Friday, November 14, 2008

Review - Stardust

2008 Hugo Winner for Best Long Form Dramatic Presentation

And this is it; the last of the Hugo winning dramatic presentations. Fifty years worth of SF media leads to this, a fine addition to a body of pretty good and usually rather popular titles.

Stardust was easily my favorite SF film of last year. It's not perfect, there's some structural flaws with it, but the production design was superb and it retained a great deal of the charm of author Neil Gaiman's writing.

The small English village of Wall is named for the ancient wall that runs near it and they maintain a guard over the one gap in it. An adventurous young man sees a shooting star land somewhere past the wall so to impress a girl who has insisted on getting the star for a birthday present he slips through the gap.

On the other side of the wall, however, is a magical kingdom that is hidden from view. This kingdom does not follow normal heredity rules of the first born son taking the throne, instead it is the last surviving son encouraging conspiracy and murder among the princes of the realm. Unfortunately for the dying king his sons were too crafty for their own good and on his death bed he is left with four of them. Rather than select one he casts one of the crown jewels into the heavens declaring that which ever prince recovers it will be king.

When our adventurous young man finds the fallen star he discovers it is in fact a beautiful woman who had been knocked out of the sky by the king's jewel. A promise is a promise, however, and the young man attempts to drag the star home to his would be girlfriend.

And adding complications to that are a trio of ancient crones who want the star so they can regain their youth. Naturally whirlwind fairy tale style adventures ensue.

That's a lot more summery than I usually give and that's because this movie is dense. There's a lot of things happening and to their credit director and screenwriter Matthew Vaughn manage to juggle them all admirably. The complications arise when it seems as though he doesn't trust the audience enough to remember a plot point; several times in the film it pauses to give exposition the viewer already knew. I read it more as studio executives meddling than a failure on the director's part but in the end they are disruptive.

I mentioned the production design before and my only complaint about it is that it doesn't look quite like original illustrator Charles Vess's designs. They did try, however, which mitigates that complaint quite a bit. This was not a big budget film and yet they managed to make the markets filled with wondrous stalls look lively, the castle of the witches look appropriately sharp edged and menacing, and the whole environment just magical in general.

The cast didn't wildly impress me, even Robert DiNiro in one of his "two days of work for a minor film" roles wasn't spectacular. On the other hand I was never annoyed with them. I was very entertained by the spectral princes who as they die one by one hover around to provide a greek chorus to events.

This film made me smile. It wasn't the perfect romantic fantasy comedy of The Princess Bride but it is very much in that same vein. It might not have gained much attention on release but I predict that Stardust will be a cult favorite for years to come.