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A Vaguely Shimmering Review Of STARDUST!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I’m really curious to see what people make of this one as it starts screening in the weeks ahead. Neil Gaiman finally saw it, and it sounds like he’s happy with the film, which is a pretty great thing to read. But of course, Neil’s a li’l biased, and he’s probably relieved that someone’s actually made a film that honors his source material. What about someone who’s just walking in cold? What do you think they might have to say about it?

So, I managed to get into a by invitation screening of Stardust in SF last thursday & thought I should send in my impressions. Please bear in mind that I have read neither the book, nor the graphic novel and don't have hard-on for fantasy in general or Mr. Gaiman's work in particular - finding both to be a bit whimsical & precious for my taste. That being said, I found quite alot to like – despite the story being a tad predictable & more than a bit sentimental. It's nicely directed and the intro backstory of Dunstan Thorne's one night in the mystical realm of Stormhold is handled nicely. You've got the set-up of the mundane town of Wall & the magical ren-faire world beyond. Fast-forward to Dunston's son Tristan (appealingly played by Charlie Cox) who seems consistently thwarted in his attempt to woo Victoria (Sienna Miller). Meanwhile, back at castle Stormhold - the king (that's MISTER Peter O'Toole to you, lad) has gathered his sons before his deathbed; all of whom are scheming to off each-other in order to claim the crown. This is quite fun, as each time one of his sons meet their demise at the hands of a brother, they become a member of a ghost peanut gallery - continuously adding color commentary on the further exploits of the surviving sons. The king, who encourages this sort of treachery, informs them that the only way they can claim the crown is by restoring the jewel to his amulet and promptly sends it to the heavens, knocking a star back to Stormhold in the process. Back in Wall, Tristan sees the falling star & promises Victoria to bring it to her as a token of his affection. His dad (Nathaniel Parker) helps him out by giving him a couple of items from the mom he never knew in Stormhold & off he goes on his quest to obtain... Claire Danes?!? Yep, she's a star (although apparently not the best of actors) who's trying to recover from her fall & has the king's amulet when Tristan show's up to claim her. Big suprise, they hate each other (I'll give you one guess as to how this story ends). So Tristan's trying to drag the star back to Wall, the king's sons are after her and the amulet, but a trio of witches led by Michelle Pfeiffer also has sinister plans for her. Yikes! how will it all end? Even a six year old can probably figure it out. But in the meantime, there's Robert DeNiro as Shakespeare, the fabulous pirate captain living a hilarious dual existance and Ricky Gervais, who is also fun as Ferdy The Fence. Jason Flemyng also sinks his teeth into his role as Primus, the king's most treacherous son. I rolled my eyes when the helpful unicorn showed up - I mean, what's next: Sparkles the dolphin jumping out of a rainbow pool ? Just be fair though, the unicorn does kind of kick ass at one point. Anyways, really sappy at points, really fun at others- with some feel good anti-conformist themes. Not bad, even if you know how it's gonna end – with all the loose ends tied in a neat little bow... with sparkly stardust on top. If you use this, call me Hallowscorp
Readers Talkback
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  • June 18, 2007, 5:03 a.m. CST


    by mrfan

    double cool

  • June 18, 2007, 5:40 a.m. CST

    Very interested in this!!

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter


  • June 18, 2007, 6:43 a.m. CST

    Great Book...

    by OnusBone

    But according to this review, they should have brought in someone to add a cunning twist to the story. I hear that some guy named M. Night is pretty good at that... God forbid a movie just tells a pleasing story.

  • June 18, 2007, 6:47 a.m. CST

    Hmmm, a predictable fairytale.

    by McBane

    Isn't that kinda the point of a fairytale?

  • June 18, 2007, 7:22 a.m. CST

    I agree with McBane.

    by The Central Scrutinizer

    Fairy tales are supposed to be nice comforting morality plays. Of course you have good wins over evil and love triumphant. That's the point.

