Saturday, September 7, 2019
Gaiman Watch: Stardust (2007)
I have to say - the marketing team absolutely dropped the ball advertising Stardust (2007). I recall hearing the movie was coming, based on Gaiman that I hadn't yet read, saw the trailer and decided: eh, I'm good.
My memory of the trailer was that it looked like a doofy guy trying to woo Claire Danes in the basket of a hot air balloon or some such. I wouldn't say I took a hard pass, but I didn't see it til 2019, so...
Very, very Neil Gaiman in character and ideas, the movie has the feel of a familiar fairy tale or legend, but spun from pieces of zeitgeisty-concepts and all new notions. Castles, kings, pirates, magic, rights of ascension... There's the matter-of-factness of a 19th Century story for children in the telling, which uses that semi-lecturey tone to insist "of course there's a fairy-tale land with witches. Everyone knows this." And whether we respond to this as adults out of nostalgia or training, I can't say - but it's a great way to frame a story.
With a convivial tone, even the threats never present much of a threat - helped along with absurdity and game performances including a starring turn by Michelle Pfeiffer (who I didn't even recall being in the movie from the advertising, which... Pfeiffer is a draw, studio execs) as our chief evil sorcerer. There's a bit of a comedic highlight as she enlists a goat into her service as well as a young man who goes through more than anyone should have to.
Our protagonist is played by Charlie Cox, he of Daredevil fame, who really nails the starry-eyed village-boy to worthy hero/ love interest much, much better than in most of these stories - both in performance and because the story doesn't establish him as a simp or idiot at the story's opening - just a kid who needs to widen his world and have experience beyond his tiny village. Claire Danes manages what could be a thankless role as the pretty, supernatural character who has just fallen to Earth (and a walking MacGuffin), and makes the character likable and winning as she isn't so much naive as she is inexperienced, but an observer now engaging in humanity.
I don't wish to spoil the story of the 7 princes who are in battle for their father's (Peter O'Toole) throne. Nor the tale of the lightning pirates led by Robert Deniro in an off-beat role (which has aged oddly in a short amount of time). But I did find the story of Tristan's (Charlie Cox) mother a bit of fairy-tale perfection.
The movie does not have the same sense of humor or nuance as The Princess Bride, but I'll argue the two would pair well as fantasy romance films cast from two different molds but both putting you into a fun place you want to keep exploring and see more of, but feel the ending of both films tells a complete and satisfying story.
Anyhoo... not a *perfect* movie, whatever that may be, but I was very pleasantly surprised by near everything in the film. And, of course, worth it just for Pfeiffer alone. She's pretty great here.