December 18, 2007
Novelist and comic book writer Neil Gaiman hasn’t had much success with getting his work adapted into films. Terry Gilliam has been trying to get Good Omens made for years and Hollywood has been circling his most famous creation, Sandman, for some time. Gaiman even went so far as to write his own film and had his good friend, and long-time collaborator, Dave McKean direct it under the title, Mirrormask (2005). Along comes Stardust (2007), an adaptation of one of Gaiman’s novels by Matthew Vaughn, Guy Ritchie’s former producing partner and director of the top notch British gangster film, Layer Cake (2004). How would he handle the tricky task of making a fantasy film with an all-star cast?
In a small English village, a wall separates it from a magical realm called Stormhold. Tristan (Cox) is the child of one of the villagers and a woman from the realm. Tristan is socially awkward and fancies Victoria (Miller), a local girl but she’s involved with someone else. She and Tristan go on a date and he promises to retrieve a falling star that they see land in the land beyond the wall. She gives him a week to achieve this task.
The star is actually a celestial being called Yvaine (Danes) and she possesses a necklace belonging to Stormhold’s dying king (O’Toole) who tells his three sons to find and retrieve it. The one who does so successfully will inherit the kingdom. An evil old witch named Lamia (Pfeiffer) wants Yvaine’s beating heart because removing it will give her eternal youth and beauty. Tristan is magically transported to this realm and conveniently appears before Yvaine. He takes her captive with the notion of bringing her back to Victoria. Naturally, the other interested parties try to stop him.
Stardust takes too long setting up its world, the characters that inhabit it and Tristan’s quest. The first 30 minutes of the film drags and is oddly uninvolving. Why? The cast is uniformly impressive, the visuals interesting and the direction is fine. It is all to do with the overall pacing of Stardust which is akin to watching paint dry. Another problem is that Tristan is a rather bland protagonist. Vaughn tries to set up a bickering relationship between Tristan and Yvaine but it feels forced when it should have the snap of a vintage screwball comedy. It doesn’t help that there is little chemistry between Charlie Cox and Claire Danes.
However, Michelle Pfeiffer looks like she’s having lots of fun as a vain, evil witch. She ages a little more every time she uses magic and gets to vamp it up, including an amusing scene where her breasts suddenly sag – further sign of her sudden aging. Robert De Niro, in a nice bit of a casting against type, plays a slightly effeminate sky pirate who teaches Tristan how to swordfight and Yvaine how to dance. It’s an odd bit of casting that forces the veteran actor to switch off the autopilot and actually do something different for a change.
The trailer for Stardust promised fast-paced swashbuckling action with a playful sense of humour a la The Princess Bride (1987) but instead we get a slow, uninvolving film that takes way too long to get going and by that point any kind of interest in the story and the characters has long gone.
“Good Omens: The Making of Stardust.” Matthew Vaughn read the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and envisioned a film adaptation that mixed The Princess Bride with Midnight Run (1988). He wanted to treat magic matter-of-factly and realistically. Naturally, this featurette touches upon the casting choices and Gaiman talks about what inspired him to create the story in the first place.
Also included are five deleted scenes. There is more of Tristan’s awkward date with Victoria and more banter between the ghosts of the king’s deceased, bickering sons. It becomes readily apparent why this footage was cut.
There is a “Blooper Reel” where we get to see Ricky Gervais repeatedly crack up and blow his lines. The rest of the cast had their share of flubs and pratfalls as well.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.