Thursday, November 03, 2011
"Stardust" is a 2007 movie based on a book by Neil Gaiman starring Claire Danes and Charlie Cox. Tristan Thorne (Cox) is a young man who grows up in the English village of Wall dreaming of doing greater things than just working at the local store. Fancying himself to be in love with a local girl named Victoria, Tristan attempts to woo her to little effect. One night a falling star inspires him to vow to find the star and bring it to Victoria to prove his devotion to her-- but he only has one week to complete his quest as Victoria has another suitor who is planning to propose.
The star Tristan seeks lies on the other side of a large wall that separates his home (which appropriately gets its name from the wall) from the magical kingdom of Stormhold, and his journey is almost cut short as he finds it impossible to get past the guard that keeps the villagers of Wall from crossing over. When he tells his father where he intends to go, Tristan finds out that his mother is from Stormhold and that she left him a gift that will help him on his journey. Tristan quickly arrives at his destination but soon learns that his quest isn't as simple as finding a rock. In the kingdom of Stormhold stars take human shape and this particular star is named Yvaine (Danes)-- and she doesn't particularly want to accompany Tristan back home. Complicating matters are a witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a prince (Mark Strong) who both want to find Yvaine and kill her for her heart-- which grants immortality to anyone who eats it.
"Stardust" is exactly the kind of movie that tickles the fancy of the girly-girl in me, as well as the part of me that loves fantasy. The narration of the story (wonderfully done by Ian McKellan) gives the movie an airy, fairy-tale like essence. It not only sets the mood but it allows the viewer to completely suspend disbelief at every fantastical turn. Like every good magical adventure there is a lot of action, twists-and-turns and magical spells-- but I especially love the addition of some comical ghosts and sky pirates.
The casting of "Stardust" is particularly interesting. Cox is cute as Tristan but not unusually distinguishable among a cast that includes the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, and Claire Danes. The impossibly gorgeous Pfeiffer is fun to watch as a witch who loses her looks as she uses her waning powers; but it's DeNiro, cast as the effeminate Captain Shakespeare, who really stands out as the usually intimidating actor spends most of his time dancing around in a particularly fey role. I still haven't decided if I can buy the character even as I enjoyed the performance.
"Stardust" is a very cute movie that doesn't quite make it into the 'great' category because the chemistry between the main characters never fully gels. It's not that Danes and Cox don't work as a couple-- they do. But the love story never has the big moment where you can feel that the relationship take a big leap. There's an attempt to give the characters time to mature while they're on the pirate ship piloted by Shakespeare, but there's so much character development crammed into that brief time that the romance ends up feeling rushed. I'm also a bit confused at the casting of two younger actresses to play Pfeiffer's aged sisters. If they had gone through the process of going from old-to-young like Pfeiffer the make-up used to make them old would have made sense. But since they didn't, I couldn't figure out why they didn't just hire some older actresses instead (a slightly aged Hellen Mirren would have been fantastic).
Nonetheless I really liked "Stardust." It has such a sweet sense of whimsy and has all those great moments when the hero has the chance to prove his mettle-- as well as get the girl-- that it satisfies the emotional triggers that crave a happy ending. I've never been able to connect to Neil Gaiman's storytelling in its written form, but the cinematic rendering of "Stardust" haves me wanting to give this particular story a second look. It might not rank up there with films like "The Princess Bride," but I'm pretty sure this will end up on my regular rotation of go-to movies.