I first became familiar with Neil Gaiman because of <i>MirrorMask<i>, a film made with Jim Henson productions that resembled a dark and twisted take on <i>The Wizard of Oz<i> or <Alice in Wonderland<1>, so I was very excited when I heard about this film. While this film isn’t as captivating or memorable, it is still a worthwhile diversion for a couple of hours.

The story opens with a young man who beds a slave princess at a fair. Unable to take care of the child because she’s owned by a wicked crone, she leaves the child at the man’s doorstop. The child grows up to be our protagonist, Tristan (Charlie Cox), who is smitten with the lovely, Victoria (a radiant Sienna Miller). He promises her a fallen star as a token of his affection, and when he goes to retrieve it, he finds the star has become a beautiful woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes). While Tristan takes Yvaine back to Victoria, she is also being pursued by Lord Stormhold’s (Peter O’Toole)  surviving sons (the others being murdered by each other). Also on the chase is Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), the evil witch who needs Yvaine to recapture her youth. Tristan and Yvaine go through episodic adventures as they try to make their back to his town.

The story is well told, and the special effects are impressive. The scenes with Lamia are most impressive — most notably when she creates an inn out of thin air (the effect is the house is created by fire), or when she turns a man into a woman and a goat into a man. The aging makeup the film makers subject Pfeiffer to, is astonishing, yet often cruel.

The cast, for the most part works. Pfeiffer is the standout in a smart and funny performance — the actress has had some of her best roles playing villains (remember her as Catwoman?), and she doesn’t hold back, giving a broad portrayal. She also looks absolutely stunning, when not saddled with wrinkles and liver spots. DeNiro has a fun, if peripheral role as a fey pirate captain (yes, a fey pirate captain that makes Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow look like Charlton Heston). O’Toole has a blast in a caemo, as does Rupert Everett. As the young hero, Cox is likable, though bland. The biggest problem in the cast is Danes — normally a luminous and wonderful actress (watch Shopgirl to see just how good she can be),  unfortunately in this film she’s distressingly amateurish, never hitting her comic parts correctly (though she does look lovely). Danes is the main reason why Stardust fails to glitter unconditionally.

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