From the Vault: ‘Stardust’ perfectly mingles fantasy, comedy and action
“Stardust” is a perfect movie. It’s perfect because it’s beautiful and sentimental and might be made of pure sunshine. Of course, it’s well edited and the characters are well-acted and it looks great and all of that technical stuff. But “Stardust” is perfect mostly because it’s just 127 minutes of pure joy.
Let’s be clear: this assessment of “Stardust” is perhaps the least objective possible opinion on the movie you’re likely to ever find. “Stardust” and I have a history. I saw it for the first time at the age of seven, having just finished devouring the “Harry Potter” and “Narnia” series and I was desperate for more fantasy and otherworldly adventures. I was transfixed instantly, and have rewatched the movie once a year since.
Based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman, “Stardust” tells the tale of Tristan Thorn in his quest for true love. Tristan, played by Charlie Cox (“Daredevil”), is a bumbling and sweet shop boy living in an English village called Wall, named for the long wall on its border that no one is allowed to cross. Tristan is in love with Victoria (Sienna Miller, “American Sniper”), and when he sees a shooting star one night, he promises to cross the wall and bring Victoria back the star to prove his devotion to her. However, crossing the wall isn’t as simple as it seems. The wall is a bridge to another world, a kingdom called Stormhold, where the seven sons of the dying king are on a hunt for a ruby necklace that will allow them to ascend the throne. Tristan does indeed find the shooting star, only to find that it’s no lump of rock at all, but instead takes the form of a young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes, “Homeland”). Yvaine is in grave danger, because a coven of witches are chasing after her to cut out her heart and eat it to restore their youth and beauty. If it seems complicated, don’t worry, that’s only about half the story. I haven’t even gotten to the pirates in feather boas or the Greek chorus of ghost princes.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a movie that better blends comedy, action and romance in a way that serves all three sentiments equally well. For one thing, the comedy is genuinely funny and the action is truly exciting. Action comedies so often do away with real emotion because it’s much easier to turn them into cynical parody. Take “The Princess Bride” as an example. Now, I love “The Princess Bride,” and don’t know anyone of sound mind and body who doesn’t, but nobody watches “The Princess Bride” for its gentle sentimentality and precisely expressed emotions. It’s just not that kind of movie. “Stardust,” on the other hand, somehow manages to convey real romance and emotional stakes while still being honestly funny.
But that’s not what hooked me on this movie as a little kid — little kids don’t care about balanced tones or any nonsense like that. No, what got me was the intangible, yet ever present magical quality to “Stardust” that is reinforced by every aspect of the film: the costumes, the acting, even the name. “Stardust” makes anything seem possible — it makes you feel like a little kid again. It’s all imagination and hope, no wise remarks or dark cynicism.
“Stardust” was directed by Matthew Vaughn, the director of “Kick-Ass” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Both of these films are pitch-black comedies that rely heavily on brutal violence and the crudest of humor to drive their stories. So “Stardust” is a bit of an anomaly in Vaughn’s filmography, what with its profanity-free script and its “127 minutes of pure joy” thing it has got going on. Knowing that it’s made by Matthew Vaughn, it would be easy for a cynic to write “Stardust” off as a parody that just didn’t do its job very well.
But “Stardust” has little time for cynicism. And besides, the cynic’s view is probably the easiest and least interesting way of thinking about this story. Turning your nose down is easy. Thinking earnestly and hopefully is harder — so much harder, in fact, that it almost never happens once we reach a certain age. That’s why we need movies like “Stardust” to remind us every once in a while that it doesn’t have to be this way — that under the world’s dark, sardonic, derisive pessimism lies an awful, earnest belief that things could be good. That maybe, just maybe, we could even believe in magic.