Saturday, September 01, 2007

Amazing and Magical Movie!

In the summer of blockbusters and sequels, and sequels that are blockbusters, there’s one movie you really need to see. And to be honest, I really hate it when people tell me that. So let me apologize for using that hackneyed line, but nothing else truly fits.

I have to admit that I hadn’t read Stardust the novel by Neil Gaiman until I discovered the movie was coming out. Then I saw a trade paperback edition on the bookshelf of one of my favorite bookstores and picked it up. I’d intended to get around to reading it sooner, but ended up waiting until I was having a new stereo installed in my car. I read the book during the time I was waiting. Not to say that I waited a long time, but that the book read so easily and captivated me with the simple story line.

The book was also a graphic novel illustrated with loving dedication by Charles Vess.

The movie emulates the novel in so many ways. Gaiman’s stripped-down prose does double-duty as a book and as a screenplay. It’s easy to see why Hollywood took such an interest in developing the property.

The story is all about love, but it’s draped in the whimsical and fantastical that seems to spin so easily from Gaiman’s imagination. There are actually two love stories involved in the movie. The action centers around young Tristan Thorn (played by Charlie Cox). However, the story actually begins eighteen years before that when his father, Dunstan, slipped through the gap in the Wall and entered the enchanted lands on the other side.

The story of young Dunstan’s seduction is quickly told and narrated by Ian McKellen. McKellen’s voice lends authenticity to the tale in a pairing that’s at least as good as Peter Falk’s voiceovers in The Princess Bride. (Expect that movie to come up often as reviews are posted about Stardust!)

In the book, Dunstan got married and had other children. In the movie, he raises Tristan alone. Dunstan (eloquently played by Nathaniel Parker) has a deep love for his son and believes that he can do anything. Tristan is more of the opinion that he is a failure and doomed to eventual nothingness.

Tristan’s true undoing lies in his unreturned love of Victoria, a pretty girl in the village where he lives. Upon learning she is going to be married to Humphrey in one week, Tristan tries to impress upon her how much he loves her and to what ends he would go to achieve her love.

While Tristan is trying to win Victoria, the King of Stronghold (Peter O’Toole in a short but stellar role), one of the kingdoms within the enchanted lands, lies dying. He’s surrounded by his seven sons. Three of them are already dead, but the other four are vying for the throne. Only one of them can become the king. Even as that particular plot point is being presented, one of the sons is killed in a way that is both horrifying and comical.

The king sets his sons on a mythical quest and at each other’s throats at the same time. A magical spell hurls his necklace onto a collision course with a star and causes the star to fall from the heavens where it assumes human form.

When Victoria sees the falling star, she tells Tristan to get it for her and she will marry him. Tristan tries to get past the old wall guard in a moment that was as unexpected as it was last-out loud hilarious. His father comes to his aid with a Babylon candle, a magical artifact with great power.

Needless to say, things go wrong. Badly. But this is, after all, a fantasy story and bad can become good. One of the unexpected twists is that the star actually shows up in human form.

I don’t want to talk about the plot anymore because it will give too many things away. Once you start to unravel the plot, there’s no safe place to stop. The King of Stronghold’s sons quest for the necklace that the star, Yvaine, unknowingly has in her possession. But even more threatening, a trio of wicked witches begins to pursue Yvaine with the intention of cutting her heart out and eating it because doing so will restore their lost youth and power.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays the evil witch Lamia to the hilt. This is an excellent role for her because she is seductively evil.

Robert De Niro masterfully plays Captain Shakespeare, the leader of a band of pirates that steal lightning from the stormy skies and sell it to venders.

Captain Shakespeare is an amazing character and De Niro’s portrayal of him will take your breath away. And you’ll never quite see De Niro in the same light again. Who knew he had this kind of range?

All through the movie, though, you’ll find that parts feel familiar, and even some scenes seem similar to other things you’ve seen. It’s all true, but that’s why the film works so brilliantly. Neil Gaiman has dipped into the universal mythology of stories and pulled out a winner.

I enjoyed the film on several different levels. My nine year old readily agreed to go with me, but I had to cajole my wife into accompanying us. She wasn’t certain she would like this kind of film. (She still hasn’t seen The Princess Bride.) She generally prefers mysteries, and there’s no hint of a mystery surrounding this film – though there are some definite clues about the surprises that take place at the end of the movie.

The visual aspects of the film are wondrous. I loved how the villages looked and how the fairy market was set up. The scenes aboard the pirate ship as it flew through the air were amazing. I know it was all computer-generated, but it just looks so real.

Stardust gets my vote as the pick of the summer movie crop without hesitation. If you haven't seen it, do so.


DesLily said...

due to circumstances beyond my control it's rare that I can get to a movie.. but this one I really REALLY wanted to see, and already know I will buy the dvd asap!

Ron Simpson said...

This movie got ignored. I did a post on it after I saw it too. I loved it. I have not read the book, but I will. I hate that it got so ignored. But it was not advertised well.