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Movie Review: Stardust
One of the great shames of this summer's movie season is that, despite glowing reviews, Stardustfailedto find an audience when it opened this past weekend. With the exhibition marketplace being what it is right now, this sprawling, wonderful fairy tale will almost certainly disappear quickly from theaters. Movies just aren't allowed to linger anymore waiting to be discovered. Studios figure they're only throwing good advertising money after bad. I hope Stardust will get a better reception when it comes to DVD in a few months. I think it will.
As a culture, we have very specific ideas about our fairy tales. We certainly require a perilous battle between good and evil at some point and that battle should probably be waged with magic or swords. As such, witches and princes are fairly common and usually central to the story. Pirates, ghosts and unicorns aren't always expected, but are never much of a surprise either. Most importantly, the fate of true love must ever be at stake. Stardust delivers all of that, but twists each element in such a way that they all feel new.
For instance, the witches (led by Michelle Pfeiffer) are indeed wicked but it's really their vanity that distinguishes them. Likewise, the princes are all able warriors, but most of their energy is spent trying to kill each other in a ruthless, gleefully comic quest for power. As for the pirates? Well, one of them is a cross-dresser and the rest are surprisingly tolerant. At least the true love part seems about right. Or does it? The star-crossed lovers (literally) sure do seem to enjoy bickering with each other. And, of course, one of them isn't exactly human.
It's just that peculiar perspective that drives Stardust. Its epic story may be told with splendiferous special effects, but it's also stuffed with irony and silliness. Director Matthew Vaughn does a superb job of fusing together the disparate elements of Neil Gaiman's novel, while Robert De Niro, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole and David Kelly all deliver hilarious supporting turns. In the crucial roles of the prospective lovers, Claire Danes and newcomer Charlie Cox truly shine (again, literally).
Many critics have compared Stardust to The Princess Bride. I think it's a bit of a lazy and obvious comparison, but I am confident that anyone who liked Bride will love the even more richly imaginative Stardust. Sophisticated audiences whine an awful lot about the dearth of quality material being released by the major studios these days. By failing to support films like Stardust, though, those same complainers ensure that the crap spigot will spew with even more ferocity in the years to come. So go see Stardust before it's too late!
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures