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Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Time Event
3:18p
Stardust
If you care for fantasy films at all, you must see "Stardust."

Neil Gaiman, author of the original (short) novel regained movie rights when existing options expired, and farmed screenwriting and directing duties out to people he trusted despite their comparative lack of experience. Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn turned in a product that Gaiman has pronounced himself well satisfied with, and I echo his sentiments.

The story was issued as an illustrated story, with many atmospheric drawings and paintings by Charles Vess, issued in "comic book" format because regulr publishers did not wish to incur the costs of printing such a heavily illustrated text. (A "novel" version has since been released without pictures, which is a pity.) Since the basic story was comparatively short, the film production had the rare opportunity to expand and add rather than cut which is usually a necessity in adaptations to the screen.

The story begins in Wall, an English villiage in the fields we know, named for the wall that acts as the border beyond which lies Faerie. (In the movie, referred to as "the Magic Kingdom of Stormhold," which sounds unfortunately like a Terry Brooks title. In the text, Stormhold is a desmene within Faerie.)
Dunstan Thorne, a young villager, defies the ban and crosses the wall to attend a goblin market, and is seduced by a fairy woman (Kate Magowan). Nine months later, a basket with an infant is left at the gap in the wall--.

Tristan, Dunstan's half-fairy son (Charlie Cox) is kept ignorant of his origins until he follows his father accross the wall, this time in quest of the fallen star he has rashly vowed to bring back in order to win the hand of his diffident lady-love, Victoria (Sienna Miller). Little does he suspect that the fallen star has taken the form of a young woman (Claire Danes) who moreover has been saddled with the talisman of kingship sought by the murderous sons of the King of Stormhold. The fallen star is also sought by the the even more ruthless witch-queen, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who intends to eat the star's heart in order to restore her youth and power. The star, Yvaine, is understandably unhappy about having been knocked from her place in the sky and even moreso about having been taken prisoner by a man whom she correctly makes out a bumpkin, at least in Faerieland.

The story proceeds as Tristan single-mindedly tries to make his way home with his protesting prize, neither of them aware of the several dooms bearing down on them. Their adventures include fantastic episodes of magic, hair-breadth escapes, transformations, lost princesses, and sky pirates before winding to a satisfying close.

The extended sequence involving Captain Shakespeare (Robert DeNiro) is the film's most controversial piece, not least because of the Captain's unusual sartorial proclivities. Some have challenged that the interlude takes too much time and adds too little, but I disagree. In the text, Tristan and Yvaine travel through Faerie for six months acquiring the adventuring skills they need to win through: that Tristan gets some training from Shakespeare in a few days aboard his skyship does not seem unreasonable at all.

All in all, I was very pleased with the production. I think some writers have been unfairly critical of Claire Danes. Admittedly she is not the most expressive actress, but I think she does a fine job of playing a character who is not used to being "human" in the first place, and spends a good part of the picture tired, injured, or wet or all three. Given her limitations, Yvaine is a very competent heroine and never succumbs to mindless screaming or obvious foolishness. Charlie Cox is likeable as the clueless protagonist who turns out to be a fast enough learner to make good use of the time he is bought by his unknown magical protection. Michelle Pfeiffer seems to have great fun playing the nastiest evil witch in cinema, enduring her constantly changing age prosthetics with great skill and fortitude. There is a good characterful supporting cast, beautiful and imaginative settings, and good special effects. What's not to like?

There is some gore in the witches' divination scenes, including danger to cute animals, which may be upsetting to children, as well as intense fantasy violence. On the other hand, no sex, bad language, or nudity, so fairly family friendly by modern standards. Highly recommended!

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