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Matthew Vaughn's Fantasy Epic, STARDUST, screens and is called 'A close cousin to A PRINCESS BRIDE!'

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a pair of test screening reviews of Matthew Vaughn (LAYER CAKE)'s adaptation of Neil Gaiman (Sandman)'s fantasy novel, STARDUST. I'm a pretty big fan of Gaiman's book and loved LAYER CAKE big time, so naturally this one is high on my "want to see now" list. We've got two reviews so far, with the promise of a few more. It'll be good to see a consensus. Both of the reviews we have so far are positive, the second shorter, but illustrating some slow parts a bit more. Keep in mind these guys saw an early cut of a giant Fantasy Epic and that this is far from being the version we'll see in theaters next July. Also be warned of story spoilers. If you want to go in 100% fresh, you might want to click back now knowing that 2 people who saw an early cut both loved it. For the rest, here they are! Enjoy!

Hey Harry, Mister Fizzy here with a review from the first test screening of Neil Gaiman and Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust. Earlier in the week, I was alerted that Stardust, a movie that I’ve been eagerly awaiting, would be screening in Pasadena this Thursday. So I showed up last night with fingers crossed, a couple Sandman graphic novels in my pack (on the off-chance that Neil himself might be there; he turned out not to be, but you never know), and no pass. Thankfully, I fell into the age group they were testing, and was admitted, anyway; a number of folks were not. Now, before I say anything more, I need to point out that I am a big Neil Gaiman fan. Not a freakish fan, but I do follow his work with enthusiasm. He’s a true jack-of-all-trades, and his projects always seem to have that little extra something that distinguishes them and makes them special. I’ve read a lot of his stuff, and feel that most is brilliant, and some even falls into the realm of masterpiece (Sandman, natch, but also, for my money, American Gods is the biggest fantasy masterpiece to be penned in some time). So, I know and adore Gaiman’s work. Right. Having said that, for this film, I was familiar with the source material and thought it was as least as adaptable as, say, The Princess Bride. So, naturally I was excited. A gentleman from the research company started out by telling us that this is their “rough cut” and that the effects were unfinished. “By the time of its release, the movie should be technically perfect.” Right, thank you. Start the film. For those of you unfamiliar with Stardust, it’s a tongue-in-cheek fantasy in the vein of Princess Bride or much of Peter Beagle’s work. It starts in the town of Wall, which is tucked in a corner of the English countryside. Wall’s most distinguishing feature is a long (surprise, surprise) wall running along the length of the town. Supposedly, this wall separates our world from the world of Faerie, a land where magic rules. There’s only one gap in this wall, and it’s guarded day and night to keep anyone from passing through. But pass through is exactly what Dunstan Thorn (Nathaniel Parker) does one day, traveling to a Faerie marketplace, and catching the eye of a comely shop assistant who is bound by an unbreakable chain to serve Ditchwater Sal, a merchant/bargain-basement witch. She trades him an invaluable magical charm for a kiss, one thing leads to another, and 9 months later, a basket is left at the gap in the wall and Dunstan has another mouth to feed. This mouth belongs to Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), the hero of our tale. Fast-forward about 20 years, and Tristan is an awkward shop-boy vying for the affections of the beautiful, but vain Victoria (played coquettishly by Sienna Miller). His rival for her affections is the foppish cad, Humphrey (Henry Cavill), who delights in tormenting poor Tristan. Our starry-eyed hero, though, is determined and when, mid-woo, Victoria tells him that she is to marry Humphrey, who has already set out to buy her a ring (“all the way from Ipswich!”), he proclaims that he would travel much further than Ipswich and bring her any treasure her heart desires, in order to prove his love. Just then, a star falls beyond the realm of Wall, and they reach a bargain: if Tristan can bring it back to her in 7 days, she will wed him instead of Humphrey. There are others who would seek the star, however. First there are the sons of the dying King of Stormhold (played briefly, but memorably by Peter O’Toole). See, the star didn’t just fall, it was knocked from the heavens by a royal ruby that, when held by the last surviving male heir of Stormhold, will signify his succession to the throne. The 4 surviving brothers (soon to be fewer) will simultaneously pursue the ruby, and do their best to be the last one standing when it’s found. Also, there is the witch Lamia (played by an over-the-top Michelle Pfeiffer) and her two sisters, who plan to eat the heart of the star to gain prolonged life and youth. Yes, I said the heart of the star. See, since this star dropped in a land of magic, it took the form of a young woman instead of a lump of metallic rock. Her name is Yvaine (played perfectly by the beautiful, sharp-tongued, blond-tressed Claire Danes), and she would like nothing better than to go home. Through some good fortune, Tristan is the first to find Yvaine, but the others aren’t far behind, and there are many dangers along the way. It makes sense that the producer of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, and director of Layer Cake would be the right man to helm this film. Sure, the subject matters couldn’t be any different, but just take a look at that synopsis; that’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, right? But keep spinning they do, and in a very satisfying way, just