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Matthew Vaughn's Fantasy Epic, STARDUST, screens and is called 'A close cousin to A PRINCESS BRIDE!'

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a pair of test screening reviews of Matthew Vaughn (LAYER CAKE)'s adaptation of Neil Gaiman (Sandman)'s fantasy novel, STARDUST. I'm a pretty big fan of Gaiman's book and loved LAYER CAKE big time, so naturally this one is high on my "want to see now" list. We've got two reviews so far, with the promise of a few more. It'll be good to see a consensus. Both of the reviews we have so far are positive, the second shorter, but illustrating some slow parts a bit more. Keep in mind these guys saw an early cut of a giant Fantasy Epic and that this is far from being the version we'll see in theaters next July. Also be warned of story spoilers. If you want to go in 100% fresh, you might want to click back now knowing that 2 people who saw an early cut both loved it. For the rest, here they are! Enjoy!

Hey Harry, Mister Fizzy here with a review from the first test screening of Neil Gaiman and Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust. Earlier in the week, I was alerted that Stardust, a movie that I’ve been eagerly awaiting, would be screening in Pasadena this Thursday. So I showed up last night with fingers crossed, a couple Sandman graphic novels in my pack (on the off-chance that Neil himself might be there; he turned out not to be, but you never know), and no pass. Thankfully, I fell into the age group they were testing, and was admitted, anyway; a number of folks were not. Now, before I say anything more, I need to point out that I am a big Neil Gaiman fan. Not a freakish fan, but I do follow his work with enthusiasm. He’s a true jack-of-all-trades, and his projects always seem to have that little extra something that distinguishes them and makes them special. I’ve read a lot of his stuff, and feel that most is brilliant, and some even falls into the realm of masterpiece (Sandman, natch, but also, for my money, American Gods is the biggest fantasy masterpiece to be penned in some time). So, I know and adore Gaiman’s work. Right. Having said that, for this film, I was familiar with the source material and thought it was as least as adaptable as, say, The Princess Bride. So, naturally I was excited. A gentleman from the research company started out by telling us that this is their “rough cut” and that the effects were unfinished. “By the time of its release, the movie should be technically perfect.” Right, thank you. Start the film. For those of you unfamiliar with Stardust, it’s a tongue-in-cheek fantasy in the vein of Princess Bride or much of Peter Beagle’s work. It starts in the town of Wall, which is tucked in a corner of the English countryside. Wall’s most distinguishing feature is a long (surprise, surprise) wall running along the length of the town. Supposedly, this wall separates our world from the world of Faerie, a land where magic rules. There’s only one gap in this wall, and it’s guarded day and night to keep anyone from passing through. But pass through is exactly what Dunstan Thorn (Nathaniel Parker) does one day, traveling to a Faerie marketplace, and catching the eye of a comely shop assistant who is bound by an unbreakable chain to serve Ditchwater Sal, a merchant/bargain-basement witch. She trades him an invaluable magical charm for a kiss, one thing leads to another, and 9 months later, a basket is left at the gap in the wall and Dunstan has another mouth to feed. This mouth belongs to Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), the hero of our tale. Fast-forward about 20 years, and Tristan is an awkward shop-boy vying for the affections of the beautiful, but vain Victoria (played coquettishly by Sienna Miller). His rival for her affections is the foppish cad, Humphrey (Henry Cavill), who delights in tormenting poor Tristan. Our starry-eyed hero, though, is determined and when, mid-woo, Victoria tells him that she is to marry Humphrey, who has already set out to buy her a ring (“all the way from Ipswich!”), he proclaims that he would travel much further than Ipswich and bring her any treasure her heart desires, in order to prove his love. Just then, a star falls beyond the realm of Wall, and they reach a bargain: if Tristan can bring it back to her in 7 days, she will wed him instead of Humphrey. There are others who would seek the star, however. First there are the sons of the dying King of Stormhold (played briefly, but memorably by Peter O’Toole). See, the star didn’t just fall, it was knocked from the heavens by a royal ruby that, when held by the last surviving male heir of Stormhold, will signify his succession to the throne. The 4 surviving brothers (soon to be fewer) will simultaneously pursue the ruby, and do their best to be the last one standing when it’s found. Also, there is the witch Lamia (played by an over-the-top Michelle Pfeiffer) and her two sisters, who plan to eat the heart of the star to gain prolonged life and youth. Yes, I said the heart of the star. See, since this star dropped in a land of magic, it took the form of a young woman instead of a lump of metallic rock. Her name is Yvaine (played perfectly by the beautiful, sharp-tongued, blond-tressed Claire Danes), and she would like nothing better than to go home. Through some good fortune, Tristan is the first to find Yvaine, but the others aren’t far behind, and there are many dangers along the way. It makes sense that the producer of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, and director of Layer Cake would be the right man to helm this film. Sure, the subject matters couldn’t be any different, but just take a look at that synopsis; that’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, right? But keep spinning they do, and in a very satisfying way, just