Ever since he wrote Sandman, I have been a big fan of Neil Gaiman. I've also always enjoyed pre-Tolkien fantasy of the sort that Lord Dunsany wrote. For that reason the illustrated novel Stardust, written by Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess, is one of my favourite works that Neil Gaiman has written. Gaiman wrote the novel with pre-Tolkien fantasy precisely in mind. It is also the reason that I was looking forward to the film adaptation of Stardust.
Fortunately, the movie Stardust was not a disappointment. Like the novel, the film begins in the 19th century with the English village of Wall, so called because it is separated from the magical world of Stormhold by a rather long and rather tall wall. In the village young Tristan Thorn promises his beloved Victoria (played by Sienna Miller) to retrieve a star that has fallen on the other side of the wall, in Stormhold. As it turns out, however, stars have human form (in this case, Claire Danes) and names (in her case Yvaine). Having found the star Yvaine, Tristan must make their way back to the village of Wall across the sometimes dangerous kingdom of Stormhold.
For those Gaiman fans out there, the movie's plot is simpler than that of the novel, although for me this did not detract from enjoying the film. While it may not be 100% faithful to the novel's plot, Stardust is loyal to the book's spirit. The movie definitely has the feel of those classic works of fantasy predating Tolkien's books. It possesses both a sense of whimsy and imagination that one would find in the works of Lord Dunsany, Charles Kingsley, and William Morris. In fact, in many respects Stardust is comparable to the classic fantasy movie The Princess Bride, although with a greater emphasis on fantasy than on comedy. Its sense of whimsy drawn from Victorian fantasy writers sets Stardust apart not only from other movies, but from other fantasy movies as well.
Stardust succeeds largely because of its great cast. Indeed, while Claire Danes may be the "star," it is Michelle Pfeiffer who is the most celestial performer, giving a great performance as the villainous witch Lamia and looking far more beautiful than women nearly half her age. Rupert Evert also gives a solid performance as Secundus, the second son of the King of Stormhold (Peter O'Toole) anxious to ascend to the throne. Robert De Niro and Ricky Gervais of The Office (the original, British version) also do some good turns in their parts.
Director Matthew Vaughn also proves that Layer Cake was not a fluke. Dealing with a lot of material as he did in Layer Cake, Vaughn handles it quite neatly. The movie is easy to follow, despite its many plot threads. His direction also lends to the over all feel of the film, that of a Victorian fantasy where danger and adventure might lurk right around the corner.
Stardust is an enjoyable film and a welcome break from the usual summer blockbusters and inane family comedies so often released this time of year. I would encourage anyone who enjoys fantasy movies or simply good films to go see Stardust.