A rare fantasy film gem
Alexander M. Walker | Chicago, IL USA | 09/23/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not every fantasy film has to feature huge sweeping battle sequences (a la Tolkien or Peter Jackson) nor does it require incredibly intricate costumes or CGI beasts (courtesy of Guillermo del Toro). Sometimes the story can be as simple as a classical love story set in a far away kingdom with a mix of folklore and modern steampunk to make it pop. A fairytale. When the alternate fantastical world occurs under the watchful eye of a director like Matthew Vaughn using a story written by one of the most popular voices in fantasy today, Neil Gaiman, it has a pretty good chance of rising above the more mundane films of the genre. Stardust benefits from a superb cast, a campy self-awareness, and enough polish to help you look over some of the faults, none of which really detract from the level of fun Stardust incites.
One night of youthful curiosity-induced romance between the young Dunstan (Ben Barnes) and a witch's servant girl (Kate Magowan) after he crosses the wall separating his ordinary British village (named Wall for said wall) from the magical world of Stormhold results in the birth of his son Tristan (Charlie Cox), who arrives in a basket at the wall 9 months later. Tristan grows into a young man pining for the most beautiful girl in his small world, Victoria, (Sienna Miller) and never suspecting the size of the world that lies beyond until a star falls from the sky and his journey to retrieve it and win the heart of Victoria begins. Only, the star doesn't fall, but rather it's struck by the pendant released by a dying king whose remaining sons must retrieve it if they wish to be king. The competition isn't borne of brotherly love however, and fratricide goes hand in hand with being the first to get their hand on the prize. Then, there's yet a third party: a coven of witch sisters who see the star fall and seek it out as a means to restore their vitality and magic.
While the latter two parties set out looking for the fallen star, Tristan uses a magical candle and arrives at the star's location instantaneously (and accidentally), only to discover what the witches already knew: stars are anthropomorphic, and this one looks like Claire Danes in a slinky silver dress. Her name is Yvaine, and she's slightly pissed to be knocked out of the sky and shackled to a young man who intends to use her as a trophy to win another girl's heart. However, their trip back to Wall is fraught with peril and all sorts of detours and the two grow close and eventually come to love one another, all whilst avoiding the witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the two remaining princes (Mark Strong and Jason Flemyng).
Stardust is, above all things, a fairytale. If you're not suspending your disbelief from the first moments of Ian McKellen's narration, then you're not enjoying the film. You'll have to overlook countless instances of convenient plot devices thrown in to keep the characters going on this absurdly long voyage, but if you can make that leap, you're rewarded with a lot of great cameos by the likes of Robert de Niro (in one of his more amusing roles ever) and Ricky Gervais (just being himself). Even Peter O'Toole gets a solid performance in during his short 5-minute scene. Claire Danes definitely does a better job playing her role than Charlie Cox does his, but he plays to the strengths of the genre so his boyish naivete becomes enough to keep you entertained. Mark Strong, like always, plays a great bad guy and entertains more than Pfeiffer (though she's quite good as well). It's always fun to see a new fantasy film succeed while still creating a unique aesthetic like 1985's Legend or Jim Henson's fantastic Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.
The sheen of the film transfer really well onto Blu-ray. It's a superb feature for hi-def systems, both in sound and visual quality.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman give a great audio commentary for the feature, which can then be followed by two decent featurettes (one about the making of the film and another about the world of fantasy). After that the disc just has bloopers and deleted scenes, but the first three items should be enough for most, though it'd be interesting to see what they'd make if they ever put together a special edition considering all the talent involved in the film."