Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
When I read the novel by Neil Gailman, my first instinctive response was awe at his abilities as a master storyteller, but shortly behind it came my repulsion for explicit sexual content and violence. Both are missing from the big screen adaptation, which makes it more palatable while maintaining the heart and vision of his story, with an improvement here and there.
Fascination with the land across the old stone wall has flourished for generations in the small town simply called "Wall." One night, an adventurous youth dashes across it and wanders into the midst of an enchanted world, where he is given a glass flower by a beautiful maiden (Kate Magowan), and then invites him into her caravan. Nine months later, a baby lands on the young man's doorstep with a note to keep him safe. Now at eighteen, Tristan (Charlie Cox) only wants to win the love and affection of the beautiful but notoriously shallow Victoria (Sienna Miller). On a fickle night he promises to bring her back a star that has fallen from the heavens in exchange for her hand in marriage. Believing he can never accomplish such a task, Victoria sends him over the wall in search of what he believes is a glittering piece of rock. What he finds is that the Star (Claire Danes) is flesh and blood, and not at all pleased to have been knocked from the night sky on the whim of a bedridden king (Peter O'Toole). The king's sons are all in line for the throne, murderous intentions having finished off half of them, and he informs them that whoever can turn the stone in his medallion back to its ruby color may have the kingdom.
Hurling it into the night sky, the king inadvertently knocks Yvaine to earth, and thus begins Tristan's grand adventure as he seeks to return the Star to Victoria, little knowing a witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) covets Yvaine's heart, for to consume the heart of a star renders one immortal. Very few fantasies are captivating from beginning to end, and Stardust is the rare exception. It held my interest and excitement like few other films in the genre have, and was a decent adaptation in that it only altered for dramatic purposes. One of the biggest disappointments in the book was the anticlimactic ending, but here it is transformed into a kidnapping and a fantastic battle between good and evil. The casting was sheer genius. Danes portrays the temperamental but ultimately darling Yvaine with radiance, and she is genuinely beautiful whenever she is allowed to shine.
Cox is an up and coming actor to watch, since he's fabulous with comedy and can also cut a fine figure in a long waistcoat. But the true gems are Pfeiffer, who compels the screen with authority and meanness, and Robert Di Nero, who appears as a pirate captain. As far as the genre goes, this one is cleaner than most and doesn't contain quite as much violence. It is there and some of it is grotesque but it's never brutally over the top. Lamia uses witchcraft every step of the way to attempt to trap Yvaine: she transforms men into animals, conjures green light from midair, forces people to speak like birds, and transports her image through a mirror. Caged beasts are unleashed; they turn upon a woman who has been cruel to them. A powerful witch's battle ends with one of them headless; her body disintegrates and leaves a burn mark. Lamia slices a man's throat (implied).
What grossed me out the most was that the witches use entrails to predict events. You never see them actually kill the ferret or the lizard, but in both instances they pull intestines into the camera's view. There was a mild amount of bawdy humor: whenever Lamia uses magic, she is less able to control her appearance. An attempt to zap away a liver spot causes her breasts to sag. She transforms a man into a kitchen maid, and we see his/her bust rise. Several people are shown in baths; and a ghost appears naked, although we never actually see anything save above the waist. It's ambiguous as to whether or not Yvaine and Tristan sleep together; they kiss and in a slightly later scene, she's asleep on the bed beside him. Several animals (a ferret, a lizard, a goat) are killed. There are a handful of mild profanities.
One thing that I do not remember being in the book is the fact that Di Niro's character is a cross-dresser (or gay, whichever you prefer). He keeps up a tough pretense to fool his pirate friends but one scene shows him dancing around in his private chamber wearing a woman's corset and skirt. That kind of spoilt the fun a little bit for me, since it was designed to get laughs but ultimately wasn't all that amusing. That was pretty much the one thing I would have done differently, because in all other respects the film is amazing. It's extremely funny and romantic, has a great hero and a unique leading lady, and builds up to a nice conclusion. In short, it is every fantasy fan's dream.