vows to recover a fallen star to prove his devotion to a fickle girl. Things… don’t go exactly as planned.

Heather’s rating: Whimsical tomfoolery!

Heather’s review: I wish that I had watched this movie when it first came out, instead of last week (February of 2011, as of writing). I read the novel last year, so when I saw the movie the inevitable happened: Rather than enjoy the film to the fullest and judge it on its own merits, I spent the entire time comparing it to the book.

It’s for this very reason that I try to catch the movie before I read the book it was based on. It’s a great idea in theory: I don’t spend two hours comparing and being disappointed, and my enjoyment of the book isn’t skewed in the slightest. In practice, however, life happens. Movies don’t get made until after books are written (crazy, I know), and sometimes I don’t even know about the existence of a movie version while I’m reading a book, or vice versa. In this case, I can kind of blame Dianne Wynn Jones for me having read Stardust before I saw it.

I read her novel, Howl’s Moving Castle, back in 2006. When Stardust came out and I read the description, I saw it as a rip-off of Howl and indignantly decided never to watch it. Flash forward to 2010 and I find myself in possession of the novel, accidentally “borrowed” from a friend (my husband stuck it in my suitcase, thinking it was mine).  Well into the book it hit me that this story shared striking similarities to Jones’s novel, and that was when a realization struck: This was that same story I scoffed at years ago. At the end of the novel Gaiman thanks Jones for the inspiration, which answered the multitude of questions I was having about how he didn’t get sued for copyright infringement.  Apparently they’re practically BFFs.  So, while I think there are dangerously too many similarities in Gaiman’s story, I can appreciate that they’re not the same tale.

Since Mike and Drew have already rehashed the plot (found near the bottom ‘o this here post) I get a free pass to prattle on about why I didn’t like the movie as much as they did. Yay for unbridled negativity!

I give the movie points for the fact that the characters had a lot more personality than they did in the book (and for adding the superb Captain Shakespeare), but I have to take away major points for development. Due to the story being crammed into 2 hours, the development of Tristan from a boring, insecure and seemingly dull-witted individual into a hero in the book (kudos, Gaiman; that was well done) was totally lost. Also, the romance between Yvaine and Tristan felt so generic and rushed. It was the typical jolting progression from “We have no interest in each other” to “Let’s shout awful, unwarranted insults (‘stupid cow?’ really?)” to “Aw, we just wove each other so much! Mwah! ”

Lastly, Movie Victoria bothered me. Mostly because of the ending, but also because of how much more manipulative she seemed in the film. At the end of the book she was happy; happy with Humphrey and happy for Tristan. Yet at the end of the movie we have Victoria with that typical look of snobbish reluctance and “harumph!” on her face when Tristan is marrying Yvaine. Annoying and trite typical movie romance crap.  This frustrates me, because I feel that Gaiman steered away from generic characters and situations and even the “happy ending”, but the movie just stuck them in because we need to see certain characters get their “comeuppance” and feel everything’s always right and fuzzy for always. Even the music was bland and generic. The Can-Can? Why?

To be fair, for every instance I inwardly yelled at the movie for moving in a different direction I also chuckled out loud (Eight times. I counted). Folks, I almost never chuckle out loud; especially not at this type of movie. Stardust had heart and humor and I can’t fault it that. I can fault it for too hard an attempt at humor. I think it could have been vastly improved with less goofy fun time and more of the seriousness and character development I found in the book, but hey; everything was made better with pirates, as it always is.

Kaleb’s rating: And then, the flabby skull ogre barely talked about the movie in question at all, The End.

Kaleb’s review: The year: 2008.  The place: Houston, Texas.  ‘Twas during my annual early-year visit with my sister (which, judging from my intro-story track record, is the only circumstance in which anything ever happens), that we did ride her mighty steed Fordfusion; across the petrochemical plains, resting in the shadow of the Glistening Spires–domain of the warring wizards, Chayss and Citibanc–through the Energy Corridor* to Montrose**, the magical kingdom of the rape-elves, in search of Castle Excrackhaus; that we might fellowship with her comrades, and dine on the finest of pizzas.

I don’t recall what the occasion was, but I do recall that even my sister–my city-hardened, cigar-chomping, eye-patch-wearing, over-sixty-percent-bionic sister–seemed genuinely unnerved by the neighborhood.  I recall both of us covering the treacherously cover-free fifty feet or so between the curb and the renovated crackhouse in a hunched run, as though we were being mortared; our sibling bond callously overridden by the quiet agreement that if either of us fell, there we would stay.  I recall that, reckoning our distance from the central business district by sight — you know, once we were actually in the loft and could kind of see over the other crackhouse across the street — we were at the precise coordinates*** where people get killed in every cop show and movie.  And finally, I recall thinking that getting our middle-class groove on in a presumed once-a-dump that had been converted into an absolutely gorgeous loft apartment, with an actual, functional crackhouse right next door**** (not the one across the street; this is a different one), was kind of like constructing a giant set of ass-cheeks out of gold, mounting a diamond-encrusted bird-flipping hand on top, and aiming the enraging monolith at the rest of the neighborhood.  So that’s where I was, in my small town small mind (incidentally; I think so small, I use small words): Huddling inside an extravagant monumental fingerbutt, waiting for some sort of invasion.  I had a plan, though.  It involved crying out, “I am in no way affiliated with this bourgeois filth, and am, in fact, very poor myself, relative to my personal level of greed.  No fight!  Same same!”

