director Matthew Vaughn
Adapted from a novel by Neil Gaiman, Stardust was one of a number of fantasy/adventure films that came out a few years ago, attempting to horn in on the Harry Potter empire. Now Stardust was not from a series, but it shares something perhaps with the film version of The Golden Compass (2007) in that it’s a big epic fantasy film with a cast with lots of cachet that got middling to poor reviews and tanked at the box office. Actually, I imagine that most people are probably going, “Stardust?”
Neil Gaiman is more interesting a writer that many and with the kids into fantasy films/stories, it seemed like a reasonable thing to watch even if the reviews weren’t that strong.
The story involves an alternate world that lies behind a hole in a stone fence in long-ago England. The world beyond is called Stormhold and in it, a crazy king wants his 7 sons to murder each other to earn the right to take his throne. His daughter is abducted by a witch, but fathers a child with the one Englishman who ever ventured over into Stormhold. This child, as a young adult, is the hero (Charlie Cox). There are witches, led by Michelle Pfeiffer (quite often in uber-ugly old hag make-up, who want to find a fallen star to use its energy to become young again. And the star is actually Claire Danes, fallen to Earth in human form.
So, you can see there is a lot of story there. More than I care to attempt to re-cap entirely.
The film is directed by Matthew Vaughn who has gone on to direct X-Men: First Class (2011) and Kick-Ass (2010), though before this his only feature had been Layer Cake (2004). While not an impeccable resume, it’s also not by any means a dire one. In fact, it’s pretty decent. Still, Stardust really didn’t show him at his best.
The tone of the story is funny and fun, which I kind of liked. And really, though it doesn’t manage to be quite as epic or enthralling as the best of the fantasy genre films go (and is a poor comparison to the source material so I’ve heard), I found myself kind of liking it. The kids liked it too, perhaps Clara a bit more so than Felix, but with the core story being about “love”, it’s not the most compelling subject for them at present.
Robert De Niro shows up as a closeted cross-dressing sky pirate who captures lightning with his band of hearties. It’s a kind of painful thing to watch. He minces around a bit in the most cliche forms of “fey”, though the character is couched in a more positive attempt at addressing the stereotypes. He hides his cross-dressing from his tough crew, thinking he has to maintain the appearance as a cutthroat to keep them following him, but ultimately they all know who he is and they still follow him. De Niro didn’t have to be quite so bad in this. It could have been pulled off with more flair and ingenuity, but it’s pretty awkward and a bit troublesome.
I don’t know. It was also interesting to see Pfeiffer, still stunningly beautiful, playing the hag in make-up, having just watched her not so long ago in another fantasy film, in Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke (1985). Twenty-two years separate the two films, and in Hollywood, as in perhaps all of Western culture, the measure of beauty is so fixated on youth that there is something uncanny about considering these multiple visions of her, young in Ladyhawke, still lovely as her present self, but aging back and forth throughout the film. It’s hardly the focal point of the story, just something that flickered through my mind throughout.