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Stardust (Paramount, PG-13)

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film_stardust_smBeing a hardcore My So-Called Life wiener, I'm more than happy to accept Claire Danes as a literal falling star, and Ricky Gervais, Robert DeNiro, Peter O'Toole, Sienna Miller, and Michelle Pfeiffer in the supporting cast bodes very well.

 

 

 

 

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Although I'm not generally into science fiction novels or films these days, I was when I was a little younger, and back then my favorite writer was Neil Gaiman. In fact, it was in reading Gaiman's classic graphic novels The Sandman that I made the transition from comic books to science fiction novels and short stories; I enjoyed The Sandman enough to lead me to seek out his short story collections Angels & Visitations and Smoke & Mirrors, which I loved in equal measure, and from there I read his novels Good Omens (which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett), which I thought was just okay, and Neverwhere, which I pretty much hated. Around this time was when they were releasing Stardust in its original format—four storybook-style sort-of comic books, which were usually sort alongside the comics at local comic book stores, with big, beautiful paintings by Charles Vess on every other page with regular, full pages of text in between them. I enjoyed Stardust quite a bit, and bought it all over again when they released it in a one-volume hardcover sans Vess' artwork. Soon after, Gaiman released American Gods, which, like Neverwhere, I didn't like, and I haven't really gone back to him or been too heavily into science fiction ever since.

Despite this somewhat rocky history, when the film adaptation of Stardust was announced, I was quite looking forward to it, not only because Stardust was the last thing that Gaiman wrote that I actually liked. A great deal of it was the casting—being a hardcore My So-Called Life wiener, I'm more than happy to accept Claire Danes as a literal falling star, and Ricky Gervais, Robert DeNiro, Peter O'Toole, Sienna Miller, and Michelle Pfeiffer in the supporting cast bodes very well. The plot is among one of Gaiman's more cinematic, as well (here's hoping nobody ever bastardizes The Sandman into a film); it concerns a young man named Tristram (relative newcomer Charlie Cox) who tries to impress his unrequited love Victoria (Miller) by promising he'll find and bring her back a fallen star that they watched fall together, which means he has to go into the forbidden (and magical) neighboring village of Wall to seek it out. Of course, Tristram finds his star easily enough, but it turns out that it is in the form of a girl named Yvaine (Danes), who he has to lead past hoards of people wanting to kill and use her for her restorative properties (Pfieffer's Lamia fears she looks too old, and Yvaine is like a walking fountain of youth), or kill and sell her to people who want to use her for restorative properties. Much magic, tomfoolery, and colorful characters (DeNiro's Captain Shakespeare perhaps the most notable among them) ensue.

Watching the finished film, it's very clear that the producers set out to make a modern-day The Princess Bride, with regard to the film's tone and targeted demographic (that being pretty much anyone of any age). This is fine with me, as The Princess Bride is one of my favorite films, ever. And, by and large, they succeed. The special effects are never groundbreaking, but they do maintain the feel of ’80s sci-fi family romps like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. The cast, as I suspected going in, is pretty much entirely without fault, and we've already established that I like the story. Really, it seems that director Matthew Vaughn has made the film that he set out to make, and it is just up to the public to recognize it for the good film that it is at this point. Of all of the amazingly good summer blockbusters that have been released this year, the public has been doing pretty well, so maybe we can collectively keep up the trend. | Pete Timmermann

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