Monday, November 26, 2007

Stardust [5]

*****/***** (5/5)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, screenwriters Vaughn and Jane Goldman bring acclaimed British author Neil Gaiman's novel to the big screen in a very enjoyable STARDUST (2007). Often characterized by a fun-hearted parody, STARDUST pokes fun at many cliches inherent in the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) genre. For instance, our hero Tristan Thorn's innocent clumsiness and the 90+ year-old guard sparring with skill and finesse. Like most stories in the fantasy genre, our hero hails from humble roots (a shop boy) and isn't the older, richer and powerful hero of the romance genre. Also like most fantasy stories, there's a coming-of-age here as Tristan learns of swordfighting and his true heart under an older man's guidance (Captain Shakespeare played by Robert De Niro). There's plenty of magic, air pirates maintaining a gruff exterior to hide a cultured, sensitive inside, a throne contested by scheming brothers, evil witches coveting youth and beauty, and a quest for the star, our heroine. The movie handles all of it with humor, satire, and warmth. Although I haven't read Gaiman's novel, I'm sure it was more entertaining than Gaiman's NEVERWHERE. I read Neil Gaiman's NEVERWHERE a long time ago and despite Gaiman's marquee humor, the impotence of NEVERWHERE's protagonist frustrated me while I found the reading experience fairly dry overall. Comedy, fantasy, action, adventure, and romance all render STARDUST as a decidedly enjoyable albeit lightly predictable fare.

STARDUST stars Claire Danes as our falling star Yvaine, Charlie Cox as our politically-incorrect Prince Charming Tristan Thorn, Michelle Pfeiffer as the old witch Lamia coveting youth and beauty, Robert De Niro as the gruff, sensitive pirate Captain Shakespeare, and Mark Strong as one of the princes in line for the throne of the magical realm of Stormhold. I'm sure there's botox and plenty of makeup involved, but can I just say that Michelle Pfeiffer looks even more striking in her late 40s than she did when she was younger! It's ironic that her character here craves youth and beauty. The performances were all solid, but I'd single out Michelle Pfeiffer's portrayal of the evil witch especially, it's deliciously sadistic. I thought the scheming brothers in ghost form applauding, cheering and bantering amongst themselves was hilarious!

The Premise.

Set in England, eighteen year-old shop boy Tristan Thorn pines for the most beautiful girl: Victoria played by Sienna Miller. Victoria manipulates Tristan's lovesick attentions for goods at the shop. No smooth operator by any stretch of the imagination, Victoria laughs when Tristan soulfully articulates the lengths he would go to win Victoria's hand in marriage. When a shooting star falls in the magical realm of Stormhold across the Wall forbidden to all, Tristan promises to return the fallen star for Victoria in exchange for her hand in marriage. Tristan's pledge to return with the star from across the Wall (where no one ventures) moves Victoria enough to give him a week until her birthday, else she'll marry the taller more adept Humphrey.

In the magical realm of Stormhold, its aged king played by Peter O'Toole lies in his deathbed. He sends off his magical jewel to the heavens to bring down the shooting star Tristan and Victoria spy earlier, a jewel which responds only to royal blood. Before the king dies, he bequeaths the kingship to the person of royal blood who retrieves the jewel. The surviving princes watch as the jewel flies off into the sky and brings down the star. Meanwhile, the evil witch Lamia also sees the shooting star. Lamia and her two sisters covet stars because of their powerful magic to revitalize. They've already killed and exhausted the magic from the last fallen star.

So the stage is set, you have: Tristan, the conniving princes and Lamia, all after the star for their own reasons. Tristan arrives at the scene first and finds a girl, Yvaine, instead (in fact the star). Tristan possesses a magical babylon candle for rapidly transporting people. In exchange for this candle to return back to the heavens, Yvaine agrees to accompany Tristan back across the Wall to England and help him win Victoria's hand in marriage. Along the way, the scheming princes, air-faring pirates, Lamia and true love pose obstacles for Tristan and Yvaine. Tristan completes his quest of course, but with different results. The ending stretched quite a bit, but it was still fun and unique in its own way.

Humorous, satiric, adventurous, and fun, I was charmed by STARDUST.

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