Stardust is based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, which is based on his illustrated story, which is loosely based on the fantasy works of Lord Dunsany, though it has more kinship with the great William Goldman satire, The Princess Bride. And if that’s not confusing enough, try the opening of the film.
Bouncing from Victorian science to fantasy geography, Stardust tells the tale of a young man who crosses a mythical wall from a little village in England into an enchanted land-witches, unicorns, and flying pirates (you know the drill). But wait: When that story ends abruptly, the audience learns the real yarn that concerns the adventurer’s son, a hopeless dreamer. By the time the action gets banging along, the audience feels like it has attended three films, two of which are hanging unresolved.
The good news is the film finally resolves everything and patience rewards early plot skittishness. The film makes good use of its big stars, including Sienna Miller, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, and an unfortunately foolish Robert De Niro playing a flamboyantly gay pirate, which may be a redundancy.
It’s still not really a coherent film. Blame this on the recent emergence of graphic novelists as film fodder, even though it’s long been an article of faith that comic books and movies have a natural relationship. Unlike Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), who refuses to involve himself in the movies made from his books, Gaiman has no such reluctance. He has had several screenplays filmed, like the dodgy MirrorMask and the upcoming Beowulf. Unfortunately, Gaiman is no Moore, and his contemporary fairy stories have all the fabulousness of comic books, but lack Moore’s thematic structural obsession. Though a fun picture, Stardust isn’t much of a movie. It’s a floating storyboard, a lot of dazzling moments desperately in need of some gravity; or failing that, a thrilling point for light.