Viking Night: Stardust
By Bruce Hall
February 22, 2012
That's not to say they're unlikeable or unmemorable. Oh, no. The feuding Princes are good for a handful of laughs. Michelle Pfeiffer is an icy, scene chewing witch who wants the fallen star for herself (hint: she's evil). Claire Danes is…having trouble with her accent, and the film version leaves the origin of her character a little murky…but I'll give her points for having pluck and sass. And Robert DeNiro appears as a…really, really…um…a pirate. Not that there's anything wrong with it.
Geek Law requires I remind you that this movie is based on a novel written by Geek God Neil Gaiman, and that the book is considerably different in tone. Basic Human Fairness requires I remind you Stardust was directed by, and the screenplay written by Matthew Vaughn, who found time to slip it in between Layer Cake and Kick-Ass. That explains why he found it so hard to tell a simple fairy tale. The film version is sanitized considerably in comparison to what Gaiman wrote, but not enough to avoid a PG-13 rating. The net result is a cute but somewhat empty film that's only suitable for viewing by people who are at the very least ten years too old to find it thematically satisfying.
This is the problem Fox executives THOUGHT they had with The Princess Bride, but that was more a lack of executive vision than anything else. That movie really did fall pretty clearly into a definable mold. You market it the same way you would a live action Disney film, because that's fundamentally much what it was. On the other hand, Stardust is a children's story brought to you by the producer of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - and it shows. The end product has a contextual edge that seems meant for teens, is inappropriate for younger children and nowhere near intellectually robust enough please adults.
Now, that's what I call a marketing problem. Don't get me wrong, Stardust really is fun to watch. But it's the sort of guilty, superficial thrill you get from running a red light or claiming too many dependents on your W-4. You realize immediately how unfulfilling it was, but it isn't really worth losing sleep over, either. Sadly, these are the kinds of things that separate a merely "adequate" story from a "great" one. Stardust isn't bad, not at all. But it should be better, and it's hard not to think about that while you're watching.
Despite my quibbles I do like this movie, and there's a better than average chance you will too. Maybe you already do. But far better films have managed to successfully bridge the entertainment gap between children and adults. Toy Story, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and some obscure flick about a boy wizard spring immediately to mind. I'm just not sure Stardust is in the same league. But if you think you know someone who would enjoy a film replete with handsome princes chasing falling stars, the heartwarming thrill of True Love, a confusing jumble of bedtime story clichés AND gnarled old crones playing with crocodile guts, then please, by all means share it with them.
But only AFTER they've gotten sick of watching The Princess Bride.