Monday, November 19, 2007

Movie Review : Stardust

A lot of recent movie releases especially in 2007 have had their humble beginnings in the sequential art form also know as the comic book medium. With a treasure trove of story, plotlines and characters stretching back for decades, the comic book medium seems to the current ‘in’ source for movies as evidenced by the number of releases and upcoming movies in production. While this is no doubt a boon for comic book readers like myself who long waited to see favorite comic book characters and storylines realized on the big screen, there is still that fear that the movies would not be able to meet the comic book fan expectations and forever ruining the character in non-comic book readers. We have the utterly dreadful “Catwoman” movie to blame for that fear.

The latest addition to the list of movie released based on sequential art material, “Stardust”, was thankfully handled with the amount respect that a critically acclaimed graphic novel should be approached with. Written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated for Charles Vess, “Stardust” – the comic book, was both remarkable in it’s lyrical content and imaginative setting. An instant fan favorite, “Stardust” chronicles the tale of Tristan (Charlie Cox) who was on a quest to find a falling star to give to his aloof paramour (Sienna Millers) in exchange for her promise that she would marry him instead of another suitor. To get to the falling star, Tristan had to cross the wall that separated his village (also known as the village of Wall) and the magical kingdom of Stormhold.

Unbeknownst to Tristan, the falling star had taken up a human form and called herself Yvaine after she was knocked out of the sky by the enchanted necklace tossed out by the dying king of Stormhold. The king’s surviving sons had to search for the necklace which was now worn by Yvaine if they wanted to become the next king of the land. The falling star also had another seeker in the form of the witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) who wanted her for her heart that she would feast on with her sister to gain an extension to their already unnatural lifespan. With a little magical assistance, Tristan was the first person to find Yvaine and while his original intent was to bring her back to his paramour, their journey became one filled with challenges to elude the other pursuers. Along the way, their love for each other begin to blossom and in the end, it was that same love that help them fulfill their destinies.

While at first glance “Stardust” seemed to be made for family viewing, much of the story and humor in both the original material and the movie was written with a much more adult sensibility. Distinctly dark in tone, this adult fairy tale is not one that has been sanitized for children’s viewing. Death, both of people and animals, were shown in graphic terms even though the dead end up being part of a hilarious chorus of ghosts who haunt the surviving prince looking for the enchanted necklace. A fair amount of deliciously witty entendre fathomable only by adults run through out the story culminating in scenes with the cross-dressing sky pirate no less. Nothing is actually overtly explicit that parents would not want to bring children to watch it but there was enough for adults to enjoy it in a whole different level altogether.

“Stardust” was also blessed with a multitude of brilliant actors who seemed to relish the opportunity to play against type. Both leads, Claire Danes and Charlie Cox, were serviceable enough in their roles but it was the non leads, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro (playing the abovementioned cross-dressing sky pirate Captain Shakespeare) who stole the spotlight of the movie in my opinion. In the witch Lamia, Michelle Pfeiffer displayed wonderful comic timing a portrayal very seldom seen in her other films. Her well timed eye roll when things don’t go her way never failed to crack me up. Also playing against type, Robert De Niro’s portrayal Captain Shakespeare ranks as one of the more memorable scenes I’ve seen in a movie this year not because of the character he played but because of the actor himself willing to have fun outside of the usual gallery of characters he portrayed before.

The story elements of “Stardust” were greatly supported by tight editing and pacing, unlike the other comic book movie released at about the same time, that at no time during the 2 hour screening time does the movie fall into dead space in between set pieces. The action moved in an increasingly frenetic pace as the main character faced increasing odds against their survival. Although the ending was clearly apparent to those who picked up on the foreshadowing presented in the beginning of the film, the journey that audiences took on the movie to get to the ending was one worth the payoff. This film did the original material proud and would be ranked up there among the better comic book to film adaptation by fans of both genre. It would definitely get into my list of the highly recommended movies to watch for this year.

Can’t wait for the DVD to come out.

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