Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Mark Strong, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng,
Peter O'Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Much ado was made when Matthew Vaughn, who spent ten years making a living as a friend of Guy Ritchie before striking out on his own to direct “Layer Cake,” was offered the director’s chair for “X-Men: The Last Stand” after Bryan Singer bowed out to direct “Superman Returns.” Even more ado was made when Vaughn turned the gig down to direct an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman four-issue comic book series “Stardust,” citing a desire to stay in his native England rather than shoot a movie in Canada. Whatever his reasons, his instincts did not steer him wrong. “Stardust” is what “The Princess Bride” would have felt like had Michael Chabon written the screenplay (I cannot recommend Chabon’s book “Summerland” highly enough). It’s sweet, it’s clever, and it’s wildly imaginative. It is also action-packed and more than a little randy. Kind of like a “Shrek” movie, only funny, and with a much higher IQ.
Set in the small English village of Wall, Tristan (Charlie Cox) goes off to retrieve a piece of a fallen star in order to prove his worth to the spoiled Victoria (Sienna Miller). To catch the star, though, he must cross the wall outside of Wall, which serves as the border to a magical world of witches, pirates and a royal family in disarray. When Tristan finds the star, he is shocked to discover that the star is actually a young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). To even greater surprise, Tristan soon learns that an ancient evil witch named Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) also wants the star, for eating the heart of the star will restore the beauty of her and her sisters. Yikes.
It is reported that Sarah Michelle Gellar was reportedly offered the part of Yvaine but turned it down, and as much as this writer loves “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” thank heaven she did not play Yvaine. Gellar’s beautiful but cold, not to mention the English accent would surely have done her in (Danes herself fumbles with it a few times, as does Pfeiffer), so she is all wrong for Yvaine. The rest of the casting is quite good, combining big-name actors from both sides of the pond (Pfeiffer, Peter O’Toole as a dying king) with relative unknowns (Nathaniel Parker, who plays Tristan’s father Dunstan, not to mention the youngster Cox in the role of Tristan), along with one exquisite cameo.
And then there’s De Niro’s character. Again, there will be no spoilers with regard to his character or the subplot his character represents, but suffice it to say they take things much too far for the sake of a laugh. De Niro no doubt had a ball playing the role, but a little restraint would have gone a long way. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, gets her part just right. Lamia is evil but bumbling, and Pfeiffer clearly relished both the role of the villain and the physical comedy. Vaughn doesn’t have the same budget that he would have been afforded on “X-Men,” but so what. He stretches $65 million surprisingly far, and besides, he knows that the story is the most important special effect.
Forgive the shrouds of secrecy in which this review was written, but movies like “Stardust” don’t come along very often. People try to make them all the time (ahem, “Eragon”), but you will be hard pressed to find a fantasy movie with the humor, heart and wit that “Stardust” possesses.
Given the movie’s (tragically) poor performance at the box office, the DVD for “Stardust” has little in the way of special features, but the extras have their good points. There is an exhaustive featurette on the making of the movie, some deleted scenes (including a sweet extended ending) and a blooper reel that’s more entertaining than most. Four words: Claire likes to swear.