Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Directors Commentary.
IT’S billed as the fairytale that refuses to behave and its one of the many virtues surrounding Stardust, the second feature from Matthew (Layer Cake) Vaughn that’s based on a fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman.
Where so many genre films appear content to follow a tried and tested formula, Vaughn’s film thrives on its playful refusal to conform and is capable of appealing to as many adults as it does older kids. It’s dark, funny, outrageous and unpredictable, while paying homage to the work of artists such as Terry Gilliam and co.
The film follows the fortunes of shop-boy Tristian (Charlie Cox) bids to capture the heart of the village beauty (Sienna Miller) by travelling from the village of Wall to the fairyland next door in order to retrieve a shooting star they’ve seen fall.
However, the star in question turns out to be a woman (Claire Danes) who is also being pursued by a wicked witch (Michelle Pfeiffer), a murderous prince (Mark Strong) and lightning poaching sky pirates (led by Robert De Niro)…
One of the most impressive things about Stardust is its consistent ability to surprise and therefore keep viewers on their toes. Characters seldom behave like they ought to and Vaughn shows scant regard for reputations.
Robert De Niro, for instance, plays against type as the supposedly cutthroat pirate leader with a secret penchant for women’s clothes, while Michelle Pfeiffer gleefully transforms from seductive beauty to aged hag in just a number of scenes. Even Peter O’Toole enjoys a brief cameo as the dying king who deliberately sets his sons against each other in their efforts to succeed him. But all seem to relish the opportunities provided by the film’s adventurous script.
The set pieces, too, combine traditional swashbuckling with fantasy and magic to conjure some genuinely memorable clashes – most notably featuring Pfeiffer’s devious witch. And Vaughn makes good use of the Isle of Skye locations to create a universe that’s both brutal and beautiful at the same time.
Some viewers may find that Vaughn’s ambitious approach sometimes impedes the natural flow of the story and contains one supporting character (or three) too many, while others may lament some of the larger-than-life performances but in the main they contribute to the overall charm of the piece.
De Niro, in particular, is a blast as the pirate leader, and Pfeiffer really sinks her teeth into the role of the witch. But everyone rises to the occasion, with newcomer Charlie Cox cutting a suitably dashing romantic lead and justifying the faith put in him by the filmmakers.
Look out, too, for a veritable who’s who of Vaughn regulars (Dexter Fletcher, Jason Flemyng), as well as fun cameos from British comedians Ricky Gervais, Mark Williams and David Williams. Like its name suggests, Stardust offers a magical sprinkling of film fun that deserves to be captured by a very wide audience.
Running time: 2hrs 7mins
UK DVD Release: February 25, 2008