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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Movie Review: Stardust

Stardust Shines!

I heard mixed things about Stardust: several friends saw it and were pleased, but the critical reception was mixed and lukewarm. And of course, the bookstore nerds were crying foul over changes made to the story during its transition from novel to film. I am sad that I stayed away as long as I did.

Stardust, directed by Mathew Vaughn and adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name*, tells the story of Tristan (Charlie Cox), who lives in the village of Wall, so named because of its proximity to the wall that separates England from the fantasy realm of Stronghold. Tristan, sighting a fallen star, vows to retrieve it for his shallow beloved, Victoria (Sienna Miller). He enters Stronghold and finds, instead of a lump of smoldering ore, Yvaine (Claire Danes), the star-made-human. Tristan persuades Yvaine to journey back to Wall with him. Unfortunately, Tristan isn’t the only one who desires the star, and they are pursued, for various reasons, by witches and princes alike.

Stardust, like most fantasy stories, is all about the quest, what the characters encounter that delay, propel or detour that quest, and how they grow and change along the way. The quest also serves to introduce the audience to the fantasy world of the story. Stardust does an excellent job of creating a fantasy world that seems larger than what we’re shown; there is a sense of a greater world, with a history and laws and politics that are hinted at both by dialogue and design; things such as the invocation of an oath between witches that doesn’t have direct bearing on the story, but helps engender that “larger world” feeling so vital to good fantasy.

Tristan’s role throughout the story, amongst other things, is to serve as the point of view character, standing in for the audience as he encounters this strange new world. Many fantasy and sci fi stories succeed or fail by their POV characters, and Stardust succeeds because Tristan is a good one. Nothing is more irritating than a POV character that spends the entire course of the story reacting to the fantastical world they find themselves in with disbelief and scorn. Throughout the film, Tristan remains wide eyed and wary, but accepting of the world he finds himself in. Despite the danger he faces, he’s having some degree of fun, so the audience is too.

In his dismissive review, Roger Ebert said of the film “I liked it, but "The Princess Bride" it's not.”Which is funny, because as I was watching it, I thought to myself, “gee, this is a lot like The Princess Bride.” Plenty of fantasy films, good and bad, have come and gone between The Princess Bride and Stardust, but those two are by and large unique for the way they mix fantasy with so many other things: drama, romance, pirates, suspense, bit parts for well known comedians, action, and humor (though Stardust severely lacks rhyming giants). Ebert’s review also references the Derek Malcolm Test: "A great movie is a movie I cannot bear the thought of never seeing again." Life will certainly go on if I never see Stardust again, but I think it will be just as good, if not better, upon the second (and third, and fourth…) viewing. I certainly want to see it again, and above many other things, for me, that’s the mark of a good movie. And Dr. Doom agrees.

This film pleases Doom!

*I have read neither Neil Gamain's novel nor the graphic novel illustrated by Charles Vess, and cannot speak to the merits of either or how they compare to the film. I do plan to read the book at some point.


  1. Ok, guys, it's STORMHOLD, not Stromhold or Stronghold. We'll have to work on the accuracy of these reviews, won't we?

  2. I'm to busy leisuring to be accurate.

  3. Yeah, we're gentlemen of leisure, not gentlemen of accuracy...

  4. I read the book. It's great. I was nervous about it, admittedly, since I was reading it AFTER seeing the movie, but I think it actually allowed me to appreciate the differences even more b/c I didn't feel like I was just replaying the movie in my head. I think if the ending wasn't pretty much the same I would have been upset.
    I think all of us who read books just need to get used to the fact that the movie will never live up to the book and understand that books are sometimes only merely guidelines for movie scripts.

  5. Unless of course the book-to-movie translation is the Lord of the Rings, in which the movies were a vast improvement over the extensive descriptions of foliage and epic Elvish poems that constituted that boring ass book.

    Yeah, that's right Tolkien fans-I went there. Bring it.

  6. Ah, good call. I'm with you on that one.


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