like in those aforementioned British caper movies. I, for one, couldn’t be happier that Matthew Vaughn left the sure-to-misfire X3 for this project. He brings a sense of confidence to the directing that this film needed in order to work. He’s also not afraid to let his movie deviate from the source material when it helps the story. There’s not much I can negatively say about this film. They called it a “rough cut,” but other than the unfinished effects, this film looked ready for theatres. There were one or two moments where I think they needed to linger just a moment more, particulary in the opening market scene with Dunstan, where things moved so fast I barely felt we got a sense of setting. I could have also done with seeing how Tristan travels when he first lights the Babylon candle. Also, when the tree speaks to him (couldn’t tell if it was voiced by Tori Amos or not, but it should be), it was unclear that it was, in fact, the tree talking. Those were the major comments that I can remember making on my questionnaire. As you can see, no major changes are needed from where I stand. Now, I’m not the purist type. I feel that the film is the film and the book is the book, and when you try to make one the other you end up with a mess. Evidence of this exists in Harry Potter 1, in which they seemed so concerned with cramming the entire book in, they left out a sense of wonder and discovery. The converse comes into play with Lord of the Rings, in which the changes are what made the books filmable, and ultimately incredible. So, I welcome the changes they made here, and there are a number. First, I like that the time setting has been left ambiguous (late 19th, early 20th century?); in the book, it was present day (there was mention of people coming to Wall in airplanes). It adds to the magic and fantasy of the story, I think. I also like the exclusion of any contact between the residents of Wall and Faerie. It makes the world beyond Wall that much more mysterious, which I like. I like that Tristan’s only family now is Dunstan, since that better motivates him to want to find his mother, and gives us a little more time to flesh the father-son relationship. I liked the addition of Ricky Gervais as Ferdy the Fence, and loved the addition of David Kelly as the sole guard of the wall. Also, the revision to Robert De Niro’s Pirate Captain Shakespeare was inspired. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that he’d be right at home with that pirate guy on The Wiggles, Captain Feathersword. Bernard, the peasant boy who is shanghaied by Lamia, is also given more to do than he was in the book, and Victoria’s suitor, Humphrey is more fleshed-out as well. The biggest change is the ending. While the book wraps up the threads of characters mostly separately, the film allows things to build to a head, Lock Stock style, and the inevitable showdown is one of the coolest I’ve seen in a long time. It’s the sort of payoff that this story needed (whereas the book ended satisfying, but ultimately somewhat anticlimactically). We really get a chance to see the witch sisters use their magic, and there is a sword fight between Septimus and Tristan that has to be seen to be believed. There was a great balance of humor and action and it all came across very organically. There was none of the wink-wink or referential humor of Ella Enchanted or the Shrek films here. Basically, this feels like a close cousin to Princess Bride, only with a decent budget. That same tongue-in-cheek spirit is at play here, but it never takes away from the suspense. My favorite parts include all the bits involving the ghosts of the deceased princes of Stormhold, Bernard’s reaction to his transformation into womanhood, The King of Stormhold’s reaction to his son’s murder, the negotiation between Shakespeare and Ferdy, the wall guard’s confrontation with Tristan when he first tries to cross, and all the scenes with Captain Shakespeare and his crew. The casting was top-notch, and there are no real “look, there’s so-and-so” moments. Sure, De Niro, Danes, Gervais, and Pfeiffer are all big names, but they’re so pitch-perfectly cast that they own their characters. The chemistry is everywhere it should be, between Yvaine and Tristan, between Tristan and Dunstan, between Lamia and her sisters, and between Septimus and his brothers. This movie reignited my crush for Claire Danes, who was everything a star should be: sharp and radiant. The big surprise was Charlie Cox, whom I’m not familiar with. He carried this film splendidly, and his transformation from kid to hero was gradual and very believable. He was likeable, and easy to root for. Mark Strong carried a strength and menace as Septimus, and Michelle Pfeiffer pulled off the wicked and sinister Lamia. But it wasn’t just the principals, but everyone, who made this movie work, and at no point did I think, “So-and-so would’ve been much better for that part.” The settings were breathtaking. Taking a cue from Peter Jackson, Vaughn did much location shooting (where, I don’t know. Engand, I’d imagine), and so this world of fantasy has a very real and tangible feel to it, which in turn strengthens the story, making suspension of disbelief easier, as real settings did with Lord of the Rings. Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough. It’s safe to say that I loved the film and hope that they don’t touch the cut I saw, just polish it a little. The tone is perfect Gaiman, and the movie will appeal to kids and their parents without either feeling out of their realm. There’s nothing dumbed-down about this film, despite its family-friendliness. This is my favorite fantasy offering since Lord of the Rings and I’ll be standing in line the day it comes to theatres. It makes me salivate to see Gaiman’s Coraline, as well as his telling of Beowulf hit screens. Welcome, kids, to the Year of Gaiman.

