STARDUST – Ilan Eshkeri
Original Review by Clark Douglas
With the enormous success of the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” films, we have seen endless fantasy productions popping up left and right. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen trailer after trailer for upcoming fantasy films that all look roughly the same. “The Golden Compass”. “The Spiderwick Chronicles”. “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising”. “The Dragon Wars”. “Beowulf”. “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep”. It goes on and on. Some of these will undoubtedly be better than others, but they all basically look alike, portentous journeys into tired lands of “mystery” and “wonder”. Ho-hum.
I come to bring you good news. “Stardust” is a film that is different. No, it’s not an entirely original concept… it owes a certain debt to “The Princess Bride”. But it’s charming, romantic, funny, and not for one moment does it take itself more seriously than it has a right to. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (who also brought us the lean, mean British gangster flick “Layer Cake”), “Stardust” offers a very nice change in tone. It is full of witty humor and irreverence, but it tells the story with enough conviction to keep us caring about the characters.
The protagonist is Tristan (Charlie Cox), a hapless young fellow who is seemingly desperate to find a nice girl to marry him. He is particularly fond of Victoria (Sienna Miller), a particularly self-centered young lady. One night, as he is wooing Victoria, a shooting star flies above. Victoria makes Tristan a deal: If he will bring her back the shooting star, she will marry him. There’s just a couple of problems. First, the star has flown across “the wall”. It’s a long brick wall that separates Tristan’s ordinary world from the magical world, and for no particular reason, he isn’t supposed to cross it. Of course, he does, and then he runs into his second problem. The shooting star is not some lump of rock, but a beautiful girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Before too long, Tristan begins to lose interest in Victoria.
Oh, but there’s still trouble a-brewin’. An evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to get her hands on this human shooting star. Why? Well, she wants to eat Yvaine’s heart. Why? Because it will keep her looking young and beautiful, and she’s nearly out of the last bit of heart from the star-girl she killed 400 years ago. It is what it is. Meanwhile, a sinister heir to the king’s throne (Mark Strong) is chasing after the heart, too… not for beauty purposes, but for the gift of eternal life it gives. He’d like to be king forever.
“Stardust” is a fairly complicated tale, and there are lots of other subplots that it would take me paragraphs and paragraphs to explain. However, I won’t bore you with such details, I’ll let you discover those for yourself. Here’s what I will tell you: Robert De Niro plays the captain of a pirate ship who has a fondness for dressing up in ladies’ clothes. Ricky Gervais and Peter O’Toole both have wonderfully hilarious cameos. And there’s one incredibly confused young man who gets turned into a goat, then into a woman, then back into a man. Talk about a sexual identity crisis.
What makes “Stardust” worth your time is that it allows the plot points to develop in the background while the colorful characters take the foreground. The performances are solid all across the board. Almost surprisingly, Cox and Danes are very appealing as our lovely young protagonists. They don’t come across as people who fall in love just because the script tells them to, and their good deeds seem to come from their heart, not from the director. Michelle Pfeiffer is nothing short of fantastic as the evil villain… it’s so great to have her back in the movies again. It’s wonderful to watch her painfully decide between using her powers (which ages her) or keeping her beauty. Robert De Niro also seems to be having a wonderful time, his comedy seems less forced than many of his recent “silly” roles.
Music is provided by Ilan Eshkeri, who most recently offered up some grim and ominous ideas for “Hannibal Rising”. His music here sounds almost EXACTLY what you expect it to sound like: twinkling romance, sweeping strings for everything remotely dramatic, “dum-dum-dum-dum” action for the more energetic scenes. It’s quite entertaining, even if it has very little individual personality (there are at least five composers who could have written a score that sounds exactly the same). Fans of scores like “Eragon”, which provide all the requisite sweep and thematic grandeur without anything particularly new or fresh, will undoubtedly be pleased with this effort. I was a bit disappointed, but in terms of this year’s “new” composers getting big assignments, Eshkeri jumps a good notch or two ahead of Nicolas Hooper’s “Harry Potter” outing.
“Stardust” may not be a classic film, but it is certainly a very charming one, and it’s truly difficult to imagine many people actually disliking it. It gets away with being unabashedly romantic and darkly humorous at the same time, which is a feat in and of itself. With memorable, funny performances and solid direction that never gets too bogged down in its complex plotting, this is an easy one to recommend to all audiences. Don’t let this sparkling star die out at the box office.
- Prologue (Through The Wall) (3:45)
- Snowdrop (2:46)
- Tristan (0:40)
- Shooting Star (3:26)
- Three Witches (2:42)
- Yvaine (2:48)
- Septimus (1:22)
- Creating The Inn (1:58)
- Lamia’s Inn (8:04)
- Cap’n’ Shakespeare (1:27)
- Flying Vessel (3:41)
- Cap’n's At The Helm (1:01)
- Tristan & Yvaine (2:05)
- Pirate Fight (2:03)
- The Mouse (2:26)
- Lamia’s Lair (3:57)
- Lamia’s Doll (1:41)
- Zombie Fight (1:08)
- The Star Shines (3:21)
- Coronation (2:32)
- Epilogue (0:52)
Running Time: 53 minutes 45 seconds
Decca/Universal B0009821-02 (2007)
Music composed by Ilan Eshkeri. Conducted by Andy Brown. Orchestrations by Robert Elhai, Julian Kershaw and Jeff Toyne. Recorded and mixed by Steve McLaughlin. Edited by Daryl Kell. Album produced by Ilan Eshkeri.