Finally, here on Neil Gaiman Week, we come to the raison d’etre for a week of posts about Neil Gaiman – the film adaptation of Stardust arriving in the UK. Even though the film has been promoted on other factors – the ‘Britishness’ of the film, the director (who happens to be married to a supermodel), the stars involved – it is the author of the source material that has been the centre of much of the media coverage. And hurrah for that.
As with most adaptations, the film is a streamlined version of the book. Tristran Thorn (Charlie Cox) learns of his heritage (that his he was born of a union between his father and a woman on the other side of the wall) in the first five minutes of the film, before he has promised Victoria (a perfectly snooty Sienna Miller) that he will bring her back the fallen star to win her hand in marriage. Using the Babylon candle left him by his mother, he travels to the star, to find that it is a woman called Yvaine (Clare Danes). Around her neck, she wears a chain with a jewel, the one that was thrown by the dying king of Stormhold (Peter O’Toole) and which knocked from the sky, the one he has told his remaining sons to retrieve if they wish to become the next king. Three witches are also after the star, for the heart will provide them with another amount of long life – the oldest (and craftiest) of the three (played with relish and enthusiasm by Michelle Pfeiffer) has taken the last of the previous star heart to make her young and powerful again so that she may retrieve the heart. Tristran has seven days to bring back Yvaine (he has her tied to him with a magical chain) while the others chase her too …
And so the race is on. Along the way, they meet Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare, pretending to be a fierce pirate but actually a sophisticated gay man (note: De Niro is stunt casting, making the contrast between the gruff pirate and the effeminate reality more shocking and amusing, but he really can’t play gay to save his life), Ricky Gervais playing Ricky Gervais as a fence, and Mark Strong as the remaining prince (after he has killed most of the others – there is a lovely bait-and-switch when we see Rupert Everett enter as one of the princes, expecting him to be the hero, only to be dispatched by Strong by pushing him out of the top of the castle; after, he joins the remaining princes as a ghostly Greek chorus to the events, unable to have peace in death until the Stormhold crown is settled. It has to be said that there is not enough of the princes, played as they are by British comedy types – David Walliams, Adam Buxton, Mark Heap, Julian Rhind-Tutt).
The film doesn’t always work – in trying to capture Midnight Run and Princess Bride, the ‘banter’ between Tristran and Yvaine is rather forced and counterintuitive: how does a star have sarcastic and quippy retorts? It’s necessary, as the film condenses the time frame of the book from several months to a week, so we have to go from initial hatred to love in a short time, but it isn’t always believable. However, the sum of the parts make up for the individual deficiencies. Pfeiffer and Danes do very good English accents (only De Niro doesn’t bother), the princes are very funny, the magical aspect (that problematic fantasy stuff for the general public) works really well – I particularly loved the glowing hair motif for Danes – and the changes to the source material fit well into a film. Most impressively of all, you are left with a wonderfully warm feeling when the film ends – who can ask for more from a film?