I didn’t hear much about Stardust before it came out. There were scattered things here and there, but mostly it was labeled as a “Harry Potter” knock-off. It definitely isn’t.
However, after it came out there were dozens of reviews heralding this as “this generation’s Princess Bride” and that it was suddenly in their top 10 of the year.
I think that too is a bit much, but it certainly warrants better than a measly $9 million opening weekend.
I think what ultimately caused this movie to fail wasn’t that it resembled other projects, or the assumed quality, but that it wasn’t marketed very well. The promotional materials I did see couldn’t consolidate the story. The trailer was a mess. You would think if the studio put a reported $70 million into a movie, they’d find a way to appeal to the masses. Or maybe there just isn’t much of an audience for adult fantasy tales.
In all fairness, there are quite a few moving parts. And they don’t fit well.
The opening of the movie has Ian McKellen narrating a convoluted back story, as we fly over a magical kingdom. Dunstan Thorn travels to the edge of a quaint village appropriately named Wall, encircled by a five foot barrier that separates the real and fantasy worlds. Why he doesn’t just climb over is never explained, but once he makes his way past the guard he finds a princess and has a fairy tale one night stand. Did I mention this is an adult fantasy story?
9 months later… Tristan shows up on Thorn’s doorstep and without a proper court-appointed DNA test he raises him to a teenager. Tristan, played by the only unknown in the cast (Charlie Cox), also ventures beyond the wall in search of a fallen star for his schoolyard crush, Victoria (Sienna Miller).
Are you getting all of this? Because I’m trying my best to summarize.
The star fell from the sky because three sons were fighting nearby for control of the kingdom as their father (Peter O’Toole) lay on his deathbed. A necklace that determines the true heir somehow (magically, I assume) flew into the air and knocked a star out of the night sky. The star isn’t a “ball of gas burning billions of miles away” like scientists and Pumba would have you believe, but a blond named Yvaine (Claire Danes), who plummets to Earth in a nightgown. Astronomy just got a little bit sexier.
And, in case this movie didn’t have enough going on, there are three sisters led by Lamia (Michelle Pfieffer) who want to kill Yvaine to restore their beauty.
What results is Tristan and Yvaine traveling across the land towards Wall with princes and an evil sorceress in tow. Unfortunately all these elements don’t seem to align very smoothly, which results in an uneven, bumpy ride.
I was a little skeptical of throwing in Robert DeNiro purely as a big name, but he was great in his supporting role. DeNiro plays Captain Shakespeare of a flying pirate dirigible that harnesses lightning for sale to… Does it matter? Once I got over “Oh yeah, DeNiro’s in this” and his silly secret is revealed, he’s a welcome funny character, but as Ebert pointed out he should be clearly labeled “deus ex machina. ” However, Ricky Gervais also shows up as a comedic cameo and could have been dropped completely.
The musical score was certainly present throughout, but was a bit grandiose to the point of distracting at times. It was always booming over galloping regal steeds and soaring airborne zeppelins. There were some pretty amazing sweeping landscape shots and effects though. And I enjoyed the glowey aura effect around Claire Dane’s head when she was feeling particularly amorous. I wish real blonds had that in bars.