Reviewed by: Lori Souder
Magic and magicians in the Bible
TRUE LOVE—What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer
|Featuring||Charlie Cox (Tristan), Claire Danes (Yvaine), Robert De Niro (Captain Shakespeare), Sienna Miller (Victoria), Michelle Pfeiffer (Lamia), Jason Flemyng (Primus), Sarah Alexander, Ben Barnes, Mark Burns, Adam Buxton, Henry Cavill, Ricky Gervais, Mark Strong, See all »|
|Producer||Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Michael Dreyer, Chantal Feghali, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Marks, Peter Morton, Tarquin Pack, Matthew Vaughn, Brad Weston, David Womark|
“A star falls. The chase begins.”
In the provincial and claustrophobic little English village of Wall, there is an entrance to another world, the land of magic and sorcery and witches. The keeper of the entrance is called the Old Guard. He is the watcher at the hole in the cobblestone barrier wall protecting the village. The Old Guard is human, and very, VERY old, but quite wily as he has seen every possible trick imaginable. Apparently, it is quite a hobby for the young folk in Wall to try to foil him and distract his attention from his sacred duty. He must protect the villagers from the harm that could come if the protective stone fortification is breached.
This dark and very adult fairy tale movie opens with Dunstan (Nathaniel Parker) as a boy who amazingly foils the Old Guard and crosses over into the magical realm. He soon meets an attractive slave girl, and they enjoy a quick sexual tryst (off camera) in the gypsy wagon while her mistress is away. Dunstan returns home to the human side of the wall that night and never returns to the other side. Nine months later to the day, a basket from the magical side of the wall arrives at his door from the Old Guard and a baby boy is inside. This is the origin of Tristan.
Tristan (Casanova) is the somewhat likable main character of the movie, and he is played by Charlie Cox. You may not have seen him before. He is considered a young “up and coming” UK star. However, there are many well know actors in this film, from Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Robert De Niro, and Claire Danes to the venerable Peter O'Toole.
Tristan is a gawky youthful dreamer who makes a foolish promise that seems impossible to keep. He must penetrate the magical world behind the wall if he is ever to prove himself worthy of his heart’s desire, which happens to be, as in all fairy tales, a beautiful girl.
Victoria, played by Sienna Miller (Casanova) portrays the lovely young queen of hearts in the village. She has options and opportunities for a good marriage and a wonderful life with the rich and educated set in Wall. This leaves Tristan at the bottom of her list.
So, to distinguish himself from the rest, Tristan imprudently promises something that has boxed him into a corner. How can he bring Victoria a fallen star that descended on the forbidden side of the barrier wall? If only he could do that, it would bring him all that he desires and Victoria’s heart would be his. But it is so much more complicated than it seems.
Using a black magic candle from his mother that was found in his baby basket, our hero does get beyond the wall. What he finds there is not a star to bring home to prove his love, but a gentle and radiant girl that all are seeking for their own evil reasons. He must rescue her from her inevitable destiny and bring her back to his home. But first he needs to face down a few powerful residents of the kingdom. Can he fight them and win, or figure out the way to escape back to the safe side of the wall? Can he foil the scheming witch Lamia (Michelle Pheiffer) who has to save herself and her sisters from a fate worse than death—living all wrinkled up and weak, instead of hot and frisky. So they don’t have any anti-aging cream, vitamins, or plastic surgery in a whole kingdom full of magic? Even we have that on our side of the wall!
At one point in the movie, our main characters are plucked from the sky by a floating dirigible/pirate sky ship. It is filled with prerequisite nasty men who merrily rip off treasure from the clouds. Harvested and bottled lightning bolts can be traded for anything at Ferdy the Fence’s place. You don’t even want to know what the pirate captain (Robert De Niro) does in his spare time. It’s not what you think. Oh how it made me long for the wholesomeness of the charming Captain Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean”!
The movie is set in a time past, a never-never land, a once upon a time—a Victorian-flavored world with a medieval tone. The costumes are imaginative and lush, and the stone construction of the village adds to the fairytale feel of the movie. The special effects are well done, and the interiors dark and richly detailed.
What starts out as a great idea for a fantasy movie quickly becomes an seemingly endless parade of heartless patricides, murders, forecasting the future with runes made from bone, killing animals and foretelling the future with their entrails, torture, murder, and reanimation with a voodoo doll, discussion of ritualistic cannibalism, animals devouring living people, and so many adult themes that it would take more time for me to list them than to watch the movie. How can you enjoy watching a father gleefully murdering his son while his other sons laugh, or women greedily planning to rip a young woman’s heart out and eat it?
