2007, PG-13, 130 min. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Mark Strong.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 10, 2007
"Fairies wear boots," recalled a sage and seasoned wise man whose name eludes me at the moment, "I tell you no lies." That's as good a description as any for this uneven adaptation of Neil Gaiman's bestselling, back-to-basics "fairy tale," which in the reading felt more like an extended, prose-heavy issue of the author's first and greatest success: the comics series Sandman (a landmark of the art form that breezed through history both real and imagined and wove a truly magical tapestry out of Gaiman's seemingly unslakable thirst for the myriad mythologies that, then as now, act as civilization's crystalline framework. Vaughn's movie feels, on the other hand, clogged with perhaps too much fairy dust; it's like double-dosing Tori Amos and Arthur Machen while setting The Princess Bride on stutter. Too much fantasy is never enough, however, for Vaughn and his actors, who appear to be having way too much fun with their roles to worry about the niceties of narrative overcrowding. Vaughn previously helmed the excellent London-set neo-noir Layer Cake, which seems a veritable font of cinematic restraint in comparison to Stardust. The plot eliminates much of Gaiman's original novel while keeping the resonant core and adding a flouncing De Niro to the mix. Cox plays Tristran, a nervy young man who sets out from his rural England town of Wall to retrieve a fallen star for his (he assumes) true love, Victoria (Miller). His quest takes him into the fairy-tale land of Stormhold, where he discovers that the celestial fragment he seeks is actually Danes, which makes his promise to Victoria all the more interesting and his return all the more fraught. Specifically, fraught with Pfeiffer as Lamia, the grand dame of a triplet of witchy sisters, as well as seedy prince Septimus (Strong) and his pals Lords Primus and Secundus (Flemyng, Everett). Everyone except Tristran is searching for the fallen star for nefarious ends, and Cox, who barely registers as the heroic archetype in the film's opening is by the end trading thrusts and parries with Pfeiffer and Strong like a lankier Errol Flynn minus the charm. Danes does space debris proud, though, and her performance, along with Pfeiffer's insidiously wicked turn as Lamia and the aforementioned left turn into Bizarro World by De Niro, keeps the whole shebang afloat. Still, Stardust has lost a good amount of its magic in the transformation from page to screen. It's the cinematic equivalent of getting a punch in the mind's eye by a bunch of fairies wearing the coolest Doc Martens this side of Florin.