"A close cousin to Princess Bride," is the kind of thing I like to hear. Here's the second review, which seemed to dig it a lot, but has a few troubled spots. Enjoy!

Hey Harry! You're probably going to get a ton of these reviews, but here's one more. Saw a rough cut of STARDUST last night in Pasadena. In one word: charming. Call it a sword & sorcery take on Star Wars, wherein the boy with the magical pedigree grows into the man who embraces his destiny. Basic story involves Tristan, played by relative newcomer Charlie Cox, as a peasant kid from the nondescript Olde English Village of Wall who crosses into the forbidden faerie land of Stormhold to bring back a fallen star to prove himself to the girl he loves, played with effortless haughtiness by Sienna Miller. Based on Neil Gaiman's Sandmanesque fairy tale and directed by 'Layer Cake's' Matthew Vaughn, the standouts are Claire Danes, Cox and old school veteran Robert DeNiro who binges and purges his less talented co-stars by playing gleefully against type as a Baron Munchausen-like airship captain hiding a fiery secret. Danes, cast as the anthropomorphic fallen star Yvainne, demonstrates her usual alchemy, literally dropping into the film plain and awkward only to metasticize into a sensuous, glowing creature by the film's final reel. How she does this has always been a mystery to me. At the midpoint, Cox's Tristan also undergoes a pleasant alchemy, literally growing his hair to Samson-like length and morphing into the stock sword & sorcery heartthrob. Tristan's mother happens to be a magical fairy from Stormwall and his father a human peasant, allowing for amusing dramatic revelations that move the story forward. Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia chews scenery throughout most of the film, though the early scenes in which she exposits on the plot with her two equally witchy sisters goes on for far too long and should be cut. Other sequences that bring the plot to a snail mail pace involve the seven bickering heirs to the throne of Stormhold, and each of their subsequent deaths, played for laughs. In a plot twist right out of 'An American Werewolf in London,' their spirits remain in ghoulish form unable to move on until Stormhold's rightful heir is crowned king in a dark, thrilling yet humorous finale. The temp music was supplied by the soundtracks to Meet Joe Black, Lord of the Rings and a snippet of Edward Scissorhands. The sfx were incomplete to the point where many shots were simply not visible, and the audience had to imagine what an aerial view of the kingdom might look like from a flying galleon ship straight out of Baron Munchausen. When the sfx are complete and the trans fat is trimmed away, this film could resemble a wittier 'Chronicles of Narnia' with Gaiman's signature wry edge. If you use this, call me Jordan McDare.

Thanks for the heads up, guys. Either I or one of my editor friends will post up the other reviews as they come in! Sounds like a winner so far!!!

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 2, 2006, 2:29 a.m. CST


    by BadMrWonka

    I gotta post first, it's a double!

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 2:33 a.m. CST

    As such is marriage

    by F-1000

    "I'll marry you if you can get me a piece of that star WITHIN SEVEN DAYS." Man this bitch already owns him. I can see the sequel to this. It's a Sci-Fi Fantasy where Sienna Miller's character witholds sex until he can build a spaceship and bring an asteroid into orbit with their planet.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 2:33 a.m. CST

    as for this film

    by BadMrWonka

    it sounds like a grown-up Neverending Story. (die unendliche geschichte, for der Langhaarige) which is great. when Quint visited the set a while back and described it, I guess I had a slightly different feel for what the narrative was going to entail. this really seems cool though, and the cast is insane.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 2:32 a.m. CST


    by flamingeyebrows


  • Dec. 2, 2006, 3:06 a.m. CST


    by BadMrWonka

    well played, sir

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 3:22 a.m. CST

    darn you, Michael Bay!