The second part of my strategy involved being strapped to the hood of a ’64 Impala and set on fire.  Because I plan for success.

And then it was movie time!  And maybe a review of said movie at some point, yeah?

Stardust was only one of many potential films for viewing that night.  I don’t remember what the others were, but I do remember that they were all either chick flicks, or movies I’d already seen.  Or both.  Hey, do I judge you?

So it was that I still-grudgingly cast my vote for Stardust (In my head: “But Top Gun is already on TV.  We fear change.  Please, let us find solace in the bosom of Cheap Trick).  And a fine vote it was, if I do say so.

But… not a perfect one.  The whole time I was watching, I couldn’t help but feel that Stardust was saying, “Look at me!  I’m The Princess Bride, except fruitier and not as good!”  It never seems able to quite settle on how seriously it wishes to be taken, and a lot of it just feels like somebody was trying too hard.

That’s not to say that it was bad, by any stretch.  Quite the contrary: It has heart (miles and miles of it, in fact), an anachronistically (and… ana… setting… ly?)-wry sense of humor, and best of all, Tranny De Niro; the most uncomfortably hilarious character since Rambo Jesus.

I’d gladly give it 8 out of 10 Arbitrary Tokens.  It’s so enjoyable, in fact, it’s almost comparable to the otherwise-unparalleled glee of being the fourth or fifth person to review a movie, and as such, not having to worry about Scoop info, or Groovy Quotes, or Intermission stuff, or, indeed, even reviewing the movie!  But only almost.

*This is an actual place.  We were probably nowhere near it, though.

**To be fair, the exhaustive three minutes of research I’ve done seems to indicate that Montrose, by and large, is actually really nice; just not the part we were in, apparently.

***Five miles.  Because that allows the sparkly skyscrapers to be in the background of the murder, and then everyone can be all like, “Ooh, there’s civilization right over there, and then here’s brutality; it’s all poignant and crap.”  Seriously, keep an eye out and see if I’m not right.

****Which is handy, because I have a rule about not going anywhere that requires the car unless I need at least three things.  So if I was only out of crack, I wouldn’t have to wait until I was out of milk and toilet paper too.

Drew’s rating: To prove my love, I made an epic quest to the Land of Dave’s Jewelers to recover the shining star of round cut and no less than three-quarter carats.

Drew’s review: You and I, we’re mature people, right? Relatively speaking, I mean. We may be in different walks of life, but we’re all essentially adults here — certainly enough so that we don’t read fairy tales anymore. Back when we were kids, sure… that’s different, we didn’t know any better. But those days are long behind us. Now we read biting satire and historical biographies and tell-all books about celebrities. None of that storybook nonsense for us.

But in some tiny way, it’s a shame we don’t go for that sort of thing anymore. Because if we did, I could tell you about a new fantasy film called Stardust, based on a book by Neil Gaiman. I’d explain how, in many ways, it is a “traditional” fairy tale, but deftly plotted and suffused with the sly humor Gaiman is renowned for. I’d tell you about Tristan (Charlie Cox), a young man whose village borders the only gap in the Wall that separates our world from the magical kingdom of Stormhold. About how he sets out to prove his love for a village girl by retrieving a star that fell from the sky and bringing it back; and of how he learns that the star is actually a beautiful woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes), who’s being pursued by an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) bent on cutting out her heart and eating it. I could describe the bloodthirsty Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) and the secrets he holds, and why using animal entrails for prophecies carries its own set of risks.

If we were going to talk about such a movie (which we aren’t), I’d probably say that it’s the little things that add up to make Stardust so enchanting. That it isn’t the relatively straightforward adventure or love story that win you over, but all the minor details that Gaiman and his collaborators so excel at. Things like the goat-man who gallops his feet at all times and open doors with his mouth. And the guy who becomes a woman and can’t stop staring at his… feminine wiles. (Let’s be honest, we would all do the exact same thing.) And Prince Septimus bleeding blue blood, and the (heh) gravitational penalties of dark magic, and the hilarious ghost brothers.

I’d likely point out that Gaiman has always been a master of background details and subtle jokes in his writing, and it’s great to see that carry over to film. I might mention that Claire Danes seems more worldly than you’d expect of a pure, innocent star, but that would be a minor quibble. And I’d probably conclude by saying that, despite not being wholly original, Stardust‘s sense of humor, cool scenery, and good performances add up to one hell of a fun movie.

Those are the things I’d likely say about Stardust if we weren’t all rational, mature adults here. Fortunately, it’s been years since you and I were lame enough to be impressed by naive fairy tale drivel. Because otherwise, I might — just might, mind you — be tempted to end this review with my favorite Neil Gaiman quote of all time:

“Well, there’s only one way to end a story, really.”
“Don’t tell me: they all lived happily ever after?”
“That’s the one.”

