Thursday, September 06, 2007

Late Review: "Stardust"

Warning: minor spoilers (spoilage factor: a banana with a couple of brown spots)

Okay, so it’s been longer since my last post than it takes for George R. R. Martin to write an installment in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, but a lot’s been going on. I’ve jumped ship to a new job and the past few weeks have been the usual period of adjustment - not the least of which is re-setting my internal clock to regular work week hours instead of the somewhat later day I used to keep at the old place. Not being able to stay up as late is probably the single biggest reason for my blogging tardiness. And then there’s the other usual stuff going on: domestic life with the wife, catching up with old friends, etc. At any rate, for what little it’s worth, I’m back.
So a few weeks ago we caught “Stardust”. What a great film! My wife and I were completely captivated throughout the entire show.
Based on a Neil Gaiman novel, the movie centres around our young hero Tristan (played by Charlie Cox), who crosses an ancient wall, leaving England behind and entering a magical realm on a quest to find a fallen star and bring it home to impress the girl he loves. He arrives at the impact crater to find the star is a beautiful young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes) who has ideas of her own about where she’s going. But that doesn’t deter Tristan, who binds the star with a magical cord and starts for home. Along the way, they’re beset by witches in search of youth and beauty, conniving princes and air pirates. And, not surprisingly, Tristan eventually grows to realize his true love isn’t the girl he’d originally had his eyes on.
Perhaps the finest complement that can be paid to “Stardust” came from Michael Marano in his Sci Fi Weekly review: that this movie has the same wit, energy and charm as “The Princess Bride”. In fact, though Gaiman’s story is original, they’re alike enough in setting and feeling that you could believe that Westley and Buttercup might invite Tristan and his love over for a merry dinner party one evening.
One of the big checkmarks this film earns is director Matthew Vaughn’s ability to find big name stars who are also top-notch actors (because the two aren’t always the same) who can confine themselves to playing solid roles as supporting characters. Robert De Niro does a masterful job in playing a secondary cast member who doesn’t scene-steal when he’s not supposed to, but who shines when the time is right. His Captain Shakespeare, air pirate and lightening harvester, is a screamingly funny synthesis of “Space Battleship Arcadia’s” Captain Harlock and the Robin Williams and Nathan Lane characters from “The Birdcage”.
And Michelle Pfeiffer does an equally impressive job of playing the witch Lamia. It takes a lot of guts and a hell of a sense of humour for a beautiful but aging actress to play a powerful woman who tries to maintain her fair looks longer than she should and has to watch them disintegrate with alarming rapidity. In playing a sorceress this time around, Pfeiffer is nowhere near the cute, pregnant-at-the-drop-of-a-hat New Englander she did in “The Witches of Eastwick” – this time she’s got a mean streak big enough to let her teach former costar Jack Nicholson a thing or two about black magic. And you can tell she’s enjoying every minute of it.
The movie’s charms are present in so many other ways as well, from the Three Stooges-like ghostly brothers to the touching backstory of Tristan’s father.
And the special effects are used with perfect flourish: the sky ship, the castle and the magic are all impressive eye candy, but they never detract from the story or the characters. George Lucas needs to study this movie carefully, to learn that deftly-used special effects should leave an audience feeling that they’re merely another background part of the world being presented, not its focal point.
As “The Princess Bride” revitalized the fairy tale when it came out in the 80’s, “Stardust” has kindled the torch high again for another generation.
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