    by SingingHatchet

    Transform into a good movie director.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 3:25 a.m. CST

    Stardust is fantastic

    by DOGSOUP

    I sure hope the movie will be as well. I liked the end of the book *spoiler!* I like the fact that they lived ahppily ever after until he died because he was human and she had to go on alone as queen *end spoiler* It was different. Too bad they didn't go that way in the movie from what it sounds but hey, I'll definatly give this one a shot.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 3:38 a.m. CST

    music in the rough cut

    by johngalt610

    for anyone that was at the test screening, this is a really wierd question but there was some music playing in the first part of the film where tristan takes sienna miller to the wall for his dinner with her, what was the music that was playing. it sounded like something thomas newman wrote or something. sorry for the wierd question.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 4:49 a.m. CST

    coming in July? I thought it was March?

    by TaraLivesOn

    Do you know for a fact it's delayed to July? I read elsewhere March 2007?

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 5:38 a.m. CST

    Not entirely sure...

    by Seph_J

    ... but im unfamiliar with the material. I will see it though.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 7:39 a.m. CST

    A switch from March to July bodes well.

    by CreasyBear

    They're not going to give a valuable summer slot to a predicted weak-performer.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 8:34 a.m. CST

    Let's hold off on the comparisons to a classic

    by Razorback

    The Princess Bride has become a classic action/comedy/love story... and it took about a decade for it to get there. I think people are setting this movie up for failure when they compare it to "Bride."

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 9:10 a.m. CST

    Great Dilemma

    by Black Satin 2

    Guy must attain something to gain the love of another but does he lose something in the process? The whole movie falls on Claire Danes being astonishing enough for the guy to not go through with it. It is sort of like the Princess Bride but Buttercup started out stuck up until Westley melted her cold exterior.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 9:30 a.m. CST

    claire danes = I'm there

    by Darth_Baltar

    nuff said

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 11:03 a.m. CST

    Where is my fucking NEVERWHERE movie?

    by Frijole

    Honestly... What is the hold-up> By all accounts STARDUST should be super, but NEVERWHERE is easily Gaiman's most cinematic (and recognizable) non-comic (though I know there IS a comic now) work. Get that guy from Kinky Boots/ Serenity as the Marquis DeCarrabas. Vinnie Jones for Croup and And Timothy Spall fro Vandemar... Thanks!

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 11:40 a.m. CST

    Transformers Movie: Ratchet Revealed

    by all your base oh yeah, and why is July better for Stardust. Now it has to square off with Transformers, Potter 5, and the Simpsons. It would have owned March.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 12:46 p.m. CST

    i rather like this book...

    by blackthought

    and i will rather like this movie.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 12:53 p.m. CST

    sounds delicious

    by occula

    i look forward to the velveteen touch of a dandy fop i'm sure a gaiman adaptation will bring. it's time we got back to the humor of fantasy - 'ella enchanted' didn't, uh, really do the job.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 2:23 p.m. CST

    I am glad they are making it more like the comic...

    by Bones

    At least in tone. The late nineteenth century look of Charles Vess's illustrations don;t need to copied exactly, but if they can follow the tone--that would be amazing.<p> Never having read the Novel version--is it simply the text of the original, without the great art--or was it expanded?

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 3:30 p.m. CST


    by johngalt610

    nevermind it was from meet joe black.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 4:45 p.m. CST

    The studio feels its strong enough to be a Summer Movie

    by The UnGod

    Thats according to Neil on his blog. He did mention that while the confidance is nice, like others have mentioned, it now has to compete with other summer blockbusters.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 6:25 p.m. CST

    lots of folks that I respect loved American Gods but

    by Snowden's Secret

    I found it totally underwhelming. It was my first Gaiman and it turned me off to him. It felt like he was trying to be Douglas Adams and falling short (which is not an insult b/c Adams is brilliant). Everything seemed derivative and forced. Is this a typical Gaiman or should I try something else? Did I miss something in Gods? There didn't seem to be any point or depth and it wasn't funny/ironic enough to pull off the "there is no point - life is absurd" angle properly.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 8:21 p.m. CST

