In a year of quality films, who would have thought that Stardust would be right up there among them? A quirky sci-fi/fantasy picture with questionable special effects, no one expected this one to be that good, but it is one of the most entertaining films of 2007.
Stardust stars Charlie Cox as Tristan, a young man vying for the love of the most popular girl in his village. To get her hand in marriage, he sets out across the village's magical wall to collect a shooting star they saw crash in the distance. When he arrives, however, he finds that the star is in fact a young woman named Yvaine, who wants nothing more than to get back home. He promises to do just that, but not before he takes her back to his almost-fiance. They set out for home, but what neither realize is that Yvaine is the center of desire for several different parties, including a group of evil witches who want to use her as a source of youth, and a band of competing prince brothers vying to become king. Throw in a gang of pirates in a flying ship and some other unusual situations, and you have yourself a fantasy adventure.
What had me worried about Stardust when I saw the previews were the special effects, which are not exactly the most spectacular. The movie isn't working on the largest of budgets (though I still believe you can get pretty good effects on a $65 million budget), and the effects are one of the casualties. The special effects in the first half hour of the movie are the weakest, but pick themselves up for the rest of the time. In reality, the effects aren't that bad, and I have to wonder how much the look and feel is completely intentional. After all, quirky fantasy films like this often go for the slightly offbeat visuals, and Stardust definitely has that look. Thankfully, you quickly get used to the visuals and they don't really interfere with the storytelling as the plot progresses.
And it's the storytelling that really sells Stardust. In a year where some of the biggest visual feasts lacked good storytelling - I'm thinking of Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third and even Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Stardust proves that a good story and quality screenplay make a movie. Stardust is truly one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and fun movies of 2007, one of those rare, family-friendly fantasy adventures that only seem to come along once a decade or so. I might be stretching it, but Stardust is right up there with A Princess Bride and Labyrinth, entertaining, romantic, goofy and funny. The adventure in the movie is a blast, but it's also consistently funny. Furthermore, if anyone questions why Robert De Niro would sign up for a picture like this, just watch and see for yourself; it's priceless.
And that brings me to my next point: the cast. De Niro is terrific as a rather unique pirate, but he has a pretty small role. Cox, who doesn't even get billing on the DVD cover (understandably), is solid in the lead. It's hard to describe his approach, though it's sort of a combination of innocence, naivety, awkwardness and heroism all rolled into one. Again, not unlike Cary Elwes in A Princess Bride, minus the suave confidence. Danes is good in a co-starring position, though there's not much else to say there. The other real highlight is Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays a wonderfully wicked witch. She clearly had a lot of fun with the role and immerses herself completely in the experience.
If you like fantasy or adventure films, Stardust is a must-see. More than appropriate for families yet full of stuff for adults, Stardust is a quirky, funny and utterly entertaining picture that overshadows the so-so Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as this year's best fantasy picture.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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