Paramount // 2007 // 127 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 7th, 2010
The fairytale that won't behave.
"What do stars do? They shine."
Tristan (Charlie Cox, Casanova) is a hapless young fellow who is seemingly desperate to find a nice girl to marry him. He is particularly fond of Victoria (Sienna Miller, Layer Cake), a tremendously self-centered young lady. One night, as he is wooing Victoria, a shooting star flies above. Victoria makes Tristan a deal: If he will bring the shooting star back to her as a gift, she will marry him. There are just a couple of complications. First, the star has flown across "the wall." It's a long brick wall that separates Tristan's ordinary world from the magical world, and all who live in Tristan's world are forbidden to cross the wall. Naturally, Tristan disregards the rules and jumps across anyway, but then he runs into his second problem. The shooting star is not some lump of rock, but a beautiful girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes, Temple Grandin). Before too long, Tristan begins to lose interest in Victoria.
Oh, but there's still trouble a-brewin'. An evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer, Cheri) wants to get her hands on this humanoid shooting star. Why? Well, she wants to eat Yvaine's heart. Why? Because it will keep the aging witch looking young and beautiful, not to mention that the witch is nearly out of the last bit of heart from the star-girl she killed 400 years ago. It is what it is. Meanwhile, a sinister heir to the king's throne (Mark Strong, Robin Hood) is chasing after the heart, too -- not so much for beauty as for the gift of eternal life it gives. He'd like to be king forever. Over the course of the film, these characters and many more encounter each other in a variety of perilous situations.
In the wake of the successful Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, moviegoers were given an endless stream of fantasy flick imitators. Some were good, many were bad, but most just felt too recycled. Did you see The Golden Compass, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Eragon, and The Seeker: The Dark is Rising? These films are more noteworthy for what they borrow than for what original elements they have to offer. It goes on and on, an endless list of portentous journeys into tired lands of so-called "mystery" and "wonder." Ho-hum.
Despite initially seeming to ride into town as part of this tedious fantasy parade, Stardust (based on the lovely novel by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Charles Vess) proved a surprisingly refreshing change of pace. No, it's not an entirely new concept -- it owes a certain debt to The Princess Bride -- but I dare say it's even better than Rob Reiner's much-loved fairy tale and that it's likely to be remembered long after most of the aforementioned films have been forgotten. This film is charming, romantic, and funny, never taking itself more seriously than it has a right to. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (whose other works include the lean, mean British gangster flick Layer Cake and the subversive superhero flick Kick-Ass), Stardust offers cheerfully inventive tone that's simply intoxicating. The film is full of witty humor and irreverence, but it tells the story with enough conviction and sincerity to ensure that we actually care about the characters.
Stardust is a fairly complicated tale, and there are loads of subplots that would take me paragraphs and paragraphs to explain. However, I won't bore you with such details; I'll let you discover them for yourself. Here's what I will tell you: Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver) plays the much-feared captain of a pirate vessel who happens to have a delightful secret. Ricky Gervais (The Invention of Lying) and Peter O'Toole (Venus) both have spot-on cameos which generate a lot of giggles. There's also one incredibly confused young fellow who gets turned into a goat, then into a woman, then back into a man. Talk about a sexual identity crisis.
Part of what makes Stardust worth your time is the manner in which it allows the endless plot points to develop in the background while the colorful characters take the foreground. The performances are solid all across the board. Almost surprisingly, Cox and Danes are tremendously appealing as our young protagonists. They don't come across as people who fall in love just because the script tells them to, and their good deeds seem to come from their heart rather than the director. Michelle Pfeiffer is nothing short of riveting as the film's principle villain. It's wonderful to watch Pfeiffer's vanity and resolve at war with each other, as she must decide between using her powers (which ages her a bit more each time she employs them) and keeping her beauty. Robert De Niro also seems to be having a wonderful time, and his comedy seems less forced than in many of the other "silly" roles he's played in the past decade or so.
Stardust lands on Blu-ray sporting a perfectly acceptable 1080/2.40:1 transfer. While not quite on par with the best-looking big-budget catalogue titles from recent years, the level of detail is strong, the vibrant color scheme really pops off the screen and flesh tones are warm and accurate. For the most part, the image looks very natural and filmic, but black levels can be a bit murky at times. The audio is nothing short of superb, as Ilan Eshkeri's generic but energetic score gets a remarkably sturdy, room-rattling mix. The big action scenes pack a punch and dialogue is clean and clear. Supplements are pretty decent: a dry but informative commentary with Vaughn and Jane Goldman, a 5-part documentary entitled "Crossing the Wall: The Making of Stardust" (55 minutes), a 10-minutes featurette called "Nothing is True" featuring interviews with Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, plus some deleted scenes, a blooper reel and a trailer.
A lovely movie gets a nice Blu-ray release. Go ahead and upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Blooper Reel