like in those aforementioned British caper movies. I, for one, couldn’t be happier that Matthew Vaughn left the sure-to-misfire X3 for this project. He brings a sense of confidence to the directing that this film needed in order to work. He’s also not afraid to let his movie deviate from the source material when it helps the story. There’s not much I can negatively say about this film. They called it a “rough cut,” but other than the unfinished effects, this film looked ready for theatres. There were one or two moments where I think they needed to linger just a moment more, particulary in the opening market scene with Dunstan, where things moved so fast I barely felt we got a sense of setting. I could have also done with seeing how Tristan travels when he first lights the Babylon candle. Also, when the tree speaks to him (couldn’t tell if it was voiced by Tori Amos or not, but it should be), it was unclear that it was, in fact, the tree talking. Those were the major comments that I can remember making on my questionnaire. As you can see, no major changes are needed from where I stand. Now, I’m not the purist type. I feel that the film is the film and the book is the book, and when you try to make one the other you end up with a mess. Evidence of this exists in Harry Potter 1, in which they seemed so concerned with cramming the entire book in, they left out a sense of wonder and discovery. The converse comes into play with Lord of the Rings, in which the changes are what made the books filmable, and ultimately incredible. So, I welcome the changes they made here, and there are a number. First, I like that the time setting has been left ambiguous (late 19th, early 20th century?); in the book, it was present day (there was mention of people coming to Wall in airplanes). It adds to the magic and fantasy of the story, I think. I also like the exclusion of any contact between the residents of Wall and Faerie. It makes the world beyond Wall that much more mysterious, which I like. I like that Tristan’s only family now is Dunstan, since that better motivates him to want to find his mother, and gives us a little more time to flesh the father-son relationship. I liked the addition of Ricky Gervais as Ferdy the Fence, and loved the addition of David Kelly as the sole guard of the wall. Also, the revision to Robert De Niro’s Pirate Captain Shakespeare was inspired. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that he’d be right at home with that pirate guy on The Wiggles, Captain Feathersword. Bernard, the peasant boy who is shanghaied by Lamia, is also given more to do than he was in the book, and Victoria’s suitor, Humphrey is more fleshed-out as well. The biggest change is the ending. While the book wraps up the threads of characters mostly separately, the film allows things to build to a head, Lock Stock style, and the inevitable showdown is one of the coolest I’ve seen in a long time. It’s the sort of payoff that this story needed (whereas the book ended satisfying, but ultimately somewhat anticlimactically). We really get a chance to see the witch sisters use their magic, and there is a sword fight between Septimus and Tristan that has to be seen to be believed. There was a great balance of humor and action and it all came across very organically. There was none of the wink-wink or referential humor of Ella Enchanted or the Shrek films here. Basically, this feels like a close cousin to Princess Bride, only with a decent budget. That same tongue-in-cheek spirit is at play here, but it never takes away from the suspense. My favorite parts include all the bits involving the ghosts of the deceased princes of Stormhold, Bernard’s reaction to his transformation into womanhood, The King of Stormhold’s reaction to his son’s murder, the negotiation between Shakespeare and Ferdy, the wall guard’s confrontation with Tristan when he first tries to cross, and all the scenes with Captain Shakespeare and his crew. The casting was top-notch, and there are no real “look, there’s so-and-so” moments. Sure, De Niro, Danes, Gervais, and Pfeiffer are all big names, but they’re so pitch-perfectly cast that they own their characters. The chemistry is everywhere it should be, between Yvaine and Tristan, between Tristan and Dunstan, between Lamia and her sisters, and between Septimus and his brothers. This movie reignited my crush for Claire Danes, who was everything a star should be: sharp and radiant. The big surprise was Charlie Cox, whom I’m not familiar with. He carried this film splendidly, and his transformation from kid to hero was gradual and very believable. He was likeable, and easy to root for. Mark Strong carried a strength and menace as Septimus, and Michelle Pfeiffer pulled off the wicked and sinister Lamia. But it wasn’t just the principals, but everyone, who made this movie work, and at no point did I think, “So-and-so would’ve been much better for that part.” The settings were breathtaking. Taking a cue from Peter Jackson, Vaughn did much location shooting (where, I don’t know. Engand, I’d imagine), and so this world of fantasy has a very real and tangible feel to it, which in turn strengthens the story, making suspension of disbelief easier, as real settings did with Lord of the Rings. Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough. It’s safe to say that I loved the film and hope that they don’t touch the cut I saw, just polish it a little. The tone is perfect Gaiman, and the movie will appeal to kids and their parents without either feeling out of their realm. There’s nothing dumbed-down about this film, despite its family-friendliness. This is my favorite fantasy offering since Lord of the Rings and I’ll be standing in line the day it comes to theatres. It makes me salivate to see Gaiman’s Coraline, as well as his telling of Beowulf hit screens. Welcome, kids, to the Year of Gaiman.

