Stardust has some pretty big shoes to fill with me. Based on the novel by my favorite writer, Neil Gaiman, Stardust is a faery tale created solely for adults. Don’t be fooled by the trailers and commercials, featuring wicked witched and magical flying ships. The usual conventions are here, but they are presented with the dark, cynical eye of Gaiman. Gaiman’s novel, Neverwhere, was a twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Stardust takes the idea of dashing princes and beautiful maidens and turns it on it’s ear.
Stardust follows the story of Tristan Thorn, a young shop keep in the tiny English town of Wall, named for the wall encompassing them to the east. Unbeknownst to the majority of the townsfolk, the wall separates them from a magical faery tale world. Unfortunately, the wall has a hole in it. Rather than fix the hole with a few stones, they figure it was better to have an old man guard it. Tristan, hoping to claim the love of the conceited, spoiled, but undeniably beautiful Victoria, sets out to cross the wall and retrieve a falling star for her as a token.
We soon learn that the land across the wall is known as Stormhold, and it’s King is dying. I take a moment to point out that Peter O’Toole has acquired a knack for playing dying old coots lately. Speculate amongst yourselves as to why that is. The King, who slaughtered his own brothers to acquire the throne many years ago, expects no less from his own sons. Out of the seven brothers vying for the crown, only three remain. Oops, now it’s two. The brothers have earned such scorn from eachother that it literally keeps them from death. The dead brothers commentate on the goings-on for the rest of the film like an episode of Mystery Science Theater. The King’s final act is to release a blazing ruby into the sky, with instructions that whichever son finds it shall be king. The ruby crashes into a star and knocks it from the sky.
The falling star just so happens to be a girl by the name of Yvaine. Tristan finds her and, rather ingeniously, deduces that she is the same falling star he was after. Somehow that doesn’t seem farfetched to him, so he decides to take her back to Victoria as a gift. Guess the idea that Victoria would approve of being handed the blonde chick from MOD Squad didn’t seem farfetched, either. Unbeknownst to the them, Yvaine’s crash landing was also noticed by a trio of witches, helmed by the evil Lamia. Lamia sets out to capture and cut out the heart of Yvaine, as a means of restoring their youth. What transpires is a veritable rat race, as Lamia and the two remaining princes vy to reach Yvaine and Tristan first, thus acquiring her and the ruby she possesses.
Along the way, Tristan and Yvaine are assisted in their journey by the dread air pirate, Captain Shakespeare. Not shivering in your timbers, yet? That’s because you’ve yet to bear witness to the sheer brutality of his…..showtunes? The dread Captain, with a fearsome reputation for tossing his captives overboard indiscriminately, is a closeted homosexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! In fact, Robert Deniro puts on a truly inspired performance. One of his best in recent memory. Perhaps it’s due to the originality of the role, one that was completely created for the film.
Stardust has been compared favorably to the 1987 Rob Reiner film, The Princess Bride. Certainly some of the faery tale elements are there. The love story is similar, in that the dashing hero is really kind of a dork. Both films have a “wink wink, nudge nudge” take on the genre. But where Bride was seen mostly through the filter of a child(played by Fred Savage), Stardust is firmly a tale for adults. Otherwise, the Captain Shakespeare character couldn’t possibly have worked. The idea of a character hiding his sexuality from society is too mature for kids regardless of the setting it’s in. Hell, it’s too much for some adults.
For those who might’ve missed it, Stardust’s director, Matthew Vaughn, was initially tapped to helm Xmen: The Last Stand. I don’t know what occurred that led to the Brett Ratner debacle, but Vaughn looks like he has the chops to have made that film far superior than it ended up being. There was speculation that Vaughn, who made a splash with the hip, stylish, gangster flick, Layer Cake, was too stylized for films like this. Clearly he’s proven that he is a top notch director, and only good things lay ahead. Stardust, by virtue of it’s look, maturity, and whimsy, has more than lived up to the expectations heaped upon it.