  • June 18, 2007, 7:43 a.m. CST

    I simply can't imagine this not being good.

    by Jakes Nel

    And I agree, Gaiman's kind of stories (and fairy tales in general) aren't really about keeping us guessing. The charm is in the way it's told. Can't wait.

  • June 18, 2007, 8:44 a.m. CST

    hallowscorp you suck as a critic

    by pipergates

    pessimistic negative boring & biased ¡this movie looks fantastic!

  • June 18, 2007, 9:17 a.m. CST

    Man, what a sneery review

    by Samson_K

    Seriously - it was almost as though you liked the film but couldn't fully admit to it in case someone found out you liked a fairy tale and kicked your arse to a bloody pulp! I am looking forward to this and cannot think of one film that would not benefit from the inclusion of a Unicorn! With perhaps the exception of Leprechaun 5: Leprechaun in Space because a unicorn in that would just be stupid!

  • June 18, 2007, 9:18 a.m. CST

    DeNiro's character

    by Samson_K

    It has been a very long time since I read this book and I cannot remember a Sky Pirate being in it! Is this a movie version invention or am I prematurely senile?

  • June 18, 2007, 10:31 a.m. CST

    (Spoiler) Sky Pirate...

    by arctic monkey

    ...that's not the only type of pirate he turns out to be...

  • June 18, 2007, 10:50 a.m. CST


    by Bloo

    I just read the book and while there is a Sky Ship in the book, I don't think, or it didn't strike me as a being a pirate ship. And also it wasn't a very big part maybe a chapter. he got information from the gnome hairy thing about Tristian and the star and was looking for them, rescued them and took them a whole lot closer to Wall. There is a comment that says something like "those weeks on the sky ship, Tristian would later recall, were the happiest times of his trip" or something to that effect. I'm guessing they really expanded the part because I remember reading it and being like "DeNiro took THIS part, it's so...tiny"

  • June 18, 2007, 11:36 a.m. CST

    Thanks Bloo

    by Samson_K

    I thought that perhaps it wasn't in the book - however my book is in the hands of the most vicious of all creatures. The ex-girlfriend and I fear that and my Mike Nesmith CD's are lost to me!

  • June 18, 2007, 11:52 a.m. CST

    Can't wait...

    by TheSharp

    Me testicles are tingly

  • June 18, 2007, 12:54 p.m. CST

    Oh brother, that's all we need: an ass kicking unicorn

    by PoweredUpPacman

    All my hopes for this movie shattered into a kazillion tiny little bits...

  • June 18, 2007, 1:24 p.m. CST

    i heard that...

    by Magnethead

    Yoda has a lightsaber duel in this movie. HOW FRIGGIN REDICULOUS DOES THAT SOUND? ...oh wait, sorry wrong movie.

  • June 18, 2007, 3:55 p.m. CST

    At least this fairytale is family-friendly!

    by eraser_x

    I just saw the decent but cliched and ham-fisted Pan's Labrynth this past weeked. I couldn't understand why the silly director insisted on putting gore in Pan's Labrynth. The gore added almost nothing to the extremely simple-minded movie, but the gore was enough to preclude watching by younger kids--i.e., young kids who might especially appreciate the simple and hackneyed plot elements. Actually, I think the Stardust story (from the cartoon books) actually offers far more to adults than did the Pan's Labrynth movie.

  • June 18, 2007, 10:20 p.m. CST

    so sorry for those that didnt get Pan's Labyrinth

    by pipergates

    you could try lobotomy

  • June 18, 2007, 11:46 p.m. CST

    um, yeah

    by oisin5199

    I hate to call anyone an idiot, but that is just the dumbest assessment of Pan's Labyrinth I've ever read. Talk about missing the point...