    Paeter Jackson and fantasy

    by Jesus Maniloff

    Oh, puh-lease, it sounded so sensible - until we hit that Potter vs LOTR part. It is not a question of purism and hitting the book word for word, but rather getting the main point(s) of a book before making it into a movie. Jackasson never got Tolkien in the first place, and made a Hallmark movie with hobbits in it on a borrowed storyline. I hope this didn't happen to Stardust because it is unlimately a very filmable book - much more so than say American Gods. My hope is that since the Mirrormask turned out rather fine, with just right notes and sense of Gaimanesque alter-reality. But he had a hand in it himself - British TV version of Neverwhere wasn't anywhere close. I guess if the Stardust does well they may opt for Neverwhere or even American Gods, although the latter would have to be trimmed big time before it can be squeezed into even a 3-hour movie...

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 10:43 p.m. CST

    Snowden: American Gods...

    by 2

    is quite different in tone to a lot of Gaiman's short works (of which I'd consider Stardust). I too found American Gods underwhelming and perhaps a bit too predictable (which made it seem quite plodding). On the other hand, I adored Coraline, which, like Stardust, seems more directed at children and fairy tales, more of a sense of wonder and playful magic. Simple storytelling. Perhaps a bit similar in style, but to me American Gods was this childish form of Gaiman expanded and gussied up to try to be both "epic" and "more adult," neither of which succeeded very much in my estimation. I also know plenty of folks who gushed over American Gods, but for me, not so much. I kinda *wanted* to like it more than I did....whereas the short works I didn't go in with any big expectations and was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining Gaiman could be. Give Coraline a try, to see the other side (or facet) of Gaiman at work.

  • Dec. 2, 2006, 11:42 p.m. CST

    American Gods was weak

    by PervOmatic

    And Anansi Boys was even weaker. Neverwhere was better, but it still felt ham-fisted at points. I think Neil is much better at comics than he is novels, but that is just my two pennies worth of nonsense. And Neverwhere was already made as a Miniseries for BBC Two, and it's available on DVD.

  • Dec. 3, 2006, 1:57 a.m. CST

    Another facet of Gaiman

    by blackwood

    Christ, read SANDMAN. Start to finish, 11 volumes. It's great; like, Great Works, great. I discovered Gaiman through Terry Pratchett, and for a while I thought Gaiman was trying too hard to be like a more morose Pratchett... and then I read SANDMAN.

  • Dec. 3, 2006, 2:20 a.m. CST

    Gaiman's never lived up to Sandman

    by Prankster

    It was a brilliant comic series that actually--and I don't say this lightly--topped Alan Moore, Gaiman's mentor, at points. Gaiman started by riffing on Moore's "Swamp Thing" style but quickly vaulted past it, leaving behind superhero tropes and nearly perfecting the "nodular storytelling" that comics are so well suited for. Most issues of Sandman are distinct short stories, many of them very different from each other, some barely featuring any of the main characters, yet it all fits together perfectly to tell one vast story. Gaiman's prose work has simply never equalled it, and that includes "Stardust". Most of the changes these two reviewers mention make it sound like the movie has improved on the book immensely, with ideas that were interesting but half-formed fleshed out more (Captain Shakespeare is a bit of a cypher in the book and has very little to add to the story, for instance). And I heartily agree that there is a serious lack of a climax in the book. It's great to hear that they've let the various plot threads come together in an interesting way instead of just petering out.

  • Dec. 3, 2006, 3:12 a.m. CST


    by Doc_Strange

    That is all...

  • Dec. 3, 2006, 10:16 a.m. CST

    There books with not that many pictures in them folks,

    by Jesus Maniloff

    and them are not necessarily the bad ones. We already have a pattern here - the reviewer who liked American Gods seems to like Peter Beagle, and the detractors' appreciations do not stretch beyond Sandman - which being bound in a book form is quite a different form of art altogether. We should better get back to talking 'bout them movies and leave the real books to those with longer attention span.

  • Dec. 3, 2006, 10:38 a.m. CST


    by oisin5199

    um, you do realize that Sandman was a monthly comic series before it was bound in that 'book form' right? Maybe I'm missing your point, though.

  • Dec. 5, 2006, 3:50 a.m. CST

    Right -- don't compare this to Princess Bride.

    by AnnoyYou

    No matter how many "glowing reviews" this film gets, it's not going to be a success. Hey, "Pan's Labyrinth" will probably fail, and I think that film has more substance than this one. Plus it has total show-killers Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer in it -- sorry. I love Gaiman, but this cast sounds like ass.