Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book and Movie – Stardust (2007)

I first read Neil Gaiman’s book Stardust some time in the early 2000s.  I felt it was an interesting and different kind of fairytale – one that adults could enjoy and that was probably not for the youngest of children.  In 2007 I saw the movie adaptation of the book.  As is often the case, I felt that the book was better than the movie, but that it was still a good film.  People who saw only the film liked it better than those who had read the book first.  The biggest difference between the two media is that the book is a darker story, while the movie is funnier and has a happier ending than the novel.

The book is beautifully illustrated with 175 color paintings by Charles Vess spread over 213 pages.  The text sometimes wraps around the images, and sometimes the image is an entire page opposite the text.  The book comes in a large format to better show off the illustrations.  When Gaiman wrote this in 1998 he was in the middle of transitioning from graphic novels to text novels.  This book represents a mixture of both formats.  Gaiman has shown himself to be quite good at telling modern day “faerie tales”.  His name is going to come up a couple more times before I am done with this Fairytales for Adults category.  By the way, you can read my review of his Hugo winning 2001 novel American Gods here.

Other than the ending, the movie departs from the book the most by expanding two roles.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays a witch and Robert Deniro plays an airship Captain.  The first was a lesser villain in the book.  The second has a major set of scenes in the middle part of the movie.  They are kind of bizarre, but they do add some humor to the movie.  I will say that I will never hear the can-can quite the same way again after watching this film.

In both book and movie there is a small English village of Wall, so named because it is bordered by an ancient stone wall.  This wall represents the border between the lands of men and the lands of faerie.  No one is allowed to cross either way.  David Kelly (Waking Ned Devine) has a funny cameo as a man guarding the wall.  In the book the two sides mingle once every nine years during a festival and a young man from our side (Prince Caspian’s Ben Barnes) and a young woman from the faerie side (Kate Magowan) meet and fall in love.  In the movie they still meet, but it is more clandestine.  A baby son is born, but he cannot stay with his mother, so she leaves him with his father.  She includes a note and a magic candle so that he may one day travel to her lands.

Eighteen years later we see the grown up son, named Tristan.  He is played by Charlie Cox (Casanova).  Tristan has a huge crush on the prettiest girl in the village (Victoria, played by Sienna Miller).  She’s a selfish girl and strings Tristan along to see what she can get out of him.  She really only has eyes for the big, beefy guy in town (Humphrey, played by Henry Cavill).  One night Tristan and Victoria see a falling star and Tristan tells her he will retrieve it for her.  She says that if he does then she will marry him.  The big problem is that it fell on the other side of the stone wall, where he is not allowed to go.  Using the candle his mother left him, he travels to where the star fell.  There’s one more problem: the star has taken the form of a young woman (Claire Danes).  Her name is Yvaine.  She’s not very happy at falling from the sky and being stuck in human form.  Tristan tries to convince her to come back to his land with him anyway.

Meanwhile, in this faerie land others also saw the star fall.  Three ancient witches plot to capture the star for themselves.  The heart of the star/young woman gives the gift of immortality, which they are in desperate need of because of their age.  They combine their magiks into one witch named Lamia (Pfeiffer) and she goes in search of the star. 

There is also a king (Peter O’Toole) with seven sons.  They are named for the order of their birth – Primus, Secundus, Tertius, Quartus, Quintus, Sextus, and Septimus.  Since only one will be able to inherit the throne, some of them have been killed by their brothers, but their ghosts are still hanging around.  We meet Secundus (Rupert Everett – My Best Friend’s Wedding) just before he is pushed out a window by Septimus (Mark Strong – Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes).  That just leaves Primus (Jason Flemyng – a fixture in every film by director Mathew Vaughn) and Septimus left to fight over who will be the next king.  Both set out on a quest to retrieve the star.  Primus goes out alone, while Septimus goes out with six other men. (See what the filmmakers did there?)

Needless to say, Tristan is going to have a hard time getting Yvaine back to his land.  As part of his adventures, he encounters an airship pirate Captain (Deniro), a criminal (Ricky Gervais), and a goat-turned-man (Harry Potter’s Mark Williams).  The more time that Tristan and Yvaine spend together, the more that they start to fall in love.  Tristan begins to realize that Victoria may not be the love of his life after all.  Also during the attempts to get Yvaine safely back to his land, he runs into a few different women.  Might one of them be his mother?

As I mentioned earlier, this film was directed by Matthew Vaughn.  He had earlier helmed Layer Cake (2004), and he followed Stardust with Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011).  Vaughn also co-adapted Stardust with Jane Goldman.  Neil Gaiman actually hand-picked Vaughn to make the film and pointed him to Goldman for help on the romantic part of the story.

If you are looking for a slightly different kind of a fairytale then I recommend you give Stardust a try.  It’s the kind of film that didn’t get a lot of attention when it hit theaters, but many people have discovered it in the years since then.  If you like the film, then I recommend the book, too, although some people who loved the movie have not liked the book’s darker ending.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. I saw this film a few years ago. I liked it. I thought it was pretty good. I did get a kick of seeing de Niro in women's clothing and dancing to the "Can-Can". Shame that was one of his more entertaining moments of the last 15 years of his career considering the shit films he's been doing.

  2. I really liked the movie and Michelle's role, it wasn't a very memorable film, but it was entertaining. I thought that the lead actor lacked charisma and Danes wasn't a good choice for her character, but the gorgeous cinematography and interesting plot made up for it.

  3. I wish Hollywood were brave enough to follow the darker version of the book. The movie was good, but it was too cheesy.

  4. @thevoid99 - yeah, that's a sight I don't think I ever expected to see.

    @Sati. - I agree on Cox lacking charisma, but I thought Danes did a decent job. Apparently Vaughn wanted Cox, but the studio wanted a bigger name, so that's why Vaughn went out and got Pfeiffer and Deniro.

    @msmariah - "I wish Hollywood were brave enough to follow the darker version of the book." I agree. If you go out to the IMDB message board for the film, though, you will find that the large majority of posts about the book consist of people saying they didn't like the ending to it, so Hollywood knew what they were doing when it came to selling tickets.