  • June 19, 2007, 1:58 a.m. CST

    Pan's Labyrinth was not bad, but it is NOT that special

    by eraser_x

    Just go to the public library and check out some illustrated "children's" books from the folktale section. Some of those stories are so beautiful and fantastic and scary that they will make you cry. And kids can tolerate them. Pan's Labyrinth the movie, as actually executed, is far away qualitywise from the high end of those books. In fact, it is highly derivative of those books without adding all that much. Look at "Spirited Away"--that shit is imagination and is scary and beautiful, and happens not to use gore. Gore is fine. Clive Barker's gore is awesome because it is essential to the story. But Pan's Labyrinth, as executed, is like a very smart high-school kid's imitation of Clive Barker or Neil Gaiman. The story of Pan's Labyrinth itself fails to rise to great heights. Pan's Labyrinth has some ideas that sound good if you describe them in words, but the actual execution was by-the-numbers and clumsy. Less wooden and clumsy than the Lemony Snicket movie, and not bad, but still not highly memorable. For example, the final test at the end was TRITE! Why didn't they just ask a bunch of kids to each grow a plant from a secretly dead seed, and then have the chief girl be the only one who confessed failure? Such fake tests (e.g., "dead sead") really are just too hackneyed and predictable for adults by now, but they'd still be just fine for kids. To correct one point I made, Pan's Labyrinth is not extremely simple minded. But it had many simple-minded elements (e.g., lame "final test", lazy storytelling that didn't "sell" or make the viewer *feel* the superhuman difficulty of resisting eating the grape, yet another lost princess angle and without significant new insight, yet another stepfather angle and without significant new insight, etc.). These highly derivative simple-minded elements clearly are deficiencies if a movie is intended only for adults. So, I say, if a movie isn't too great as an adult's movie, and it has so many elements suitable for kids, then why not just unzoom the few (gratuitously) gory scenes (e.g., stitching the face, chomping the fairies) and just let the kids in on the movie. Anyhow, I can certainly see why someone would like Pan's Labyrinth, and I like it too, but it's so far away from being genius and perfection that I certainly can also see how non-"idiots" might not be overly impressed. Let's don't resort to name calling, fellow movie lovers.

  • June 19, 2007, 6:56 a.m. CST

    Pan's is a drama about a civil war, not a kids fantasy

    by pipergates

    And its not certainly not cliched or hamfisted, my friend. A matter of mistaken expectation if you wanted to bring your little children to see it. In my book and to most people i know it worked as a subtle drama and as a beautiful and creepy fantasy for adults/adolescents at the same time. I didnt know Del Toro had such sensibilities in him. A bit too gory for some, but that is a matter of taste. It does however make me wonder if Del Toro would be the right choice for something like the Hobbit, where any gore at all would be out of place. Jackson also made the mistake of not keeping the gore entirely out of Lotr.

  • June 19, 2007, 11:14 a.m. CST

    where was the gore?

    by oisin5199

    The only thing I can think of was the slash on the general's face (and maybe a little impalement). I can't even begin to go through the ways eraser_x completely missed the point and misinterpreted Pan's Labyrinth - it's just not worth my time. I think he's just confused because a child is the lead. As has been stated, it's about the Spanish Civil war and the banality of evil and its effect on a child (and the spirit of the land, the countryside, the peasant, even the storytelling tradition itself) - it's using fairy tale tropes to tell a very adult story. It's inevitable that the child will 'fail' the test, and inevitable that she will be sacrificed. This is not a story for children, period. Just because a child is a main character, doesn't mean it's for kids. Simple-minded elements and lazy storytelling, my ass. It's not a fantasy film. It's a brilliant drama with fantasy elements. Simple-minded elements and lazy storytelling, my ass. Stardust, on the other hand, is a full-on, romantic fantasy. Can't wait to see it. Even though that makes me a sound a little less straight.

  • June 19, 2007, 12:03 p.m. CST

    straight as a fairy, you mean?

    by pipergates

    I'm very heterosexually looking forward to it too. Hope it helps broaden the horizon of the fantasy films, and books. They don't all have to be about orks and hobbits. so many failed cheap tolkien-lites out there.