Mike’s rating: 3 out of 7 princes. Wait… 2 out of, uhm 1… ok, we’re out of princes.

Mike’s review: There are a lot of good writers out there. Writers who can craft an intricate, thought-provoking story that you’ll read again and again. Only the best writers, however, can cast a spell over your imagination and send you spiraling into another world. Not just any alternate universe filled with unfamiliar and bizarre landscapes, but rather a place you know you’ve seen somewhere, like in a dream where you’re in familiar, yet askewed surroundings. Everything is recognizable, but just a little off, and the deeper you go, the more unsettling and wondrous things become.

This is where Neil Gaiman lives.

After stories like American Gods, Sandman, Neverwhere and Mirrormask, it’s clear that Gaiman can do fantasy like no other. You almost are forced to wonder if he’s not a kind of wizard, chronicling a very real magical realm that only he can see. I’m happy to say that his latest film, an adaptation of his book, continues that trend. In Stardust, he’s sculpted a contemporary, quirky fairy tale practically dripping with whimsy.

Charlie Cox as Tristan is maybe my favorite fantasy protagonist ever. As a dreamer who is constantly looking to the horizon, causing him to jump from job to job, he reminds me so much of myself I just can’t help but cheer him on. I just dig that even as he loses his latest job, it doesn’t take away from his unrealistic idealism. He doesn’t listen to anyone telling him this is all he is. He knows he is meant for more and simply hasn’t found the right road to take yet. His driving force is Victoria, a not-quite-rich-but-still-richer-than-Tristan socialite. Gaiman makes it fun by not portraying Victoria as a harpy or an overly sweet beauty. She makes no secret of of the fact that she plans to marry Tristan’s biggest enemy, a jerk whose sole form of entertainment seems to be belittling him. When a star falls and Tristan promises to fetch it in a week for Victoria, the adventures begin in earnest.

His first challenge is traversing “the Wall,” a border between our world and the magical realm of Stormhold (I freakin’ love that name). Before his task is completed, Tristan will have run afoul of at least two witches, joined a gang of sky-pirates (led the aptly named Captain Shakespeare, played by Robert DeNiro), made friends with a beautiful but rather hard to get along with heavenly body, and met a rapidly decreasing number of princes.

The acting is great. Michelle Pfeiffer owns her part as the witch Lamia, being nastier than we’ve seen her since Witches of Eastwick. DeNiro is, of course, genius as the flamboyant Captain. His performance may be the funniest thing I’ve seen in the theater this year. The scenery and special effects blend together seamlessly and are gorgeous without overpowering the story. The plot has some nice, if slightly predictable twists and turns, great comedic moments (blue blood! HA!), surprises, scares and a brilliantly funny narration.

By the end of the movie, it becomes glaringly apparent that Tristan does indeed have a great destiny in store, but the real lucky ones are those of us who get to watch it unfold.

Intermission:

  • Heather says:  Howl’s Moving Castle was made into a movie by famed anime director Hiyao Miyazaki. It’s gorgeous, as usual, but  holy cow, did he make a muddled mess out of the story.  Those I’ve talked to that haven’t read the book can’t follow the movie, and those like me who did read the book were still confused.
  • Heather says: Tristan’s name was “Tristran” in the book. I can see why they changed it. That’s a tongue-tripper.
  • And Heather also says: Yeah, guys. The gingerbread house thing is pretty tasteless. Shame on you!
  • Stardust was originally published in 1997 as a 4-issue comic miniseries, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by longtime collaborator Charles Vess. In 1999 Gaiman adapted the story into a novel without illustrations. Numerous changes were made for the movie, such as the inclusion of Captain Shakespeare and the overall ending.
  • One character who was left out of the film adaptation is a large talking tree, based on Gaiman’s close friend Tori Amos. Amos references this in her song “Horses” with the line “And if there is a way to find you, I will find you/But will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?”
  • Secundus’ death – and the king’s reaction to it – is pretty hilarious.
  • If possible, Michelle Pfeiffer looks even more satisfied at the sight of herself naked than most men would. And that is no mean feat.
  • “Hold me tight and think of home”? Tristan’s such a playa.
  • Gravity is a cruel mistress, Ms. Pfeiffer.
  • More of a “whoopty”: Captain Shakespeare or Jack Sparrow? Discuss.
  • If I were fighting a reanimated corpse, I think I’d try to cut off his sword arm. But that’s just me.
  • Didja notice the wink between Shakespeare and Humphrey at the end? HA!
  • Ted Raimi plays the second-in-command pirate.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • The Princess Bride
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Roughly 25% of Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Howl’s Moving Castle

2 comments

  1. There’s a special section of Hell for filmmakers whose book adaptations go beyond merely screwed up. Howl’s Moving Castle has assured Hiyao Miyazaki of a reservation. He’ll be placed right next to Ralph Bakshi.

    If you want to see what is probably Diana Wynne Jones’ best work, buy yourself a copy of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (if you haven’t already). It’s a hilarious good-natured skewering of many of the common fantasy tropes which should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves a fantasy fan.

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