Stardust – a little slice of wonderfulness

by Suw on October 21, 2007

Regular readers will know that I'm what you might call a bit of a fan of Mr Neil, so it should come as no surprise to discover that I've been rather looking forward to Stardust, the film version of Mr Neil's book of the same name. It's been a while since I last read the book – it's currently packed away in a box in my parents' loft, along with about 75% of all my belongings – but like all Mr Neil's work, it's a book of which I have fond memories.
Unlike the awful mess that has been made of another of my favourite books, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, I never much worried about what the film makers would do to Stardust. Mr Neil was involved, and occasionally gave us snippets of news, so it always felt like the film was in good hands and that the only thing we need do was to sit back and await the day.
Well, the day turned out, in fact, to be a night: Last night. Tom, MrA*, Phil Gyford (whose name I've seen around for ages, but had never met before – seemed like a lovely chap), and I met up at the Odeon Leicester Square and went in for a not-quite-full 8.25pm showing.
OK, so herewith the short review: It's wonderful. Truly, truly wonderful. If you are hesitant about going, then don't be, just go. If you hadn't considered going, then take my word for it and go. And if for any bizarre reason you'd written it off as yet another crappy fantasy film that's not worth your hard earnt readies, then put that thought behind you and go. Because this is a film that will warm the cockles of your heart. It'll make you laugh, make you smile, make you giggle, and make you feel all warm and fuzzy, when it's over you'll wish that it was just beginning.
Now for the long review (and I'll try not to give you any spoilers, but if you're concerned, stop reading now and just go see the film).
Tristan Thorn (the fabulous Charlie Cox) is 18, works in a shop and is hopelessly in love with the beautiful, but shallow, Victoria (Sienna Miller). But Victoria, who never seems to get herself out of her nightie, has got her eye on the more dashing Humphrey, who's more well spoken, gives her roses in comparison to Tristan's rather tatty daffodils, and who is better than Tristan at everything. Especially fencing.
Tristan, in an effort to woo Victoria, takes her on a candlelit picnic, spending all the money he's saved on a bottle of champagne. She's duly impressed by the champers, but drops the bombshell that she's expecting Humphrey to to propose to her on her birthday, in seven days time, with the ring that he's going all the way to Ipswich to buy. Poor Tristan vows that he would go to London – London! – in order to buy a ring good enough for Victoria. He would go to Paris! He would go to the Arctic to kill a polar bear and give her the head! Together, they see a star, falling from the sky and, ever the romantic, vows to find the fallen star and give it to Victoria as a token of his love for her. She gives him a week – until her birthday – to retrieve the star.
Meantime, in Faerie, the land on the other side of the wall for which Tristan's town of Wall is named, the King of Stormhold (Peter O'Toole) is dying. Traditionally, the princes should have assassinated each other, with the last one standing being able to claim the crown. But the trouble is, there are four left – Septimus, Primus, Tertius and Secundus. Well, three, after Septimus pushes Secundus off the King's bedchamber balcony. So the King resorts to magic – he bleaches the red out of the royal ruby and casts it into the sky – the heir that finds the ruby and restores the colour will be king. As the King dies, and his sons set off to find it.
But in falling to earth, the ruby knocks a star from the heavens, and so Tristan's quest and that of the royal heirs is intertwined… But then there are also the witches after the fallen star, and the missing princess and Captain Shakespeare…
I just popped over to Rotten Tomatoes to see what their reviews are, and out of curiosity I read some of the bad ones, and frankly, did these people see the same film I did? (No links – I frankly don't want to give them any Google juice at all.) Apparently, it was poorly cast… let's just review that a second. Robert de Niro as Captain Shakepeare, Claire Danes as Yvaine, Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia, Mark Heap as Tertius (aaaah, Spaced). Even Charlie Cox as Tristan was fabulous, and I'd never heard of him before.
Another charge was that Stardust had no plot. No plot? Er, hello? Were you asleep? It's got plenty of plot! And no, it doesn't have too much plot, either. It's got enough plot to keep you happy, with enough unexpected turns to keep you interested, but not so much twistiness that you get lots and confused.
My advice? Ignore the bad reviews. They were obviously watching a different movie.
Highlights, then. Michelle Pfeiffer plays evil witch Lamia, who has two sisters, Empusa and Mormo. They want the fallen star for themselves – it has the power to restore their youth and beauty. As it is, they have only the littlest bit left of the last one they caught, so Lamia uses it to recover her looks so that she can go out into the world to get the latest star to fall. Unfortunately, every time she uses her magical powers, it erodes her now good looks, exposing the ugly witch underneath. First to go are her hands, then her hair… and eventually, in one rather hysterically funny scene (probably more to me than most), she casts a spell and her boobs rather precipitously drop.
Robert de Niro plays Captain Shakespeare, the ruthless captain of a lightening-harvesting airship – a ship held aloft by a huge balloon. There's not much I can say about de Niro's performance that wouldn't totally give the game away, but he's fabulous.
Ricky Gervais does a guest turn too. To start with, I was really annoyed – it was Gervais doing Gervais, in a really annoying manner, but his come-uppance is one of the most satisfying moments of the film. Indeed, when Kev and I were walking round the park this morning, we saw a flock of seagulls (that is, a large group of white, sea-going birds, not the 80s band), and Kevin said “Oh look, a flock of Rickies!”
But Claire Danes and Charlie Cox really shine as Yvain and Tristan. They have a real chemistry together, and there are moments when Danes truly shines. As with all fantasy heroes, Tristan has to grow up, has to turn from the self-absorbed boy he was into the man he's destined to become, and Cox handles that transition very subtly. Mind you, he has some help, not least from a haircut that magically (as in, magic is done, not as in 'that was a continuity mistake') makes his hair longer, and the acquisition of a really rather lovely set of clothes.
Tristan Thorn
Indeed, when young Tristan got his new suit, Kev turned to me and whispered “I think I've just had an idea.” Hmm, I had the same idea, and it has to do with what he's going to wear one day in February next year.
Stardust is a really wonderful film. It's got a wry, but subtle sense of humour. It's got real warmth and heart. It's smart, and not scared of being intelligent. But more than that, it's fabulously romantic, the kind of romantic that we need more of – not soppy or schmaltzy, but proper fairytale romance, the sort that's a little bit dark in places, but has a true and faithful heart.
* I'm not sure I should call MrA “MrA” anymore, not after seeing the documentary on Steve Ditko, in which came to light that he did a cartoon called Mr. A, all about someone who saw things in rather too stark a black and white. Maybe it's back to T'Other.

Anonymous October 22, 2007 at 7:51 pm

“there are moments when Danes truly shines” ha ha ha 😛

Anonymous October 23, 2007 at 9:58 am

I worked on Stardust a little last year. It was Mid-July and they'd come to film near Llyn y Fan Fach in the Carmarthenshire Beacons. My lasting memory of the day is my shorts giving way just as Claire Danes passed, thus showing her an excellent view of my arse. Her face said it all.
A terribly proud moment.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: