25 Sep

Director: Matthew Vaughn (2007)

Throughout my formative years I found my reading lists dominated by the fantasy genre, from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld to Terry Goodkind before devouring Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Yet while on the page fantasy caught my attention, fantasy on film has only recently started to grab me as fantastically (?) as the books. The 80s/early 90s knew how to do play the fantasy card, with classics like The Princess Bride, Labyrinth and The Neverending Story  perfectly utilising the technicolour kitsch of cinema to transport us into their imaginary worlds. But modern fantasy film, to me, often seem a bit too forced, whether this be due to the fact that with the advances in filmmaking it is all too easy to bombard the audience with shiny backgrounds in lieu of the necessary character development that makes us care enough to suspend our disbelief long enough to enter in to the fantasy realm. So it does help when a fantasy film is adapted from a book – and I do not say this sentence lightly considering my usual disgust at film adaptations. It also helps when the inspiring book is by Neil Gaiman. I’ve been wanting to see Stardust for a while now, one of those films with an almost too impressive cast list including Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Sienna Miller, Mark Strong, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, David Walliams, Peter O’Toole, Robert De Niro, Mark Heap and the vocal tones of Ian McKellen. Some good British representation there, something which is most likely due to the directorial influence of Matthew Vaughn and works as a living record of the great acting talent we have on our home turf as they hold their own against Hollywood heavyweights like De Niro. With Lock Stock, Snatch and Layer Cake on his show reel, Vaughn’s departure into Stardust, a fantasy tale of the fight to find a falling star whose heart brings immortality to whoever catches it interlaced with witches and mysterious magical lands over a wall, is something of an anomaly – but a welcome one.

Returning to my previous comment about the vapidness of so many modern fantasy films, Stardust has none of this. While when broken down the plot could be construed as cheesy or a little predictable (boy finds star, loves star, star in trouble, boy saves star, lives happily ever after), the film displays none of these characteristics. Stylistically, the olde age aesthetic works well, keeping the fantasy genre under the perhaps more acceptable Middle Age veil, where witches, spells and duelling princes could (more) feasibly exist – or at least where we can more believably accept that they did. With narration by Ian McKellan, Stardust is like one of those majestic stories you were read before bed as a child, sweeping you from your sofa into the English village Wall, before propelling you over the crumbling stone into the magical kingdom of Stormhold. Dunstan Thorne, tired of the restrictive Wall, defies the ineffective guard to enter the mysterious land over the wall. Here he meets a beautiful slave girl, unbeknownst to him is actually the prisoner of a witch. In exchange for one of her good luck snowdrops, Dunstan kisses her and nine months later, back in Wall, he finds himself the proud owner of a baby boy named Tristan.

Eighteen years later, back in Stormhold there is a fracas at the King’s deathbed – with his last strength, the king throws his ruby necklace into the air declaring that the first of his seven sons to find the ruby will be deemed the new king of Stormhold. With only two sons remaining – the others already dead and but nonetheless present in a more transparent form, guiding and ridiculing their surviving brothers – Primus and Septimus embark on their quest to find the gem, and their crown. Meanwhile, grown up Tristan (Charlie Cox) has fallen in love with the wrong girl, as always, Victoria, (Sienna Miller)  and after seeing a star fall on the other side of the Wall, vows to bring her the star in exchange for her hand in marriage – material lass as she is. His Dad can of course sympathise with his son’s desire to go to the other side and after revealing that Tristan’s mother is also on the other wise, he has ulterior motives and even offers the Babylon candle that arrived with baby Tristan to help him find her. Yet when Tristan finds the star, he realises it is not in fact a shining rock, but a beautiful blonde, Yvaine, in the shape of Claire Danes.

Enter the witches. Three formerly beautiful witches, now trapped by their own superficiality in a huge house, hiding their depleted looks from the world, have heard the rumour of the fallen star – whose heart will grant them immortality – and thus their beauty once again. Michelle Pfeiffer is perfect as the leader of the gang, Lamia, whose temporarily restored beauty and evil wiles sets in motion a plan to capture Yvaine. That is, before Septimus, the beautifully evil Mark Strong, throws his hat into the ring in the chase for the star. After all, when in a fraternal battle for kingship and the tendency for your brothers to get killed off, immortality would probably come in handy!

Like any fantasy film, quests and mishaps dominate and drive the plot and it is these adventures which bring so much to the film. On each turn, with each character we know will come another excellent actor – perhaps most notably with Robert De Niro’s Captain Shakespeare. Truly hilarious and committed to his role as a camp, cross dressing pirate captain of a flying ship, this is a world away from Taxi Driver but in turn, works to show that for the right script and director, an actor will do anything!

Stardust is fun for all the family, and not just the actual family, but perhaps the wider interpretation in that there is something for everyone in here. A light hearted romp, facilitated by premier acting and a remarkably loyal script, probably due to the production role Gaiman himself played, Stardust is a wonderful way to spend 90 minutes being entertained, thrilled and reassured that the fantasy genre is indeed still alive in the modern cinematic climate.

Having said this, the inclusion of Take That’s Rule The World as the credits rolled was most certainly one of the worst – and most misplaced – soundtrack choices I have ever experienced. Consider yourself warned.


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