While it’s been done before, Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust still brings an emphatically welcome revisit to the science-fiction-infused fantasy film. Boasting a first rate cast, this Neil Gaiman graphic novel adaptation divinely entertains with a stellar amalgamation of comedy and swashbuckling adventure. Drawing from the lighthearted tone of Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, the sorcery of Ron Howard’s Willow, and the wonderment of the films of Terry Gilliam, Stardust is a celestially electrifying foray into the often dabbled in and rarely perfected blend of fantasy, comedy and true romance.
150 years ago, young Tristan (Charlie Cox) is hopelessly enamored by the beautiful but shallow Victoria (Sienna Miller), and vows to win her heart by embarking on a journey to capture a falling star. When he reaches the crater of the star, there is only a glowing young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes) in its place. As the two venture back to Tristan’s hometown, they are pursued by the malicious witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), and encounter the likes of the nefarious sky pirate Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) and the Prince of Stormhold, who seeks a missing amulet and the throne.
Rarely are we privy to such grandiose entertainment enchantment by a fantasy film. Gathering together all of the most impressive aspects of the genre, Stardust recreates the lively and breathtaking romance and action that seems to have been forgotten for entirely too long. With kings, princes, witches, wizards and the knight in shining armor (sans armor), this magical fairy tale boldly plays out as if each subsequent scene was constructed from brainstorming the most imaginative and abstract thoughts. Evoking constant surprise with flying pirate ships and comical ghosts, Stardust also presents a distinct science fiction element that surfaces just as frequently as the swashbuckling sword fights and the damsels in distress. With the outlandishness of each new character and brazen humor behind each event, at first it seems too convoluted with bizarre ideas to fit together so fluidly. But director Matthew Vaughn has crafted an exciting fusion of unquestionable romance and mystical fantasy that ultimately works nearly perfectly, and is unmistakably one of the most entertaining films of the year.
An all-star cast brings out the richest elements of the fairy tale world in Stardust. Claire Danes is outstanding as the fallen star Yvaine, and her emotional performance authenticates the epic love story that presides over the special-effects laden action. Robert De Niro plays an entirely comic relief role that will have audiences rolling with laughter. Quite unexpectedly, a large percentage of the cast provides uproarious comedy, which keeps the mood consistently upbeat. Ricky Gervais and the seven princes all add to the laughter, as does Peter O’Toole in his cameo as the King of Stormhold.
The music is also noteworthy, as it seamlessly enhances the dramatic sequences, and stirs up the moments of excitement. The pulsing theme by composer Ilan Eshkeri provides a perfect balance to the events onscreen, especially during the moments of grand adventure when good and evil clash.
There’s nothing commonplace or overdone about Stardust, even with the exotic mixture of comical characters and uniquely devised antagonists. While the film leans toward a steadily humorous and light-hearted tone, the romance is august and believable, and the fantasy elements are all-consuming. It’s difficult to believe that director Matthew Vaughn also helmed the ultra-hip gangster thriller, Layer Cake.
Family-friendly as well as appealing to all age groups, Stardust eloquently ensures that the romance peaks just below sappy, and the adventure remains at the top of the game. With the plethora of themes and fantastical ideas that sashay onscreen, there’s something to amuse everyone. In the world created for Stardust, there are no rules but what the various artists decide to display, so despite the oftentimes contradictory and radical elements of science fiction, the romantic fantasy and the chaotic fairy-tale-gone-awry subplots, we know that “happily ever after” is definitely within reach. In the spectrum of science fiction/fantasy, films like Blade Runner mark the summit of one end, and Stardust gallantly settles into a high point at the other.
The basic formula in Stardust may not be entirely new, but the few cliches present are cleverly masked by beautifully realized fantasy imagery and sweepingly adventurous romance. Add to that Neil Gaiman’s signature flair for theatrics and magical eccentricities and this lightly-treaded genre has obtained an addition most worthy.
Joel Silver’s glory days are behind him. The man responsible for Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, The Matrix and the delightful, yet widely unseen, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang has racked up a lot of critical and box office misfires as of late. Churning out bottom rung material like House of Wax and The Reaping is quickly making one of Hollywood’s most dynamite producers nothing more than a big joke. The Invasion should have served as German director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s big Hollywood debut. Instead the picture is riddled with behind the scenes issues and forced studio input that greatly damages the storytelling, making the science fiction flick perhaps the worst addition to Silver’s long resume.
After a space shuttle crash-lands back on Earth, a strange and unseen alien organism infiltrates the world’s population, quickly turning human beings into comatose vegetables devoid of all emotion. If the plot for Invasion sounds familiar, that’s because it has indeed been done before. The third remake of the cult-classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers features A-list stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig as they race against the clock to find a cure to this growing pandemic.
Lacking all subtlety in its loud political statement on the current American political climate, Invasion is so awkwardly paced that it feels like a mishmash of two entirely different films. Warner Bros. must be a studio run by cowardly executives without faith in their product, as Invasion is the second film in recent memory in which the studio let a second party come in to punch up the picture. However, unlike both abysmal Exorcist prequels, only parts of Invasion were filmed again. While the Wachowski Bros. handled the writing, V for Vendetta director James McTeigue helmed the direction of this new material.
What begins as a slow, cerebral film quickly turns into a big, loud chase sequence that screams the Wachowski’s style. Much like The Matrix, segments of Invasion feature jump cuts between the scripts clunky dialogue and these grandiose action pieces. The style feels so drastically different from how Hirschbiegel opened the film that it honestly felt like the editing decision was made not to further the story, but to reconcile with a test screening comment card that said the picture was too talky.
In many ways the original cut may have been quite verbose. Much of the plot is moved forward by expository, scientific mumbo-jumbo and a great deal of Hirschbiegel’s atmospheric exposition feels as if it were shortened to meet a specific running time. The morning after Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) has been attacked by one of the Body Snatchers, we find her having spent the rest of the night at the home of her romantic interest, Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig). We are treated to a very quick scene in which Ben offers Carol pancakes before the two head off for work. While the segment builds the relationship between these two characters, the moment is so abrupt one can only wonder if this scene, and others like it, were shortened to quickly move the picture towards the action pieces.
It’s a shame too, because there are several genuinely creepy moments early in the film. However by the time we reach the glossy, action-laden climax, courtesy of McTeigue, the tension is all but gone.
That isn’t to say that the third act isn’t exciting – in fact a great deal of the fun audiences will have with Invasion is found in its final moments where Kidman proves that she can run around in an action packed sci-fi flick just as well as her ex-husband. However the opening’s somber tone doesn’t match the entertaining, final moments in Invasion, a problem that could potentially take viewers out of the story. The all too neat and tidy conclusion is so abrupt that it reeks of studio input.
While Joel Silver cannot be blamed for all of the faults plaguing Invasion, it seems as if the producer’s foresight as to what makes up a successful story is beginning to wane. Invasion was a film that wanted desperately to say something, to get inside the audience’s subconscious, but studio notes turned the picture into a sloppy, mass marketed mess. Thanks to the invasion of studio input, the result is a patchwork film where production problems damper the final product.
-Joe Russo, MoviePulse