Monday, November 5, 2007


Being a Neil Gaiman admirer of long standing (since Black Orchid and Sandman first hit the comic book shelves oh-so-long-ago), I’ve been patiently waiting for his work in film to catch up.
His English translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke) didn’t have enough of a Gaimanesque feel to satisfy (and thus, I’ve always preferred watching it in the original Japanese), and Dave McKean’s Mirrormask was one of those films I wish I loved more than I actually do.
Now though, there’s Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Stardust, and I’m quite happy now, thank you very much.

For what Stardust, in a not-so-small nutshell, is all about, I turn to Neil Gaiman himself, from his Guardian article, “Happily Ever After”:

“I wanted a young man who would set out on a quest - in this case a romantic quest, for the heart of Victoria Forester, the loveliest girl in his village. The village was somewhere in England, and was called Wall, after the wall that runs beside it, a dull-looking wall in a normal-looking meadow. And on the other side of the wall was Faerie - Faerie as a place or as a quality, rather than as a posh way of spelling fairy. Our hero would promise to bring back a fallen star, one that had fallen on the far side of the wall.

"And the star, I knew, would not, when he found it, be a lump of metallic rock. It would be a young woman with a broken leg, in a poor temper, with no desire to be dragged halfway across the world and presented to anyone’s girlfriend.

"On the way, we would encounter wicked witches, who would seek the star's heart to give back their youth, and seven lords (some living, some ghosts) who seek the star to confirm their inheritance. There would be obstacles of all kinds, and assistance from odd quarters. And the hero would win through, in the manner of heroes, not because he was especially wise or strong or brave, but because he had a good heart, and because it was his story.”

For anyone familiar with his writing, this should sound like vintage Gaiman, and Vaughn manages to capture a brilliant mixture of enchantment, humour, and suspense, to highlight Stardust’s traditional narrative of a boy’s passage into adulthood, of his coming into the man he was always meant to be.
Though it admittedly lacks some of Gaiman’s poetic language, the script by Jane Goldman and Vaughn nonetheless targets Stardust’s heart spot-on, giving modern audiences the sort of fairy tale even adults shouldn’t be ashamed to adore.

It’s all here, from the black nastiness of the ancient witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), to the transformation of Tristan (Dot The I’s Charlie Cox) from lovestruck fool to honourable, upstanding hero, to the narration by none other than genre icon Sir Ian McKellen.
The story is then ably supported by some fine performances, particularly from Cox, whose innocent and quiet exuberance gives us a Tristan who is never less than convincing, and constantly identifiable. His brash professions of love for Victoria (tabloid regular Sienna Miller, who’d worked previously with Vaughn on his directorial debut Layer Cake, and with Cox in Lasse Hallstrom’s Casanova) early in the tale play off quite nicely against his later actions to defend the star Yvaine (Claire Danes) from the sinister forces that hound her.
It’s clear this is still the same Tristan as before, and yet, it isn’t.
And it’s not just the wardrobe change. That’s the exterior mirroring the internal growth the character has experienced, and Cox conveys that well.

If there’s anywhere that Stardust may not quite hold up though, it’s in Dane’s performance, which may lack a certain level of enchantment for some; it’s not bad by any means, but save for one particular scene where she professes her own feelings for Tristan after she’s fed him some cheese, her Yvaine isn’t quite the blindingly glowing star the character is meant to be.
And then there’s the frankly repetitive score by Ilan Eshkeri (Vaughn’s composer on Layer Cake). Yes, it gets the job done, but does it have to sound so uniform?

Thankfully, Stardust makes up for some of its shortcomings by boasting the added treat of having actors like Robert De Niro (as notorious pirate of the skies Captain Shakespeare), Ricky Gervais of Seona Dancing and The Office fame (as Ferdy The Fence), Vaughn/Guy Ritchie cohort Jason Flemyng, and Madonna cohort Rupert Everett (as two of the lords, now princes in the film), picking up some of the slack.
Vaughn and company are also wise enough to know that good supporting performances should never steal the show, so we see just enough of the actors to want some more, while keeping the focus squarely on the narrative.

With Peter Jackson having wrapped up his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy in 2003, it’s been nearly four years since anything this earnest and magickal has hit the cinemas. The unabashed respect Stardust has for this kind of storytelling, the principal trait it shares with Jackson’s Rings (definitely no snarky, postmodern winks here), bodes well for the future of the fantasy film.
I can only hope Chris Weitz‘s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass—not to mention Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf, whose script Gaiman co-wrote, and Vaughn’s next project, a film adaptation of Marvel’s Thor—continues in this vein.

(Stardust OS courtesy of; images courtesy of

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