Stardust has set itself up as the next The Princess Bride. It purports to be an enchanting tale full of dashing princes, evil witches, flying pirates, and mythical creatures. It wants you to believe that it is a rip-roaring thrill ride, a wondrous tale of romance, adventure and unrealized destiny. It has the audaciously to claim to be nothing short of pure magic.
And so it is.
Stardust is utterly and completely beguiling, an enthralling fairytale that, like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, posits a mythical land existing parallel to our own. Tristan (Charlie Cox) is a bumbling, naive shop boy of dubious origins in love with the beautiful Victoria (Sienna Miller), a girl far beyond his humble reach. “I’m not a shop boy,” Tristan tells her, little realizing his miraculous destiny, “I just work in a shop.” Victoria promises to marry Tristan if, by her birthday in one week’s time, he can bring back the remnants of a shooting star they watched streak overhead. The only problem is that the star landed somewhere over the stone wall that separates the real world of England from the mystical land of Stormhold. But twiterpated Tristan is more than willing to prove his adoration and happily accepts the challenge.
Tristan manages to cross the wall and finds himself in a strange world where the star turns out to be a beautiful young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). But Tristan isn’t the only one looking for her. Stormhold’s king (Peter O’Toole) has died and his squabbling sons, especially the scheming Septimus (Mark Strong) require the star/woman to cement their throne. Worst still, three wicked witch sisters led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) seek Yvaine so that they might cut out her heart and by eating it, achieve eternal youth and beauty. Soon Tristan and Yvaine are in the fight for their lives, beset on all sides by magical forces beyond their reckoning. In the end, only one of them will claim Yvaine’s heart.
Stardust is based on the book by author, graphic novelist and creative impresario Neil Gaiman. Director Matthew Vaughn, best known as the indie helmer who made a star of the present James Bond in his gangster thriller, Layer Cake, here takes the reins of a sprawling story that is, by turns, a high adventure, a thrilling romance, a tongue-in-cheek comedy, and a dark tinged horror film.
Vaughn’s camera is omnipotent and omnipresent, sweeping across vast distances and scaling great heights. It rockets over magnificent scenery, emboldened with the same sort of enchanted alchemy as the rest of the film. The special effects dazzle even when they are not entirely convincing, the music thunders and soars, and something happens to the viewer all too uncommon in summer cinematic fare—we are transported away, borne on the wings of genuine storytelling with a sweep as epic as imagination itself.
Michelle Pfiffer, in one of a triumvirate of films marking her return to Hollywood this year after a four year hiatus, is both dazzlingly beautiful and riotous as the witch who becomes more and more of a crone each time she uses her magic. Relative newcomer Cox is a face we’ll deservedly be seeing much more of in the future, convincingly portraying an awkward boy who transforms before our eyes into a handsome, dashing hero. The consistently underrated Claire Danes delivers a heart-warming performance and actually pulls off the unthinkable for an American actress—a credible British accent.
Other members of the magical cast include Sir Ian McKellen as the resonant narrator, Rupert Everett as one of a long line of ill-fated princes, and Ricky Gervais as a trader who brings his modern comic improvisational sensibilities to bear on a script already suffused with surprisingly effective, incidental humor. But it is the great Robert De Niro who steals the show as the cross-dressing, foppish pirate, Captain Shakespeare. In recent years, De Niro has unwisely chosen a spate of light-hearted, comedic roles—this is not one of those mistakes. In a film full of well known faces acting ridiculously, De Niro takes the cake and eats it too.
Stardust is the surprise hit of the summer, an undermarketed dream that paints grand themes on a canvas as utterly enchanting as it is entertaining. Stardust is pure magic and should not to be missed by child or adult.