Stardust, Mathew Vaughn’s adaptation of the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess, is a marvelous fairy tale the likes of which haven’t been seen on the silver screen since Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. It is filled with whimsy and menace and laughter, yet at its core is a love story.
Tristan is an awkward young man trying to woo the hand of the pretty Victoria who has no interest. When he hears she is getting married to a rival, he offers to prove his devotion and worth by fetching a falling star and returning with it for her birthday. He leaves the protective boundaries of the village of Wall and heads into the land of Stormhold where he encounters all sorts of magical and mysterious things, including unicorns, sky pirates, and most importantly, the true meaning of love.
When Tristan finds the star, it turns out to be a young maiden named Yvaine. She has no interest in becoming someone’s gift and is rather perturbed about being knocked out of the sky. What dislodges her is a magical jeweled necklace that determines the ruler of Stormhold. It flew out of the hands of the dying King and his sons now seek it to see who is the heir to the throne. Ghosts of the King’s sons also have a vested interest as they are stuck on Earth until the new King is crowned. The quest is made all the more difficult as Yvaine found the necklace lying next to her and put it on before leaving with Tristan.
The path home is made even more difficult as Tristan isn’t the only one who saw Yvaine fall from the sky. Three sister witches do as well and they also have plans to find her and bring her home although their reasons are sinister: when eaten, the heart of a star is a source of longevity and youth. Lamia takes the last they have and ventures out; however, each time she uses magic her appearance returns to her true state.
While all the elements of Stardust are very familiar archetypes from fantasy and fairy tales, they don’t come off as tired clichés. Of course, all the plot lines converge, but do so in a believable way. Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman do justice to the graphic novel, although fans of it should know there are numerous changes. However, both Gaiman (“I think it's a lovely movie, and that it's a movie, not a book, and those places where they changed things to make it work as a movie, work just fine”) and Vess (“[they] have managed to capture the essence of the novel and then have skillfully edited as well as extended plot and characters where needed to transform those elements from one medium to another”) are quite fine with the results.
Every moment on screen works. It is so rare anymore when every line, every look of an actor, has purpose and isn’t filler. Michelle Pfieffer’s Lamia deserves to be added to the pantheon of movie witches. Robert DeNiro’s comedic turn as Captain Shakespeare is one of the funniest roles he’s had. Even smaller parts like Mark Williams as a goat turned human and pirates with one line are memorable.
Stardust is a grand fantasy adventure and one of the better films of the summer. Not only do I want to tell people to go see, I want to bring them. While rated PG-13, it’s a very good family film for most. Kids and kids-at-heart will enjoy it.