STUDIO: Paramount Home Video
MSRP: $18.99
• Deleted Scenes
• Bloopers and Outtakes
• "Making of Stardust" feature
• Previews

The Pitch

It’s a fun, lavish, woefully miscast fairy tale.

The Humans

Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfieffer, Robert De Niro, Peter O’Toole

Fun fact we learned while on the Jim Henson’s Workshop tour: Cookie Monster’s eyes are harvested from orphans.

The Nutshell

Tristan Thorn, a charming, kind-hearted, nebbish shop boy from the fictitious English village of Wall, doesn’t have much luck with the ladies. His love interest (Victoria, played by Sienna Miller) is a shallow, manipulative debutante who enjoys using Tristan as her errand boy. After they watch a star fall from the night sky, Tristan promises to bring it back for Victoria, and she agrees to marry him if he does; however, the star falls far to the east of Wall, and to get there, Tristan’s going to need to cross into dangerous territory (apparently, Wall has an actual "wall" that serves to shield the city from a strange and deadly forbidden zone of sorts).

It turns out that the wall really served to separate Tristan’s city with the magical realm of Stormhold, whose inhabitants include witches, unicorns, Ricky Gervais, and other magical beasts. It also turns out that Tristan’s falling star is actually a humanoid girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes) who possesses a magical amulet that will ultimately determine the fate of Stormhold. Tristan kidnaps her and begins the long journey back to Wall, but they face a ruthless gang of backstabbing, power-hungry princes and a malevolent witch (Pfieffer) who’s determined to steal Yvaine’s heart for her own nefarious purposes. Robert De Niro plays a transvestite sky pirate.

Look out, Lord of the Rings Trilogy!

The Lowdown

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first this time: Stardust is painfully miscast.

Stardust‘s biggest offender: Robert De Niro, as the flamboyant Captain Shakespeare. My God, I don’t even know what to think of him in this film. He plays a gruff-on-the-outside, transvestite-on-the-inside "sky pirate", and he feels completely out of place. He pretends to throw Stardust‘s protagonist out the window of the airship (to prove to his crew that he’s a hardass), but is seen moments later giving him a makeover. The ‘twist’ in this character might be fun in theory, but it crashes and burns with De Niro, since the man looks so completely uncomfortable in the role. We all love De Niro, but he’s strike one against Stardust.

Life as an unemployed Jedi ghost during the great depression was often difficult.

Strike two: Pfieffer. I wish they would have gone with someone less recognizable, since Pfieffer’s witch comes off as wooden and often silly. It sounded like she was reading her lines rather than speaking them. Maybe she’s out of practice, or maybe she just wasn’t that into the role. Either way, she’s strike two.

Strike 2.5: Ricky Gervais. Now, I love Gervais dearly, but his character in Stardust seems like an unfunny echo of his The Office shtick. He’s only in the film for a minute or two, so it’s not much of a role. If you saw him in the trailer, you’ve seen about half of his presence in the entire film. It’s a half strike, but only because his talents were wasted.

Strike 3: Claire Danes. Ok, she’s not all that bad as the "star lady", but fake English accents just really irritate me.

You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Please, I actually want you to talk to me. I’m very lonely.

Another gripe? In many ways, Stardust is just one fantasy trope after another, such as:

1) There’s a magical amulet. I’m worn out on magical amulets, rings, baubles, horns, and gems.

2) Tristan’s heritage is mysterious, but he could be a prince! The protagonist with a secret royal heritage also needs to go.

3) Tristan becomes a master swordsman after three lessons. I know it’s a fantasy, but the weakling-to-swashbuckler convention is still annoying.

There are more, but those are the biggest offenders.

However, with all of its glaring flaws, I still really enjoyed Stardust. It’s a wonderfully detailed fantasy world, complete with Final Fantasy-esque airships, wisecracking ghosts, and great magic effects. Stardust is also incredibly beautiful. The colors are vibrant, and Vaughan’s direction works very well with Gaiman’s material. There’s a lot of detail in every frame of the film, from miniature two-headed elephants in a bustling baazar to grisly, knife-wielding cherub frescoes in the witch lair, and it’s fun to try and soak it all in.

Stardust is also great storytelling. For all of its reliance on fantasy convention, Stardust is an engrossing confection, as it’s generally thrilling and very well paced. For a nearly 130-minute film, it feels very breezy and short, and the characters are well written and likeable (even if some of them are miscast). The dialogue isn’t heavy or overwrought, which is a nice deviation from typical fantasy fare.

Although she was a better dancer and was more fun at parties, the headless horsewoman never achieved the same level of fame as her brother.

Since I’ve done so much bitching about the cast, I’ll concede that there are some great performances here. Charlie Cox is great as Tristan. He’s believable both as a weakling and as a heartthrob. Peter O’Toole is always great, and the bit players do really good supporting work (especially the bumbling prince ghosts, who provide a bulk of the film’s comedic moments).

Overall, the film is packed with flaws, but it’s loads of fun to watch. If you didn’t catch it in theaters, you wouldn’t do wrong to give Stardust at least a rental. Try your best to ignore Captain Shakespeare.

The Package

Stardust has a very standard arsenal of extras. There are a handful of previews for what look like much lesser fantasy films (I’m sorry, but Spiderwick looks really awful), and a group of amusing bloopers and outtakes. There’s a half-dozen deleted scenes, most of which wouldn’t have added much to the film (except for an extended ending scene, although Stardust works much better as a streamlined vehicle, so I’m glad they cut it). There’s also a rather robust making-of documentary featuring interviews by Gaiman, Vaughan, and assorted producers. After watching it, I’m thankful that they used practical effects for many of the sets, such as the airship and the witch lair. Stardust‘s production is its biggest asset, and the making-of doc really highlights this fact.

The visuals are great. the colors are brilliant, and the images looked nearly flawless on my 60" SXRD (which is rare, since most standard definition DVDs look pretty bad on my television). The audio is presented in standard 3/2.1 Dolby Digital, and does its job well. Ilan Eshkeri (who also worked with Vaughan on Layer Cake) does a great job with the score.

The box art is serviceable at best. It’s no surprise that many folks are throwing their DVD boxes away in favor of more economical storage units like binders, since designing DVD box art is apparently a dying craft. I’ll never switch to binders, though. I’d rather die.

Gumby’s agent hoped his role in Stardust would lead to a career revival, but it was largely ignored by the media.

7.8 out of 10