Some guys live an enchanted life. Director
Matthew Vaughn became disenchanted with X-Men: The Last
Stand and walked away from making it in order to "spend
more time with his family." We won this one, because his
wife, the enchanting Claudia Schiffer, happened to be enchanted
by a particular book that she wanted her husband to make
into a film. As a result, we've got Stardust, and
it's no stretch to say that it's …pretty darned cool.
As a novel, Stardust existed both
with and without artist Charles Vess' illustrations, so
Vaughn and his crew had some freedom in bringing the fantasy
kingdom of Stormhold to life. Yet they don't overplay that
liberty. Just as Peter Jackson did with Lord of the Rings,
Vaughn lets the magic of England's natural scenery work
When production designer Gavin Bocquet
does get to strut his stuff, it retains its wonder. The
occasional glimpse of the castle on the mountaintop is like
being three and riding Storybookland at Disneyland. Then
Captain Shakespeare's flying pirate ship swoops into view,
and you can't help but smile and buy into it.
For Vaughn has captured exactly what makes
Neil Gaiman's novella so special without being an absolute
slave to it. Ian McKellen's warm grandfatherly tones bring
us into the story, which just gets told simply with a host
of actors comfortably burying themselves in their roles.
Young Dunstan Thorn (Ben Barnes, then Nathaniel
Parker) sneaks from our world to the magical kingdom of
Stormhold for one night of pleasure, only to find himself
the father of Tristan (Charlie Cox) nine months later.
On the cusp of manhood, Tristan pines for
local beauty Victoria (Sienna Miller), but on the other
side of the Wall, fate has other plans. The old king of
Stormhold (Peter O'Toole) lies dying, and he's changing
the rules of the rather brutal succession tradition. Whichever
of his heirs can bring the royal ruby back to Stormhold
without joining his brothers in a ghostly chorus will be
the new king.
In the process, the ruby knocks a star
out of the heavens, alerting the kingdom's fiercest witches.
If you can eat the heart of a star, it seems, you will be
granted youth and power. That's not going to sit well with
the fallen star Yvaine (Claire Danes).
Of course all destinies will collide. It's
a fairy tale, appropriate enough for children but really
more for adults. Kids won't appreciate Michelle Pfeiffer
and Robert DeNiro fearlessly tweaking their images while
still building believable characters. As the evil witch
Lamia, Pfeiffer clearly has fun, but never at our expense.
She's just as frightening while beautiful as she is ugly
DeNiro, on the other hand, plays a pretty
good trick on the audience, delivering what at first seems
a perfunctory performance until revealing the truth about
his character. Carrying on a subtle thread of father figures,
DeNiro's scenes with Cox and Danes have a palpable joy to
them, as Yvaine learns what family on Earth might just mean.
While the storytelling is just about perfect,
Stardust does have a couple of glitches. At one point,
it looks like the continuity editor lost track of where
Michelle Pfeiffer's transformations were supposed to be,
and the resurgence of a luminous Pfeiffer sticks out like
a sore thumb. It may be heresy to say the following, but
Ricky Gervais, too, fails to fit in, looking and acting
exactly like his Extras character Andy Millman snuck
onto the set and cadged a few lines of dialogue. Despite
his prominence on the poster, though, Gervais' Ferdy the
Fence has less than three minutes of screen time, so it's
only a momentary distraction.
Vaughn makes you believe Stormhold. He makes you root for
Tristan's journey and wish we could have a lot more enchantment
in all of our lives.