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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 its course.

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 and wizened.

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.

Otherwise, 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. 

Derek McCaw

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