So many stars, so little shine.
Stardust seems like it should have a lot of glimmer. It boasts a surprisingly strong cast — Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Claire Danes, among others. It’s based on a novel by Neil Gaiman, revered for his detailed fantasy worlds. And best of all, it has flying pirates! Unfortunately, under all the glitz is really nothing more than a dull rock that falls to the ground with a resounding thud.
The first sign of trouble is the 20 minute set-up for the movie, duly (or is that dully?) narrated by Ian McKellen. No narrator should have to work so hard to drag the audience through such a large chunk of the movie. Worst of all, after such hand-holding, he abandons us for the rest of the film — a little lost and a little confused.
Danes in ‘Stardust’
Fortunately, except for the particulars, Stardust is a fairly standard fantasy tale. Tristran (Charlie Cox), who was conceived out of wedlock to a princess held captive by a witch, makes a silly promise to the town’s most beautiful girl (Sienna Miller). He vows to leave their little hamlet, cross the forbidden wall (the last breach was for his father’s one-night-stand), and return with the shooting star that was seen the night before.
Meanwhile, over the wall in Stormhold, the king has died and his remaining sons must hunt down the necklace that was sent into space and returned to earth as the aforementioned shooting star. More challenging than finding the jewelry is surviving the rampant fratricide that haunts the brothers. Speaking of haunting, in a
specter from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, the brothers already eliminated from the succession process return as translucent embodiments of their slaughtered forms ready to provide social commentary on their survivors’ escapades.
Finally, three witches, desperate to regain their youth, are hunting for the star to capture the rejuvenating properties of its heart.
Lamia (Pfeiffer) is chosen to eat the last of the previous star’s heart, thereby regaining her youth (think really soft lighting for Pfeiffer). However, every time that Lamia uses her magic, she loses a little bit of her youth and the liver spots begin to show. Her desperation is the most acute of any of the others on their quest —
and you almost pull for her the most because by the end, she ain’t pretty.
And that’s just the set-up. What follows is a sordid tale of magic and mayhem, with a tad bit of mischief mixed in for good measure. The falling star has assumed the form of a beautiful girl, Yvaine (Claire Danes), who’s watched the world for centuries and now, having assumed a corporal form, is quite bitchy. Not that surprising for a star, I guess.
Of course Tristran finds her first and through their adventures they fall in love. Not all that believable, but pretty predictable. In fact, the 5-year-old behind me was calling out plot developments with amazing accuracy all night.
The one twist that is impossible to call is Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro), the pirate skipper of a flying ship that captures lightning. In a turn that’s too bizarre to really be insulting yet too insulting to really be taken seriously, it’s an odd choice for De Niro.
Starring Clare Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro
In fact, all the actors involved are often tap dancing between serious and slapstick. Director Matthew Vaughn worked under the theory of ”never let an emotional crescendo get in the way of a joke.” For two of the actors — Pfeiffer and Danes — it’s actually a continuation of themes they’ve been exploring all summer. Pfeiffer continues to channel her inner-witch from Hairspray, and Danes continues to play the stilted, clueless waif from Evening.
Stardust suffers most of all from an identity crisis. It’s too long, meandering and complex for most kids, but the references to extramarital sex, animal sacrifice, homicides galore, and a bevy of other sins, earned it a PG-13 rating despite its often juvenile approach to the story. It’s a cross between Willow, The Princess Bride and The Lord of Rings — if those three movies were poorly made.
As we enter the summer doldrums, Stardust is better than sitting outside on a high-humidity, 90-degree day. But if you’re going to sit inside, there are a number of movies that probably warrant a second viewing before Stardust gets its first.