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IN SHORT: Romance for the ladies. Action for the gents. A good time for us grown ups. [Rated PG-13 for Violence and Sexual Situations. 125 minutes]
BEFORE WE BEGIN: We acknowledge being a fan of writer Neil Gaiman's work for a very long time (and props to artist/co-creator Charles Vess, too). While Gaiman only gets a producer's credit for Stardust, he is properly credited in the press notes as having worked with director Matthew Vaughn to make the big screen adaptation work. We'll mention the most major "change" in passing -- it isn't anything a non fan would notice and, besides, the Site's main rule is that you shouldn't have to read the book to enjoy the film. You won't. The only problem with Stardust is that it goes far beyond the call to wrap up every subplot and potential loose end. Usually that is something we blast a film for. In the case of Stardust, which is a flippin' joy until said buttoning-up occurs, the conclusion knocks a bit of wind out of its sails.
We know we're right 'cuz the preview audience wasn't cheering when all was said and done. And, yeah, we sure wanted to. Then again, we'd been through 4 hours of heavy duty unpleasant films before sitting for Stardust and, to its credit, most of that mental numbness lifted quickly.
MORE IMPORTANT: We've heard other reviewers bandy about the words "fairy tale" and "adult" with nary a breath between 'em. As if Stardust was not much more than a classic Disney 'toon. Be aware, Stardust is absolutely not appropriate to bring a five year old to. It is as gruesome, at times, as the original Grimm's Tales were.
That out of the way, there is so much here to like that, reservations about the tail end of the flick aside, there's more story here than almost everything we've seen in the last month.
The town of Wall, filled with humans of all shapes and sizes, is separated from the magical kingdom of Stormhold by, well, there is a reason that Wall is called Wall and said wall is guarded 24 - 7. The last time someone got through the wall, as my people say, "oy". And thus we meet Tristan (Charlie Cox) who, foolishly falls in love with the fair Victoria (Sienna Miller), decides to prove his love, by journeying into forbidden territory to retrieve for her a fallen star.
Tristan expects to find a piece of rock. What he does find is a star of a different sort; a woman even more beautiful than the girl of his dreams. Her name is Yvaine (Claire Danes) and she had no intent of ever leaving her place in the night sky.
Yvaine -- make no mistake, she really is a star -- was knocked from her place in the night sky by a jewel propelled into orbit by the dying King Of Stormhold (Peter O'Toole). The king's sons -- Primus (Jason Flemyng), Secondus (Rupert Everett) and so on all the way up to Septimus (Mark Strong) -- haven't managed to kill each other off, as they were apparently supposed to, leaving a sole heir. Thus, the living sons are dispatched to recover the jewel. Winner gets the crown. Losers -- the ghosts of those previously departed -- cheer on the quest, for only when a new King is crowned can they go to their Eternal rest.
One small hitch -- a trio of aging haggard witches who already know that the "star" is a living, breathing being. They know because they've kept their good looks for aeons by feasting on the hearts of previous, unlucky stars. Thanks to a quick sacrifice, the three send a rejuvenated Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) on the hunt.
Tristan, by the way, promises to set Yvaine free once he has brought her back to Victoria. That is assuming he doesn't get killed in the process of defending the star. He has some help -- a mysterious "Babylon candle" transports our stars (sic) over great distances, as does the heroic Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) whose airship is filled with pirates! The less said of the Captain, the better, for reasons that will be obvious if you haven't had the surprise spoiled before you see the film.
We could tell more, but we won't. Props to Ian McKellen and Ricky Gervais, who also have roles in the merriment. As does a unicorn. It is a fantasy, after all.
Still, leave the little kidlets at home.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Stardust, he would have paid
For fanboys worried about anything writer Neil Gaiman does falling into the hands of those not acquainted with his Sandman comic, co-writer/director Vaughn is next scheduled to do Marvel's Thor. So chill.
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