In Stardust a young man named Tristran must save a woman who is actually a fallen star from an evil witch in a goat powered cart. Along the way he gets help from unicorns, gay pirates, and oh yeah he may just be a long lost prince. Even for a fantasy movie, Stardust is made of pretty silly stuff. In a way it’s a throwback to what fantasy movies were before Peter Jackson, reminiscent of now rather dated work like Willow, Legend, or The Dark Crystal. But inspired directing from Matthew Vaughn and a wry sense of humor saves the movie’s oh-so-80s story from being an out of time curiosity and makes it a completely unique fantasy film unlike any of the other witches and wizards fare flooding theaters.
Matthew Vaughn by the way, was the guy who infamously wrote an X-Men 3 script in seven days and was slated to direct the third mutant film before being replaced by playboy director Brett Ratner. If only Fox had kept him, X-Men 3 might not have been such a disaster. Unlike Ratner, Vaughn has talent and style to spare and it’s all on display in Stardust. He never settles for doing things the easy way, and the movie is filled with glowing, gorgeous wide shots and massive, world-spanning pans in which his camera zooms from a tiny village across thousands of miles, through a castle and into a keyhole. Vaughn’s take on the universe first created by Neil Gaiman in book form is absolutely breathtaking.
His cast is stacked with big names. The movie’s lead is the only face in it you won’t recognize. Charlie Cox plays Tristran, a shop boy from our world who crosses a magical wall and finds himself ensnared in a world of magic and intrigue. He’s instantly likable, if a little dopey, and plays the part of an adventurous romantic out to win the heart of the woman he loves admirably. Claire Danes plays one of the film’s female leads, a fallen star named Yvaine, and she works as a sassy, ethereal beauty. But Robert DeNiro as an air pirate is just bizarre. The character is funny and likable, but only because he’s written that way not because of anything DeNiro is doing. DeNiro, seems rather lost, as if he’s standing on set in front of a green screen unable to figure out which way he’s supposed to be facing. Sienna Miller is a waste of space as Tristran’s lady love Victoria, but thankfully she’s barely in the film. Michelle Pfeiffer seems to be having a blast as the rapidly aging head witch who harries Tristran on his trip.
Somewhat confusing is Ian McKellan serving as the movie’s narrator. Don’t get me wrong, McKellan’s great. There is no better narrator than Ian McKellan, not even Morgan Freeman. But why does the movie have an omniscient narrator at all? It does give the film a nice dreamlike, storybook quality; but it’s almost as if Vaughn felt Gaiman’s story too bizarre to be understood by audiences without someone there to offer explanations. Actually, he may have been right.
Stardust is really weird, but knows it and seems to have no problem poking fun at itself and the fantasy genre for just how strange it all is. That wickedly sarcastic sense of fun, more than anything, is what makes Stardust such an entertaining success. It’s unlikely to become the next big fantasy franchise, but it’s a great way to spend a Friday night. Gaiman’s world looks good on screen, and it’s impossible not to enjoy spending time with it.