August 13, 2007

MOVIES: Stardust (Matthew Vaughn, 2007)

A shooting star falls from the sky, and Tristan (Charlie Cox) promises to retrieve it as proof of his love for Victoria (Sienna Miller). But to do so, he will have to cross the stone wall at the edge of the village, and that is strictly forbidden. For on the other side of the wall is not England, but the fantasy kingdom of Stormhold, where the king (Peter O'Toole, making yet another delightful cameo appearance) lies on his deathbed, pirates sail the skies in great wooden dirigibles, and evil witches terrorize everyone they meet.

Tristan does find the star, and much to his surprise, it takes the form of the lovely young Yvaine (Claire Danes). He's not the only one who's interested in Yvaine, though. The princes of Stormhold want the jewel she carries; their father has made its retrieval a prerequisite to taking the throne. The witch Lamia (Michelle Pfieffer) and her sisters want Yvaine so that they may cut out her heart, which will restore their youth and beauty.

Stardust is somewhat reminiscent of The Princess Bride, though it's certainly less manic, and the humor is more dry British understatement than broad Catskills vaudeville. The principal roles are beautifully cast. As Tristan, Charlie Cox has the difficult task of going from ordinary downtrodden schlub to hero, and he makes the transition convincing; Claire Danes plays the star Yvaine not as the perfect glamorous maiden you might expect, but as a slightly spoiled and vain princess. Michelle Pfeiffer has great fun as the villainous Lamia, and brings just the right level of hamminess to the role.

Less successful is Robert DeNiro as the ferocious pirate Captain Shakespeare. DeNiro's proven in movies like Meet the Parents that he can do comedy, but the precise style of campiness required in this role is out of his grasp, and the movie screeches to a halt for those minutes set on his ship. I could also have done without the Ricky Gervais cameo, but then, I've never understood Gervais' appeal on any level.

The special effects are nicely done -- I particularly liked a clever fencing duel late in the movie -- without ever drawing so much attention to themselves that they overwhelm the story; Ilan Eshkeri's score is thrilling, romantic, and suspenseful as required, and adds greatly to the movie's impact. Stardust is lively and energetic, with clever plot twists (director Vaughn and Jane Goldman adapted Neil Gaiman's graphic novel), and a perfect happily-ever-after ending.

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