  • June 19, 2007, 2:29 p.m. CST

    Hey, Oisin, let's don't throw a temper tantrum here.

    by eraser_x

    Let's be more like Gates, who is now having a more kind-hearted, self-secure type of discussion. [Sorry for the length of this, but I think I make decent, serious points. Anyhow, they're sincere.] Let's don't get hung up on the kids/adults label. I didn't *want* to take my kid to it. I wanted it to actually be a "subtle drama" and "a beautiful and creepy fantasy for adults/adolescents". The result simply was not very subtle or creepy, in my OPINION. A truely beautiful fantasy SHOULD have left me with a feeling of, "goddamned, at least several of the fantasy elements of that story came from the freaking id; I couldn't come up with that shit in 50 years unless I were on drugs, hadn't slept for 10 days, or I were a genius, or if I were still a kid in tune with his dream/fantasy self". In contrast, what I thought after Pan's Labyrinth was, "hey, that was a thoughtful, beautiful idea and premise for a movie; it's as if they handed off this beautiful premise, suitable for someone like Gaiman, and then handed it off to a competent, by-the-numbers, writer/director to fill in the details by cutting-and-pasting elements from well-known myths and folktales and by taking two-dimensional stock-characters from the vast archive of of war movies. I loved the idea and the ambition of the movie--e.g., to explore once again what happens to innocence and femininity and original nature and magic when it meets, as it always does, the steel ceiling that is the cold, macho machinery and culture of war; and to explore it using a girl, on the verge of losing her feminine/innocent nature, who fights/retreats using magic or fantasy in the form of her real or imagined alternate identity as a fairy princess. And the movie, in its non-fantasy side, wants to explore the effect of this ancient battle on people (e.g., girl, maid, mom, stepdad, and more minorly the brother fighter and the doctor) who are different based on age, sex, class, responsibilities, calling, etc. (baby vs. girl vs. maiden vs. aspiring father vs. mother vs. son-in-shadow-of-renowned-father) (daughter and wife of tailor vs. peasant vs. military elite, etc.). By the way, the cliche "banality of evil" is recited by oisin in his post above, and of course all war movies can be said to address the cliche of the banality to some degree, but this movie addresses the banality certainly less than others--e.g., certainly less than did "Life is Beautiful" (see the riddle-scene). Anyhow, there was great ambition in this movie, and a great premise/conceit, but the elements are purely a cut-and-paste job. For example, let's take the retreating into dreams from, e.g., Gaiman's boy in the basement, e.g., let's take the fairy princess from Gaiman's Barbie, e.g., let's take the big toad from Lewis Carroll, e.g., let's take the "dont eat that" from the "don't look back" from Greek mythology, e.g., let's take the "you passed the trick test" from, e.g., the "dead seeds" folktale. Let's take the chalk doors from, e.g., "Hellraiser". I'm sure most of the sources I'm citing also got these elements from earlier sources--however, the works of Gaiman and Barker and others that I cite also had other, *novel* elements--Pan's Labyrinth has essentially *NO* novel fantasy element. Big, hairless eyeless creatures are not novel; and removable eyeballs are not novel; and "sleeping" monsters are not novel, either; even eyes on hands seem vaguely not novel or at least not extremely "far out". The lack of novelty and imagination in the fantasy aspects is extremely "off" in Pan's Labyrinth because a girl's fantasy life, whether imagined or "real", really should have something from the Id that we cannot just obtain via cut-and-paste. True, such stories are the things that the girl might have read in her books, and that's why she might have used them in her own pastiched fantasies, but she would still add crazy shit, but she didn't in the movie. The only part of the movie that was very satisfying to me was when the doctor was made to be unavailable at the exact time that the general needed him.

  • June 19, 2007, 6:43 p.m. CST

    well i mostly loved it

    by pipergates

    never thought del Toro was that sensible. i loved the girl, loved the insect/fairy, loved the slashed mouth (how did they do that?), loved the blend of harsh reality and scary fantasy, the faun, the ruins. didnt like the toad at all. and i guess you have some valid freudian arguments but i have to go eat fore my dinner gets cold.

  • June 25, 2007, 5:30 a.m. CST


    by andymccorm

    has anyone noticed that the airship bits of the stardust movie trailer (especially the crashing on the water bit) are really similar to a fantasy novel called cloudworld that came out last year in England? is there so much airship stuff in the original book??