DVD Review: Stardust

Fairy tales may not always come true, but sometimes they come to a theater near you. Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) and his co-scripter, Jane Goldman, have delivered a big screen adaptation worthy of Neil Gaiman’s classic Stardust.

It’s on DVD now.

Our tour guide is the warm voice of Sir Ian McKellen, which begins the film thusly: “A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?’ Pointless, really. Do the stars gaze back? Now that’s a question.”

One such dreamer who believes they do is young Dunstan Thorne (Ben Barnes), who lives in the village of Wall. Wall is so named because it has a wall, guarded by a strange old man (David Kelly) intent on keeping the villagers from wandering into the magical kingdom of Stormhold that lies just beyond it.

Dunstan sneaks inside and quickly catches the eye of a beautiful girl (Kate Magowan) who tells him she’s a princess tricked into slavery by a witch called Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill). Dunstan’s not able to liberate the lovely lass but she does liberate him from his knickers, and nine months later a bundle containing a baby boy arrives on Dunstan’s doorstep. Dunstan (played now as an older man by Nathaniel Parker) raises Tristan (Charlie Cox) alone, and when Tristan comes of age he takes a job as a shop boy and falls in love with Victoria (Sienna Miller), the prettiest girl in all of Wall.

But as we are reminded many times throughout Stardust, there are shop boys and there are boys who work in shops for a time. Poor Tristan is the latter and seeks wealthy Victoria’s hand in marriage, even though he’s so blinded by his infatuation that he never notices when she takes advantage of his kindness or subjects him to casual cruelties. As she reveals to Tristan her intention to marry arrogant, well-to-do Humphrey (Henry Cavill) during their late-night picnic, they see a star fall beyond the wall. Victoria tells Tristan she’ll marry him instead if he can bring the fallen star back to her.

But why did the star fall?

It’s all part of a game arranged by Stormhold’s ailing king (Peter O’Toole) to see which of his scheming sons is worthy of taking the throne. Tristan enters Stormhold and retrieves the star, which looks like a girl (played by Claire Danes) and bears the name Yvaine. He’s intent on presenting her to Victoria, but others seek the star for darker purposes. He’ll have the king’s sons to contend with, but worst of all they’ll find themselves hunted by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), a witch who seeks Yvaine’s heart to restore beauty and power to her and her ancient, equally evil sisters. Well-meaning but oft-misguided Tristan has just as much to discover about life on our muddy little orb as the alien star he’s protecting. As they encounter wonders, dangers and surprises at every turn, will they learn life’s most important lesson together?

Take some C.S. Lewis, add a pinch of Tolkien and stir in the hilarious whimsy of The Princess Bride and you’ll get Stardust, which brims with all the adventure and true love that a fantasy fan could ask for. The magic begins in the casting. You’ll have a lot of fun watching Cox grow into a hero’s boots as Tristan. Danes and her earnest, unique brand of inner/outer beauty will similarly win your heart as Yvaine. One of Pfeiffer’s earliest leading roles was as the (literally) star-crossed lover Isabeau in Richard Donner’s romantic fantasy classic Ladyhawke, and here she’s having a wickedly good time tapping into her naughty side (while poking fun at conventions of beauty and youth). Also fabulous is Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare, who commands a flying pirate ship and secretly enjoys corsets more than cutlery. In the hands of lesser storytellers than Gaiman and Vaughn, the character might have been one-dimensional. Instead, De Niro’s Shakespeare helps impart to Tristan and Yvaine the wisdom (and courage) they need to see the obvious.

Stardust looks beautiful. The magic looks and feels real, with computer effects used sparingly and appropriately. Vaughn was set to direct X-Men 3 but, as he told Ain’t It Cool News, dropped out because “I wanted to make a film that was as good as X2, and in the time period that I had, I couldn’t do it.” Thankfully he was able to take his time with Stardust, and it shows.

With magic, romance and adventure galore, the Stardust DVD helps close out 2007 year with a lovely helping of love and imagination.