The Reeler


August 8, 2007


The stars aren't blind, but deafening and dumb in lackluster Gaiman adaptation

Paris Hilton was wrong: the stars aren't blind. According to Stardust, they've actually been watching all along -- it's boring up there -- and they know all about us. They’re particularly big fans of the Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, at least insofar as Stardust meticulously combines magic spells, sweeping mountain vistas, and endless swordfights into one boiled-down package -- with an ending swiped from The Fifth Element for good measure.

In a small English village named Wall -- separated by, um, a wall from a mystical fairy land called Stormhold whose precise geographical location is unclear -- young Tristan (Charlie Cox) pines after the thoroughly unworthy Victoria (Sienna Miller), a gold-digging blonde. Lacking even the basic graciousness to turn him down nicely, Victoria agrees to an eminently reasonable proposal: If Tristan can bring her a falling star within a week, for her birthday, she'll marry him. To the audience's immense surprise, Tristan's journey over the wall from Wall leads him to Stormhold, a really exciting place full of sweeping, CGI-aided helicopter shots of people walking over vistas and extras wearing lots of make-up. If you squint, it looks oddly like that movie where hobbits training for marathons go mountain hiking in New Zealand. It's mere coincidence that Ian McKellan is the narrator; there just aren't enough British actors to go around.

Tristan discovers that the falling star has turned into Yvaine, played by Claire Danes with a British accent. This is confusing only insofar as Robert De Niro shows up later with an American accent, apparently incapable of being bothered to play along with the rest of the cast. Indeed, Stardust has a plethora of celebrity cameos -- including the predictably decrepit Peter O'Toole and Ricky Gervais -- but none more unfortunate than that of De Niro. Until his arrival, I was willing to let Stardust off lightly as a mediocre but inoffensive blockbuster pastiche. But De Niro doesn't just add to his gallery of hammy, unfunny "comic" performances -- a gallery of shame that already includes his desecration of Fearless Leader in The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, not to mention the inexplicable success of the Meet the Parents movies. What De Niro contributes (SPOILER) is one of the most inexplicable gay stereotypes to hit the blockbuster screen in a while. Apparently we should find the mere idea of manly Bobby in drag unspeakably funny. After that, I had no patience left. (END SPOILER)

Director Matthew Vaughn has done time as a producer for Guy Ritchie, and it shows: the rule of thumb here is to never have an unenhanced shot when you can throw in a CGI-aided transition and loud foley sounds to emphasize every last damn sword clink. If it weren't for the migraine-inducing 28 Weeks Later, Stardust might be the year's loudest movie. As it is, the film grows intolerable, with its every effect ratcheted up to a level Terry Gilliam would consider excessive, and punctuated by an endless, nearly-uninterrupted score by Ilan Eshkeri that introduces pounding timpani roughly every 45 seconds.

Stranded in the uneasy no-man’s land between Princess Bride-esque parody and unintentional self-parody, there’s something hollow here. It’s hardly that fantasy is unfilmable (although it does tend to bring out the most banal pixie dust on a regular basis); Neil Gaiman, from whose novel of the same name Stardust emerges, contributed an unexpectedly stellar example with the overlooked MirrorMask a couple of years back. On a budget amounting to less than a tenth of Stardust’s, Gaiman and collaborator/director Dave McKean came up with a world not just fantastical, but completely visual originally. Stardust’s problem, then, may not be what’s there so much as what isn’t, that is to say, something audiences haven’t seen on screen three times over in recent years.

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