When it comes to romantic comedies I can’t say that I’m a huge fan. I’m much too cynical and, if we’re being honest, it’s all been done a thousand times before. Boy meets girl. Boy tries to make girl fall in love with him. Stuff happens. Happily ever after. I just never find it an incredibly inspiring to sit down and watch them so I avoid them. However, if ever there was going to be a writer who could change my mind about the whole concept it would be Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is the much loved fantasy, horror, science fiction, anything else you can think of writer who has penned such notable works as The Sandman comic book series as well as numerous novels and short story collections. Stardust is, in a way, Gaiman’s own The Princess Bride (incidentally, this is one of the few romantic comedies that I genuinely adore). Now, I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing and I would recommend his books to anyone. His writing is like magic. There’s nobody quite like him. Yet, I’ve never really been a massive fan of any adaptations of his work. Well, that’s not quite true. I like them but I can’t say I love them. I could read and reread Gaiman’s work any number of times but I don’t think I’d ever watch one his films or TV shows more than once. Except maybe Coraline because that was fucking awesome. There’s something that just gets lost in translation and I don’t have that same connection with them. It’s why I never rewatched this film until I needed something to review for today… and it’s why I’m in no real rush to watch it again.
We’re all pretty familiar with swashbuckling romances, right? A handsome young man goes off on an adventure to win his fair maidens heart and must overcome all the obstacles in his way. Stardust follows that basic plot but gives it a decidedly Neil Gaiman spin. The plot, adapted from Gaiman’s original novel, follows Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) a resident in a quiet little village called Wall.The village has been named for the stonewall than runs along it that, legend tells, separates merry old England from the magical realm of Stormhold. Tristan has fallen in love with the beautiful but selfish Victoria (Sienna Miller) but is about to lose her to his rival Humphrey. Until, after spotting a shooting star in the sky, Tristan promises to bring his love the fallen star in exchange for her hand. Unfortunately, this means a trip beyond the wall and into the unknown.
It also turns out to be rather difficult as the star has turned into a stubborn and sassy young woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes) and Tristan has a hard time persuading her to come with him. Then you have the added problem of a trio of witches, headed up by the vicious Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who want to track down the girl, eat her heart and receive immortality. Finally, as if that weren’t enough, Yvaine has taken possession of a ruby that belonged to the recently deceased King of Stormhold (Peter O’Toole) who has declared that the first of his make heirs to find the stone will be the next rightful ruler of the land. All parties end up chasing down the hapless pair as they slowly make their way back to Wall before Victoria’s birthday.
That’s the main problem with Stardust really. There is a lot going on and it all gets a bit haphazard on screen. The plot manages to stay fairly faithful to the book but, in a desire to manage this, everything moves quite quickly. It gets pretty confusing and there are some liberties that are taken to ensure that some sort of narrative structure exists. Things don’t naturally fit into place and there are several awkward moments that are intended for the sole purpose of holding things together. It’s a tad messy and could easily have been fixed with a bit of careful editing.
There are plenty of star studded cameos throughout the film with supporting characters popping up to play their small part in Tristan and Yvaine’s epic journey. It is an inspired cast but some of these moments just feel unnecessary or uncomfortable. By far the best and the worst is Robert DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare, the man in charge of an airship that farms lightening. Though he has the reputation of a fearsome pirate, Captain Shakespeare is a campy relic that should have been left in the 70s. As fun as DeNiro is in the role his performance just feels a bit like an outdated relic.
Aside from that we have turns from fantastic British comedians and comedy actors which work in varying degrees. The ghosts of the the Kings dead sons, all of whom have fallen in the family tradition of brother killing brother in the race for succession, just about work as they hang around like Hamlet Snr. and weigh in on their siblings failures. Ricky Gervais’ time on screen just seems like a desperate attempt to let him be the same character he always plays. I could have done without it. Ultimately, it feels as though the sheer number of famous faces is a bit of a gimmick and it just adds to the already complicated nature of the film.
It tries desperately to let the narrative survive but it comes at the expense of good storytelling. There are obvious comparisons to The Princess Bride and the work of Terry Gilliam but Stardust neither has the original of Gilliam nor the heart and soul of Rob Reiner’s great romantic adventure. Stardust is a sweet and perfectly enjoyable film. There are some great moments and, thanks to Pfeiffer and Mark Strong, couple of incredible villains to amp up the tension. However, it loses itself in the scope of what it is trying to achieve. It’s trying to be a bit of every genre it can think of and it tries to flit between drama and comedy without any real thought. It’s silly but neither it’s not quite silly enough. It’s scary but not quite scary enough. It’s romantic but not quite romantic enough… oh, you get the idea. It’s not a bad film. It’s just not a great one either. I mean, it’s not a great sign when the thing I love most about this film is the Take That song that plays over the credits.