While noticeably reaching for the same notoriety as The Princess Bride, Stardust blazes its own trail with the always-hopeful message that love indeed conquers all… unless a horrible death claims you first.
In the village of Wall, Tristran (Charlie Cox) is a lowly store clerk smitten with a beautiful maiden named Victoria (Sienna Miller), but her heart is set on the charms and material wealth of the worldly Humphrey (Henry Cavill). In a desperate act to secure Victoria’s hand, Tristran promises to collect a fallen star for her within a week’s time to prove his love. To fulfill his promise, Tristran must cross through the break in an ancient wall said to be the border to a magical kingdom. Little does Tristran know that his own father had once risked the same journey, nor does he know that an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a score of princes seeking the throne of Stormhold are also searching for the star. Worse yet, no one has bothered to ask the fallen star herself (Claire Danes) what she wants.
While cloaked in a plot that screams “coming of age” story, the cheeky plot and adult subject matter paint this as a fantasy for adults rather than a children’s story. With murders most foul, one-night stands, and magic spells that can decapitate your opponent, there would be much to explain to a child in addition to the unsavory motivations of the antagonists. All of it is tongue-in-cheek, however, with nary a drop of blood (except, of course, where the filmmakers again take the opportunity to wink at the audience.)
By comparison, The Princess Bride shared similar themes, but while no less cheeky, Stardust uses modern special effects to make things less believable completely realistic and make the realm of Stormhold a true and dangerous place. While Bride also defined “true love” for hopeless romantics everywhere, Stardust takes a more realistic stance that “love is where you find it” and warns hopeless romantics that setting terms may not be the best foundation to build a relationship on. Both films are wonderful and imaginative fantasies, but Stardust isn’t recalling this tale to a sick child as told by his grampa; certain death (and many of its victims) haunts Stardust throughout, a constant reminder to live life one day at a time and your end could be a witch’s whim away.
With a cast featuring Ian McKellen as the narrator, Peter O’Toole as a king, Michelle Pfeiffer as a wicked witch, Robert De Niro as a sky pirate, Sienna Miller as the pretty girl of the village, and Claire Danes as a fallen star, you get the performances you expect and a little something extra from each. To be fair, these known players only make up half the cast and are by no means the only plot drivers for the piece. In a fantasy story set in a magical place that borders our own mortal world, happily ever after can only happen while looking over your shoulder and standing up for what you believe in… unless you just happen to be unbelievably naive or just plain stupid, in which case a certain and spectacular death may be all you have to look forward to. Enjoy!
(a three skull recommendation out of four)