"A close cousin to Princess Bride," is the kind of thing I like to hear. Here's the second review, which seemed to dig it a lot, but has a few troubled spots. Enjoy!

Hey Harry! You're probably going to get a ton of these reviews, but here's one more. Saw a rough cut of STARDUST last night in Pasadena. In one word: charming. Call it a sword & sorcery take on Star Wars, wherein the boy with the magical pedigree grows into the man who embraces his destiny. Basic story involves Tristan, played by relative newcomer Charlie Cox, as a peasant kid from the nondescript Olde English Village of Wall who crosses into the forbidden faerie land of Stormhold to bring back a fallen star to prove himself to the girl he loves, played with effortless haughtiness by Sienna Miller. Based on Neil Gaiman's Sandmanesque fairy tale and directed by 'Layer Cake's' Matthew Vaughn, the standouts are Claire Danes, Cox and old school veteran Robert DeNiro who binges and purges his less talented co-stars by playing gleefully against type as a Baron Munchausen-like airship captain hiding a fiery secret. Danes, cast as the anthropomorphic fallen star Yvainne, demonstrates her usual alchemy, literally dropping into the film plain and awkward only to metasticize into a sensuous, glowing creature by the film's final reel. How she does this has always been a mystery to me. At the midpoint, Cox's Tristan also undergoes a pleasant alchemy, literally growing his hair to Samson-like length and morphing into the stock sword & sorcery heartthrob. Tristan's mother happens to be a magical fairy from Stormwall and his father a human peasant, allowing for amusing dramatic revelations that move the story forward. Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch Lamia chews scenery throughout most of the film, though the early scenes in which she exposits on the plot with her two equally witchy sisters goes on for far too long and should be cut. Other sequences that bring the plot to a snail mail pace involve the seven bickering heirs to the throne of Stormhold, and each of their subsequent deaths, played for laughs. In a plot twist right out of 'An American Werewolf in London,' their spirits remain in ghoulish form unable to move on until Stormhold's rightful heir is crowned king in a dark, thrilling yet humorous finale. The temp music was supplied by the soundtracks to Meet Joe Black, Lord of the Rings and a snippet of Edward Scissorhands. The sfx were incomplete to the point where many shots were simply not visible, and the audience had to imagine what an aerial view of the kingdom might look like from a flying galleon ship straight out of Baron Munchausen. When the sfx are complete and the trans fat is trimmed away, this film could resemble a wittier 'Chronicles of Narnia' with Gaiman's signature wry edge. If you use this, call me Jordan McDare.

Thanks for the heads up, guys. Either I or one of my editor friends will post up the other reviews as they come in! Sounds like a winner so far!!!

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