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Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/18/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/17/2007
When a movie fails to perform at the box office, who is to blame? This is an excellent question, which would most likely yield many diverse answers. Most would probably say that if a movie doesn't do well, then it must be a bad movie. But, we all know that isn't true. I think that a film's success can often rely on marketing and timing. For example. the fantasy film Stardust was released in the late summer rush accompanied by a trailer which told too much and yet not enough about the movie. The questionable timing and misguided marketing didn't bode well for the film. Luckily for us, a home video release allows the opportunity to check out this whimsical film.
Stardust opens in the English village of Wall, sometime in the Victorian era. The village is so-named because of a nearby wall, and it is forbidden for anyone to go through the gap in the wall. Young Dunstan Thorn (Ben Barnes) decides to defy this rule and finds himself in the magical land of Stormhold. There, he meets a slave girl and they spend a passionate night together. Nine months later, a baby is delivered to Dunstan.
The story then leaps ahead, and we meet Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), Dunstan's son, who is on the brink of adulthood. Tristan is in love with the vain Victoria (Sienna Miller), who doesn't return his affections. When they see a falling star land beyond the wall, Tristan states that he will retrieve it for Victoria in exchange for her hand in marriage. Seeing this as a fool's errand, Victoria agrees. Thus, Tristan crosses the wall into Stormhold. Meanwhile, we learn that the falling star was created by the passing of the King of Stormhold (Peter O'Toole). The star holds an amulet which the rightful heir to the throne must retrieve, thus setting off a competition between the King's (living) sons. Ancient witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiifer) learn of the falling star and wish to consume it, as it will restore their youth and beauty. Tristan reaches the star first and finds that it isn't a rock, as he'd expected, by a lady named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Tristan begins traveling with Yvaine back towards the wall, unaware that other factions are vying for the star.
OK, let's look at all of the factors which aren't working in Stardust's favor. As noted above, the marketing and release date were questionable. The movie enters a field crowded with other fantasy movies, such asHarry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings. While Stardust is based on a comic book and novel, those books didn't have the same fan-base as the previously mentioned film. And as with many fantasy films, Stardust has a very complicated plot (although it can easily be summed up by saying that three different factions race to claim the power contained in a falling star). The film also falls into a target-audience pit, as it's earned its PG-13 rating. The movie contains some violence and mature themes that I know I wouldn't want to explain to a child.
Yes, those are the elements which may keep you from seeing Stardust, but honestly, you shouldn't let anything stop you from experiencing this charming movie. Everything listed above may be true, but none of it detracts from the fact that Stardust is an original and exciting movie.
The film is based on the writings of Neil Gaiman, perhaps best known for creating the Sandman comic book series. Gaiman has a gift for writing stories in which mortals mingle with fantasy creatures and Stardust certainly utilizes that talent. For me, this made the film more accessible. As with stories like The Wizard of Oz or the Harry Potter books, Stardust begins the real world and then expands into a fantasy realm. If you are like me and don't really get into stories with trolls and goblins, then you will enjoy the fact that Stardust eschews the more fantastical creatures. Aged witches (who are still clearly humanoid) is as fantastic as the creatures get here. And, beyond some gothic palaces, the locations in Stardust appear to be from our world as well.
It's the story in Stardust which is so enchanting. When Tristan crosses the wall to retrieve the fallen star, he assumes that he will getting a rock of some sort. The fact that he finds a woman takes a some-sort ordinary tale to a new level. And once we learn that the star is a valuable commodity, a sense of adventure and suspense enters the film. But, this is a romance as well. Again, Tristan wants the star to prove his love for Victoria -- he never expected to be attracted to the star itself.
As with many fantasy film, Stardust is long, running over two hours. But director Matthew Vaughn uses that time wisely, allowing the story to unfold at a nice pace, thus giving the audience an opportunity to get comfortable with one aspect of the story before a plot twist is introduced. This also gives the characters time to develop. Nearly every character in the film is a stereotype -- the lovestruck boy, the wicked with, the conniving prince -- but as the film progresses, we actually get a chance to know these characters and see that there is more to each of them. This is only helped by the film's strong cast. Michelle Pfeiffer is playing a lot of villains lately and she seems to relish her role here. Charlie Cox is very good in the lead role, as we pity Tristan at first and then grow to cheer for him. The movie features some big names in supporting roles as well, such as Peter O'Toole, Ricky Gervais, and Rupert Everett. Even Robert De Niro arrives for a memorable cameo.
In many ways, Stardust reminded me of The Princess Bride. This is a fantasy film made for an audience who has seen many other fantasy stories and fairy tales. It takes those familiar elements and turns them slightly askew. But, whereas The Princess Bride strays into the world of parody, Stardust plays it straight, revealing itself to be a rousing, but fun adventure film. Do me a favor. After you see Stardust, go back and watch the trailer. Would you want to see that movie?
Stardust falls from the heavens and onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This is a solid transfer, as the image looks very good. The picture shows no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fine and the landscape shots, of which there are many, show a very nice amount of depth. Video noise and edge-enhancement never intrude, but I did note a bit of artifacting. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5. 1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This film has a good sound design and we get a favorable amount of surround sound and subwoofer effects here. Of course, the scene where the star crashes to the ground is the one to check for the audio quality.
The Stardust DVD contains a few extras. "Good Omens: The Making of Stardust" (30 minutes) contains a nice balance of interviews with the cast and filmmakers as well as behind-the-scenes footage. Writer Neil Gaiman shares the inspiration behind the original story. We also get information about the casting of the film, the visual effects, location scouting, set design, and costuming. The piece contains on-set video shot by Gaiman. This featurette has some good information, but it's oddly edited, as it jumps back and forth to various topics. The DVD contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes. Most of these are brief and inconsequential, but there are two with the ghosts of princes which are funny. The extras are rounded out by a BLOOPER REEL (5 minutes) and the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long