Film Fun for Friday ..... And, Stardust, a sprawling, effects-laden fairy tale, is just that. A tale filled with Fairy Magic, Fun & the Fantastikal ..... it's the story of an ordinary shop-boy's quest to prove his love, an enchanted journey into a Magical Kingdom of Conspiring Witches, Murderous Princes, Flying Pirates and a Fallen Star. The real gem of the movie is the story itself. I was introduced to the world of Neil Gaiman by my Philosophy instructor back in my undergraduate days in London, England, & this fairy fable is one of the first graphic novels I ever read. It convinced me that Gaiman was a Giant of all endeavours literary, his stuff so sparkles!!
And this movie captures that spark for sure. Sophisticated in its execution, it is a movie that possesses a child's whimsical sense of wonder (that propels the action), coupled with an adult sensibility that gives it emotional depth .... Gaiman at his Greatest!
A philosopher once asked, "Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?" Pointless, really... "Do the stars gaze back?" .... Now *that's* a question!!
To the tale .... & young Tristan Thorne (played by Charlie Cox, who comes across as naïve and accidentally valiant) lives with his father in the small English village of Wall, named for the cobblestone barrier that skirts it. He vows to retrieve a fallen star for the chance to win the heart of the shallow Victoria (Sienna Miller), the prettiest girl in the village.
He soon finds himself transported to the Supernatural world of Stormhold, the enchanted land on the other side of the wall which humans are forbidden to enter. In the crater where the star landed, he discovers a beautiful young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes ~ I've always identified with & adored Claire Danes), who, in fact, is the human incarnation of the star. Tristan intends to take Yvaine back to Victoria to prove the depth of his love but must first navigate the treacherous byways of the fantasy kingdom. Much of the film involves the duo's journey back home, though home for Tristan is his village, home for the celestial Yvaine is, of course, in the heavens.
Yvaine is pursued by an array of villians, whose goals blur into a general stampede. It begins with the death of Stronghold’s Monarch (Peter O’Toole, looking as though he’s at death’s door), who pits his seven sons (they are cleverly named in order of birth and birthright - Primus, Secundis, Tertius, etc ) against one another for the throne. Having launched a treasured gem into the stratosphere & causing Yvaine to plummet to Earth as a falling star, his throne can be won only through possession of this ruby pendant now worn by Yvaine. This rather bloodthirsty succession ritual leads Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) and his brothers to kill one another off until the last survivor ascends the throne. As they are dispatched, the slaughtered princes provide a ghostly Greek chorus to the story.
The fast-paced action cuts back and forth between the various villians as they bear down on Yvaine. Michelle Pfeiffer is Perfect as the diabolical Lamia, the embodiment of every vain, wicked stepmother in fairy-tale literature mixed with the cauldron-tending crones of “Macbeth” (Lamia is one of three cackling sisters), who seeks the star for it’s eternal life-giving properties which can be attained only by cutting out and eating the heart of Yvaine, the actual fallen star. But since Lamia has only a limited amount of magic to deploy before she begins to shrivel into a grotesque, balding hag, she must conserve her resources. Shooting deadly green lightning from rings on her tapering long-nailed fingers, she metamorphoses from a feline beauty with a sickly sweet smile into various stages of decrepitude. Her nightmare image of herself comes and goes as she unleashes and renews her powers.
Halfway through the story, Tristan and Yvaine are rocketed into space, where they touch down on an amphibious pirate ship. Enter Robert De Niro in his all-time campest screen performance as its cross-dressing skipper, Captain Shakespeare. Wearing a demonic grin and speaking in a caricature of the New York mobster voice he used in Analyze This, he injects comic relief into the quasi-medieval mists of Northern Britain. De Niro’s drag routine makes movie sense only if you think of it as a hip response to Johnny Depp’s fey, mascara-wearing Pirates of the Caribbean character, Jack Sparrow. Ricky Gervais has a small but memorable role essentially channeling his character from Extras, including his catchphrase, "Are you having a laugh?!"
Ian McKellen's narration establishes the storybook tone, and there is an amusing cameo by Irish stalwart David Kelly, as the ancient guard patrolling the wall. The pacing and cinematography are excellent. The sets and backgrounds are truly epic, amidst the sweeping vistas and timeless pastures of Iceland and Scotland. The effects are really ‘special’ if not in typical style, but original and stylistic, capturing the magic and vision of author Neil Gaiman's fantasy fable, a Comic mini-series, which later became a novel.
Parallel worlds are always fun in films and literature. They offer instant symbology and context. The worlds are the opposite of each other so there can be double the storylines, double the stars, double the look, double the fun. Often as dark and brutal as a tale by the Brothers Grimm, "Stardust" is hilarious, engaging & enchanting for the ‘starry eyed’ romantics among us.
One of my very favourite 'romantic' quotes, that I shall recite in the right circumstances .... "You know when I said I knew little about love? That wasn't true. I know a lot about love. I've seen it, centuries and centuries of it, and it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars. Pain, lies, hate... It made me want to turn away and never look down again. But when I see the way that mankind loves... You could search to the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful. So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing, and... What I'm trying to say, Tristan is... I think I love you. Is this love, Tristan? I never imagined I'd know it for myself. My heart... It feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it's trying to escape because it doesn't belong to me any more. It belongs to you. And if you wanted it, I'd wish for nothing in exchange - no fits. No goods. No demonstrations of devotion. Nothing but knowing you loved me too. Just your heart, in exchange for mine."