Let me start off by saying that if you are a Neil Gaiman fan, you likely should skip this review. I’m going to take the probably unpopular stand in this review that the film was not a very good one. I did not ever read the book that this world and characters come from, but if the film truly represents that world, I think I’ll pass. To begin with, the idea had tremendous potential. I liked the overall concept, and hopefully that is more Gaiman’s doing than the film’s. I entered this land with the expectation that I would be swept away by a larger than life epic tale of fantasy. What I got instead was a script and collection of performances that fought me the entire way. Each time I attempted to embrace this universe, something rudely pulled me back.
The story, told in another way, could very well have been wonderful. A magical wall separates the mundane world of England and the magical land of Stormhold. The only gap in this wall is guarded around the clock to keep the ordinary citizens of Wall, England from trespassing on Stormhold. One night a young man tricks his way through the gap and onto the other side. There he meets a slave girl who claims to be a princess. They have an affair, and 9 months later a baby boy is brought to the wall by denizens of Stormhold. It seems Dunstan has a son. The boy, Tristan, grows into a rather awkward young man. Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Stormhold the King is dying. He has gathered his four, make that three, surviving sons to choose a successor. It appears the King had murdered his 12 brothers to gain the crown himself, and he’s somewhat disappointed one of his own sons was not up to the task to do the same. He presents them a task. Throwing a necklace to the heavens, he decrees that the true blooded heir to the throne will recover the necklace. All the while young Tristan is attempting to woo a young woman of his fancy. When they spy a shooting star, he promises to retrieve it for the girl in exchange for her hand. Tristan enters Stormhold in search of his falling star, which in this magical land lands in the form of a woman. Coincidentally Yvaine is also wearing the coveted necklace. As Tristan attempts to bring her home and present her to his love, he soon discovers that he’s not alone in wanting the living star. Not only are the surviving princes after her for the necklace, it seems that if a sorceress can cut out her heart and consume it it will return her to eternal youth. Three interested parties. One star. Are you ready to ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumble? From this point the film follows these contestants as they journey through Stormhold. The ending is quite predictable (remember Dunstan’s one nighter?).
On the surface all of the elements are there for a pretty good Once Upon A Time, right? Wrong. Matthew Vaughn directs this film with almost no energy at all. Nothing that happens ever happens with any kind of passion. Characters are encountered that are merely a string of routines and set-ups that rob the effort of any emotion. The most fatal mistake of all was the decision to sprinkle this fairy tale with mindless slapstick. There was no reason at all to do this. What were they thinking? Next up is the B level acting throughout the film. While Charlie Cox did a reasonably good job as Tristan, Claire Danes was simply horrible. Few characters have grated on my nerves more than the whining Yvaine. When she wasn’t muttering and complaining, she put in a numbing and mindless performance. I guess stars might have hearts, but not so much brains. It’s pretty rough when you find yourself rooting for the miscast Michelle Pfeiffer as the sorceress Lamia. I was hoping she’s rip that heart out and start munching on that bad boy. I waited eagerly over an hour for Robert De Niro to make his entrance and when he did I ended up wishing he hadn’t. I thought I would never say this, but De Niro is abysmal here as a gay pirate commanding a flying pirate ship. I hope he at least got a huge payday. About the only truly good performances come first with Peter O’Toole as the dying King and the unseen Ian McKellen who narrates the story beautifully. All of these actors sleepwalk through parts that are so uninspiring as to be a total waste of your time.
Stardust is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There’s nothing really wrong with the transfer, but the production is a little slim on value. The CG f/x are way too obvious. There’s a kind of blur throughout the presentation that I can’t quite get a handle on. It’s almost as though the movie were filmed through a frosted lenses, perhaps in an attempt to create a magical atmosphere. There aren’t any print defects, and compression artifacting is kept at a minimum. Black levels are mostly weak, owing to the blur image I already described. Colors were OK but often severely muted, again likely for effect.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the strongest thing the film has going. I loved the Eskeri score but found it to be too grand for what was being depicted on the screen. A score should complement an image and be nearly invisible to the audience. Instead, I loved the music but not the images. Dialog is usually clear enough, and there are some rather nice surround moments in the film. A bright spot in an otherwise dreary landscape.
Deleted Scenes: The scenes are presented in the worst manner I’ve ever seen on a DVD release. The image is simply covered by the reference text and numbers. There’s a huge Property Of Paramount Pictures in the middle. On top there is a huge unmoving banner declaring Deleted Scenes and initials and dates covering almost the entire image. What is the point of all that?
Bloopers: Again these rather unfunny bloopers are covered in the same nonsense as the Deleted Scenes. Why? Do they really think someone’s out there pirating these silly blooper reels to make money?
Good Omens – The Making Of Stardust: Put simply, if you like the film, this 30 minute look at the film’s creation is likely worth your time. For me it wasn’t. It doesn’t help your attitude when you watch a making-of piece and simply don’t care.
Since Peter Jackson took us for his memorable journey through Middle Earth, epic fantasy tales have become a popular genre in Hollywood. From the Narnia books to even Harry Potter, it has become the trend to create these larger than life worlds filled with the most amazing creatures. Tales are told of heroic quests and the triumph of good over evil. As expected, some of these efforts fall far short of their mark. Stardust is painfully one of those efforts. Vaughn excited my spirit and promised me a wonderful journey through my imagination. He built me up as if to “be sure the heart is glowing before you cut it out.”