Daynah Burnett

What Stardust wields in star power, it lacks in original, or even interesting, storytelling.


Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Ricky Gervais, Sienna Miller
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount Pictures
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-08-10 (General release)

What Stardust wields in star power, it lacks in original, or even interesting, storytelling. Adapted for the screen by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn, Neil Gaiman's graphic novel sloshes around onscreen like a blender full of leftovers from Tolkien, the Brothers Grimm, and Shakespeare.

The focus would be Tristan (Charlie Cox), who seeks a fallen star to win the heart of the village hottie, Victoria (Sienna Miller). It's never clear why he's in love with this flagrant golddigger, and she prefers the bland but rich Humphrey (Henry Cavill), who effectively woos her with the promise of a ginormous diamond ring. Nevertheless, Tristan toasts his wished-for love with champagne (a luxury that costs him a week's wages) and sets off to bring her a piece of the star from across the wall that separates the 19th-century British village of Well from a magical parallel world called Stormhold. That Victoria wants her star before her birthday, just one week away, makes her seem demanding. That Tristan blazes a trail towards Stormhold (and certain death) just to please her makes him stupid.

Almost right away he uses up most of a Babylon Candle, which magically transports its owner to any place he envisions. It's significant that he sacrifices the candle for Victoria, because it's a last gift from his mother, the only thing she left for him, tucked in his blanky on his father's doorstep before she was enslaved by a witch (read: Tristan's a Mommy's boy with no Mommy). The candle takes him to Yvaine (Claire Danes), a persnickety blonde in a shimmery dress laid out in the center of the star's crater. She explains that though she was once a star in the sky, her form on Earth is that of a woman, now injured from her fall. Tristan drags Yvaine back to Well against her will. What's a little kidnapping in the name of true love?

It turns out that others would like to have hold of the fallen star as well. Lamia (Michelle Pfieffer) is one of three witchy sisters who can restore their youth and beauty if they jointly ingest the star's heart while it's aglow. Lamia ventures alone to capture Yvaine, but her determination is less terrifying than pathetic. Chasing down Yvaine across Stormhold seems a lot of trouble to go through for a facelift. Still, Lamia's pursuit brings to Tristan's effort a constant mortal danger and -- oh yes -- lots of special effects.

Tristan and Yvaine must also evade the power-hungry heir to Stormhold, Prince Septimus (Mark Strong), who just can't wait to be king. Of course there's a catch: on his deathbed, Septimus' father (Peter O'Toole) explains that the only true heir is one who can recover and restore his ruby necklace, which he then throws out the window, up to the heavens, where it lands around Yvaine's neck. Even once it's revealed to all that Septimus wants the necklace and not Yvaine herself, she continues to wear the big target. It's just so big and shiny, and it goes with her dress.

Even though it appears that everyone wants a piece of her, Yvaine remains staunchly unsympathetic, even when at last she stops complaining and falls in love. This shrew's taming seems owed to Captain Shakespeare (Robert Deniro), a gay pirate who must remain in the closet to maintain the respect of his crew and ruthless reputation. DeNiro's portrayal of a character so ripe for complexity is sadly (and frankly, shockingly) reduced to stereotype: limp-wristed, lisping, and dancing in drag, the Captain uses his queer eye to give straight guy Tristan a manly makeover.

Stardust is thus a kind of "fairy tale," but it is also lazy and often offensive. Like Snow White or Cinderella, it shamelessly reinforces physical beauty as the only kind of acceptable measure of a girl's worth, its grandiose CGI and contemporary jokes never challenging the genre's well-known sexism. Women are either ugly and manipulative or pretty and pliable, while men do their best to protect and/or woo them. When Yvaine, left tied to a tree by Tristan (why she cannot simply untie herself is never explained), is finally rescued by a unicorn, she clutches its phallic horn to ride her way safety, all bareback and breathless and boring.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.