Review: Stardust

Beginning in the mundane village of Wall, near the magical kingdom of Stormhold (a wall separates the two and it is forbidden to climb said wall), young Charlie Cox wants to marry pretty Sienna Miller but she has promised herself to another. She strikes a bargain with him, though. If he can find a shooting star that has fallen to Earth, she’ll drop the plank of wood and choose Cox. Unfortunately, the fallen star proves to be...well, Claire Danes, and she’s none too happy about her descent. But Cox will find her a way home, if only she’ll agree to be taken to Miller first. Throw in a nasty witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) who wants her claws on Danes to gain eternal life, the bickering heirs (Rupert Everett, Jason Flemyng, and Mark Strong) to the throne of Stormhold (if one of them catches the star, they will take the throne), and a cross-dressing pirate Cox meets named Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro!), and you’ve got the bare bones of a potentially fun, humorous fantasy flick. Peter O’Toole has a cameo as the dying King of Stormhold, John Lynch is Cox’s caring, working class father, and David Kelly plays the guard of the Wall (or is it just Wall, the name of the town?). Ricky Gervais plays Ferdy the Fence, an amusingly unscrupulous sort.

The fantasy genre is hard to do right on the silver screen, even more so when based on a book (or in this case, graphic novel), more so yet when it is in the humorous fantasy subgenre, and when the humour is particularly British acted out on screen by an international cast. Unfortunately, this uneven and overlong 2007 Matthew Vaughn (“Layer Cake”, “Kick-Ass”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) adaptation of the Neil Gaiman graphic novel (which I haven’t read, but I did read “Good Omens”, co-authored by Gaiman and the late, great Terry Pratchett) has at least two further problems. Firstly, it’s too derivative of other fantasy films/novels (notably the enjoyable but smart-alecky “The Princess Bride”), and’s a bit dull, and lacking in energy, really.

Most of the characters are uninteresting (especially the leads!), and there are way too many of them to adequately be dealt with (O’Toole is shamefully wasted in a mere walk-on, Everett might’ve been good if he were given more screen time, ditto Flemyng). As a result, we have a film with lots of characters (or at least outlines of them) that leaves us with little time for an actual story, let alone a truly engaging one. The story we get is pretty stock-standard stuff (Or at least unoriginal. Think Classic Disney-ish fairy tale meets “The Princess Bride”, with a dash of Terry Gilliam), with only comedic interludes by cross-dressing De Niro (apparently not featured in the original source, which makes it an especially odd addition when you think about it), and especially Gervais (providing much the same function here as Billy Crystal did in “The Princess Bride”, only Gervais is actually really funny), plus a surprisingly excellent Pfeiffer providing any interest.

Our leads are especially forgettable, and this is a major flaw. How are we expected to care about a film in which the plot is thin and derivative, there are too many characters, and our lead actors (Cox especially) provide little charm or presence in playing their boring roles? Well, I certainly didn’t care all that much. But like I said, Pfeiffer’s well-cast (viewers with a keen eye will spot a few visual cues to “Ladyhawke”) and it’s probably worth a look if you’re into the genre or the author, or if you just want to see De Niro (clearly enjoying himself) steering a pirate ship and wearing a dress.

It’s watchable, as the foundations for a good fantasy film are indeed here, original or not, it could’ve worked, and there are moments here and there. The FX are quite good- especially those cute miniature elephants. The film overall looks lovely, plus a fine music score by Ilan Eshkeri. However, overall, this is a major disappointment in a film genre sadly full of them. Scripted by Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) and the director, it’s based on the graphic novel by Gaiman and illustrator Charles Vess.

Rating: C+


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