It all seems so easy for Neil Gaiman. Everything he writes overflows with original and intriguing ideas. One imagines that even his grocery lists must be full of magical items with evocative names, and notes to friends are perfect little gems that are kept forever because they are so well written and so very clever. Gaiman‘s ideas are invariably set in finely crafted settings and presented in elegant prose. What’s more is he moves so effortlessly from comic books to screenplays to novels to children’s books. I hear he’s even going to direct a film soon. There seems to be no world he can’t conquer.

Stardust is a comic novella Gaiman wrote some time ago. The plot is about a teenage boy named Tristran Thorn (Charlie Cox) who tries to impress the most beautiful girl in his village by boasting that he’ll find a falling star and bring it back to her. Unfortunately, the village of Wall, where he lives borders on the magic kingdom of Stormhold and that is where the star lands.

Things are further complicated when Tristran discovers that the star is actually a beautiful young girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes) who was knocked out of the sky by a ruby thrown into the air by the dying King (Peter O’Toole). This ruby figures into the Kingdom’s succession. So the King’s surviving homicidal sons are looking for the star and the ruby. Meanwhile a trio of witches led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) are after Yvaine too. They know that the heart of a star, removed while she’s still alive can restore their magic powers and their youth. Tristran and Yvaine navigate these dangers with the help of Captain Shakespeare (Robert DeNiro) a closeted gay cross dresser who leads a pirate crew.

After a leisurely start, this film becomes wonderful. The script by director Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman is eccentric and very clever, with some terrific moments of black humor–very rare in what is essentially a romance. The acting is fine. Claire Danes is the best actress of her generation. She’s not given a role that challenges her abilities here but she is lovely and does a decent English accent. Michelle Pfeiffer is ruthless and vain and obviously having a great time playing the villainous Lamia. DeNiro continues to develop his comedic chops. His role, in less talented hands, could have been a grotesque parody of gay stereotypes, but DeNiro keeps it subtle. And finally newcomer Charlie Cox turns in the best performance of the film as Tristran. He grows from awkward teenager to accomplished young man over the course of the film and sells every minute of it.

The effects in the film are good but not revolutionary.  They add to the story and don’t distract from it. There’s nothing in Stardust that will knock your eyes out but also nothing that will make you think, “That looks cheesy.”

Stardust is a pleasant film, filled with the easy grace of a Neil Gaiman project.


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August 2007
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