I thought this movie would be a visual feast, but there were too many scenes where I wanted to avert my eyes. Just for starters, every time another of the royal brothers murdered each other, a horribly disfigured, rotted, or axed-in-the-head ghost would appear in the line up of the “funny” guys who followed the still living brothers around. They made helpful comments that no one but us could hear, They popped up unexpectedly, watched the exciting parts of the story, including off-camera sexual activity (ok, only one of them wanted to see that). Then there was the demonic witch Lamia’s constant changes back and forth from vixen to age-spotted, Shar Pei-style, wrinkled witch, with her hair falling out, cleavage going up and down, and rotting teeth.
Slavery of young women is a big theme in the movie. Our hero, Tristan, enslaves the Yvaine (Claire Danes) with a magical metal rope before she even has a chance to crawl out of the crater created by her fall. Later, he chains the innocent and vulnerable girl to a huge tree and leaves her alone at night with no food, water, or protection! Ditchwater Sal, a witch, has a slave girl that she treats badly, and there is mention of the illegitimate child (Tristan) that the she was forced to give away. The slave girl is bound by an invisible force and cannot be freed until her owner is dead. The girl has no name, and of course, is very beautiful. Another reoccurring theme is the older woman preying on a younger one for her youth, beauty, and life energy. We see this theme as the wicked witch Lamia tries to literally suck the life from the “star” in the film, Yvaine.
I find the theme of the older women abusing, torturing, and stealing life from the younger women a deeply disturbing one. There is no representation of mature female nurturing or kindness in the movie; the only good characters are purposeless girls that are young and beautiful. The older women are cruel, scheming, and deceiving, clutching at life though abusing and/or murdering young women. The young women in the movie have no direction in life and are either in slavery (Una), bondage (Yvaine), or sell themselves off to the highest bidder (Victoria).
This movie is based on the novel of the same title by Neil Gaiman. He has many fantasy books that blend real life with pagan gods, magic, fairy tales, and fantasy. The director, producer, and screenplay writer of this film, Matthew Vaughn, previously directed only one other feature movie to date, the R-rated thriller “Layer Cake.” Despite its innocent sounding title, it earned its R-rating for strong brutal violence, sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and drug use.
In my opinion, “Stardust” is not suitable for children, due to the disturbing scariness and brutality of some scenes. It might confuse or upset some younger viewers to see a beautiful actress (Michelle Pfeiffer) being so wicked and physically rotting. As there are no good, mature females in this film, the film distorts women’s aging and maturing into an evil thing.
I really was looking forward to seeing “Stardust,” but I did not enjoy it at all. There were so many in-your-face adult themes in the movie, yet it garnered a PG-13 rating by not showing blood spurting out of all the stab and sword wounds. Apparently the new term for repeated murders without showing blood is “fantasy violence.” But everyone that is murdered in the film is gone for good, no one gets up and has more “lives,” as in a video game. I cannot recommend this film for any reason, and certainly not for children or teens. I think that it reduces females to possessions (young) or evil witches (mature). But somehow, even though Yvaine is called a “stupid cow” by Tristan and is enslaved by him as a present for another girl, she somehow falls in love with him, and they live happily ever after. Talk about a Hollywood ending.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
Robert De Niro is… great. Such a small word doesn’t do his performance any justice. Watching his crazy (and I mean crazy) antics and his band of airborne pirates alone give “Stardust” high replay value. Mucho recommend this movie if for nothing else than seeing these guys. And before I forget, the dead princes are hilarious! They remind me so much of the heckling Marley brothers from “The Muppet Christmas Carol.”
The story is very engaging. There is the inherit element of peril akin to any good fantasy story. A wayfaring hero must safely reach a destination with something or someone, all while being pursued by several forces in a race against the clock. Good formula. It’s tried. It’s tested. It works. It captivates the audience and holds their attention until the end. Works for me!
The battle of good versus evil… gallantry… self-sacrifice (not a heavy theme in this story, but still present)… always gems in any tale of romance and adventure, and “Stardust” is wise to include these themes. Speaking of the latter, I’ll make a sidestep. I loved “The Notebook.” Got a soft spot for certain romance stories. This is a good one, full of charm and gentle endearment. The only downside to it is the implied sex scenes. Doh! Yeah… one is a catalyst for the plot, the other… completely unnecessary. It ruins some of that sweet romance I was talking about.
Other than that and a few cheesy CGI effects (okay, a lot of kinky CGI), “Stardust” doesn’t boast anything subject to criticism, not mine anyways. This is a good, heartwarming tale that seems pretty original to me. I give it three thumbs up.
My Ratings: Average / 4