Once upon a time, there was a film that encapsulated the idea of the modern fairy tale in a perfect 130 minute package. That film went by the title of Stardust and it has everything a fantasy film could want… there’s an evil witch, a scheming prince (or four), a fallen star, a quest for love, and hidden lineage which leads to great things – and Robert De Niro as a blood-thirsty air-pirate named Shakespeare!
To be fair, I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot. It’s not that the plot is so mysterious or anything, in fact, it’s almost wonderfully predictable, but this movie is so much fun I want you to have a good time just letting it unfold before your eyes. So then, what shall we talk about to fill up this review?
First things first, then, is the story. Newcomer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn adapted the book by Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman comic books. Gaiman is part of the new generation of writers who have redefined the fantasy genre and his story here is no exception.
Second, we can talk about the cast. De Niro has already been mentioned and he’s wonderful! I will admit, when he first appeared on screen, I was a little nervous. He was stiff and his New York accent seemed oddly out of place amongst the English. But then when we get a glimpse into his true character, he pulls it out so completely all my past fears were erased. Then there’s Michelle Pfeiffer, who is inspired as the evil witch. Add in Peter O’Toole as the dying king (every fairy tale must have a dying king), Rupert Everett and Jason Flemyng as two of the seven warring sons of the King and Ricky Gervais as Ferdy the Fence and you have a supporting cast worthy of a Harry Potter film.
As for the two leads, Tristan and Yvaine, Charlie Cox and Claire Danes are perfect. They treat the characters with enough reverence to make them believable and enough fun that you’ll want to inhabit their world.
And what a world it is. Designed by Gavin Bocquet, the same guy who designed the three latest Star Warsmovies, Stardust is a sumptuous treat for the eyes. Everything from the tower city of StormHold to the bazaar where Tristan (and his father, eighteen years before) finds his fortune forever changed are fully realized creations. No matter what is on screen, we, as the audience, believe it. It could be a two-headed elephant or a flying pirate ship, doesn’t matter. This world exists and it’s just beyond a wall somewhere in England.
Overseeing this whole creation is Vaughn, whose sophomore outing as a feature film director is an overwhelming achievement. He leaves few moments for directorial criticism and handles the comedy with a deft hand. Yes, there is comedy. In fact, Stardust is quite funny. Funnier than any other fantasy film in years (certainly more chuckles than Lord of the Rings), but humor doesn’t mean everything is light and airy. There is darkness here as well, and it’s fairy tale darkness, which means real and true evil (don’t believe me, go back and re-read the original Grimm). In the end, though, well… you know what happens. And it’s wonderful.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)