Release Date: December 18, 2007
Rating: 3 /
Starring: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemying, Rupert Everett, Peter O’Toole with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert de Niro
Based on the DC/Vertigo Comic Book by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess
Screenplay by: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Stardust is the latest entry into the recent spate of fantasy adventure films that have popped up since the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s not a bad film, and it certainly has a lot of heart going for it, but it never really engages the viewer on the primal level of the best fantasies. It is filled with beautiful imagery and some fantastical concepts, but nothing that will stay with the viewer after the movie is over. Based on the comic book fantasy spun by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess nearly ten years ago, the story follows the adventure of a young man (Charlie Cox) who crosses over from 19th century England to a faerie land located just on the other side of a simple stone wall. As he roams this world in the company of a fallen star (Claire Danes), he encounters multiple colourful characters, some friendly and some not, played by recognizable leading players like Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer has a lot of fun playing a wicked witch, while de Niro does what he can with an odd sky pirate role. There’s a lot of magic on display here, from the fantastical kind practiced by the various witches in play to the CGI kind used to give this film something like the scope of the Rings and Narnia films. (There are many of the same helicopter shots of figures crossing a landscape, and transitions from live action scenes to CGI flyovers of digital castles and such.) The score for the film is clearly influenced by a combination of the work of James Horner and Howard Shore, with the result that many cues sound quite close to the ones from the Rings trilogy. As I said, this doesn’t make this a bad film – on the contrary, it’s a lot of fun to watch, and clearly was a lot of fun to make. And there are a lot of influences at work here, past the obvious ones. Director Matthew Vaughn says in the included featurette that he wanted to make a cross between The Princess Bride and Midnight Run. He has certainly achieved a level of whimsy here that is similar to that of The Princess Bride. He has also deftly thrown in plenty of other references, including a sly nod to Braveheart in the one scene with Peter O’Toole. I’d like to recommend this as a family film, but with the caution that there is more than a little violence here, and not all of it could be considered just harmless fantasy play. (This is one of those times when the PG-13 rating really does have a rationale.) It will likely play best as a film for adults and teenagers to enjoy together.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Stardust is presented in a colourful anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer that is full of detail. Flesh tones are mostly accurate, but there are several places where they are affected by the CGI work. The transitions into and out of the CGI landscapes can also be a bit distracting, but this isn’t a fault of the transfer. There’s a pretty wide palate of colors to see here, and a wide variety of environments. All of which is perfectly appropriate for a fantasy adventure.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4/5
Stardust is presented in a full-throated Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, Spanish and French. There’s a pretty frequent use of the surrounds for various atmospheric and directional effects, particularly during the various magical confrontations with Michelle Pfeiffer. Music is distributed throughout the home theatre as well, and the subwoofer joins in at all the times you’d expect it to. All in all, this is an active mix, which is again, perfectly appropriate for a fantasy adventure.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2 ½/5 ½
Stardust doesn’t contain much by way of special features, but the making-of featurette it does include is a little more informative than usual. In total, there is just under 45 minutes of special material on the disc, not counting a few previews for other Paramount releases.
Good Omens: The Making of STARDUST (29:52, Anamorphic) – SPOILER WARNING: WATCH THE MOVIE BEFORE THIS FEATURETTE! This behind-the-scenes featurette is the best of the special features available on the disc. It mostly consists of interviews with Matthew Vaughn, creator Neil Gaiman and actress Claire Danes, intercut with on-set footage and a small amount of film footage. Vaughn and Danes do the usual mutual compliments, and Vaughn talks about the casting of the bigger names in the film. Vaughn’s producer discusses how the low-budget-minded Vaughn handled working on a more expensive production. But the real heart of this piece is the perspective of Neil Gaiman. Gaiman describes how he originally came up with the idea, as well as his reaction to seeing his ideas being constructed on stages and locations. The featurette includes a little footage taken by Gaiman on his camcorder when he visited the construction of the skyboat.
Deleted Scenes - (5:31 total, Non-anamorphic) – About 5 ½ minutes of deleted scenes and extensions are presented here in non-anamorphic format that appears to be AVID output. Most of the material here is superfluous, but there is an unbilled alternate ending that stands as an interesting counterpoint to the early Peter O’Toole scene.
Blooper Reel - (5:25, Non-anamorphic) - Here we have another 5 ½ minutes of non-anamorphic AVID output, this time dedicated to various flubs, giggles and other blown takes. A fair amount of profanity has been carefully bleeped out so that you’ll know what was being said but don’t have to listen to it.
Theatrical Trailer - (2:26, Anamorphic) – The theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic format. It’s loaded with the expected amounts of big sound and big action, edited in accelerating levels of intensity throughout. But what makes it interesting is the brief glimpses of alternate effects or shots that didn’t make the final cut.
Previews – (Non-anamorphic) - Five non-anamorphic previews are presented here: Transformers, Shrek the Third, a horrifyingly colorized It’s A Wonderful Life, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and the March of the Penguins follow-up, Arctic Tale. The last two previews are automatically shown when you first put the disc in the player.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself and for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.
IN THE END...
Stardust has all the ingredients of a fine adventure fantasy, one tailored more to younger adults than to younger children. It has an enthusiastic cast and an enjoyably wry perspective on itself. If you’re in the mood, you’ll likely have a good time as the two hours rolls by. It’s a fun experience, just not a particularly deep one.
December 18, 2007.