Review: Stardust

Published 7 years ago by , Updated February 9th, 2012 at 9:34 pm,

By Vic Holtreman

Short version: The “Pirates” crowd will probably love Stardust, but if you’re expecting something like the just about perfect The Princess Bride you’ll be disappointed.

stardust movie Review: StardustStardust tries to be a newer version of The Princess Bride, and while exceeding that film by far in special effects, it lacks almost any of it’s charm or humor. That’s really too bad because both the very beginning and the very end of the movie are pretty good. Unfortunately what’s in between – while pretty to look at, left me feeling quite empty. I understand that this story is based on both graphic and text-only novels by Neil Gaiman. I’ve never read either and for all I know they may be excellent but any excellence was left between the pages of those books.


At the start of the film we learn of a mystical land outside the borders of a town called Wall in England. For hundreds of years a gap in this wall has been guarded, allowing no one to pass through to this unknown land. Now right off the bat I was scratching my head… the wall is only about six feet high and there’s an old man whose spent his life guarding a six foot wide gap in the wall. If the wall has been around for hundreds of years and it’s that important to not go beyond it, why isn’t it taller? And a gap in the wall for all that time? Couldn’t someone have fixed it?

Anyway, we meet a young man who has the spark in his eyes of a fellow who wants to seek adventure. He makes it past the guard and discovers a town a bit beyond the wall full of wondrous things. There he meets a young woman who it turns out is a princess enslaved by a witch who can only attain freedom once the witch dies. They have a brief tryst and 9 months later a baby shows up at his door.

The film then jumps to 18 years later and we meet the young man’s son Tristan (Charlie Cox). Tristan is infatuated with who we can only assume to be the prettiest girl in the village of Wall, and he is desperate to win her affection. Unfortunately her boyfriend is a guy who is a pompous and well-off fellow who can handle a sword, while Tristan works in the local shop and doesn’t have much skill or style. She’s really beyond his reach, as much by her station as by her own choice, and there lies the first problem with this movie: Our first reaction to the eventual hero of the story is that he’s a schmuck.

Tristan is beside himself trying to come up with ways to win her heart, and finally promises to bring her back the remains of a shooting star they see one night. The catch is that he has to bring it back within one week, since her beau is going to propose to her then. Instead of telling her to pound sand, off he goes, eventually finding that the star come to earth is the beautiful Yvaine (Claire Danes). Yvaine is in danger from not only the three most powerful witches in the land (including the still gorgeous at 49 Michelle Pfieffer) but the princes of the kingdom who must retrieve a jewel from her in order to become king.

At first Tristan and Yvaine do not hit it off at all, but it’s a foregone conclusion that they will fall in love by the end of the story. Their journey to Wall is quite an adventure, complete with encounters with Lamia, the witch who wants to cut out Yvaine’s heart to regain her and her sisters’ youth, being chased by the princes and a trip on a flying pirate ship run by Captain Shakespeare (no I’m not making that up). The captain of the ship is played by Robert Deniro, and if you ever plan on seeing any of his older films where he plays his typical tough guy self, you’d better rent those before you see him in Stardust.

Sure, the special effects are dazzling but there were instances where it was so obviously CGI that I was really surprised. When one of the peasants is turned from a man into a woman and the camera focused on his chest turning into breasts, I could swear I’d seen better transition effects in TV commercials. There was a lot of eye candy as far as cool stuff on the screen, but once again, a lot of it seemed to look like it was out of a video game trailer.

Then we have the two lead characters, Tristan and Yvaine – for most of the film they were completely bland. No spark, no engaging personality. I found myself wishing that the movie had continued with the young man who played Tristan’s father at a young age (Ben Barnes) and the princess (Kate Magowan) instead of these two. Finally, towards the very end of the film the character of Charlie Cox as Tristan gets interesting and a bit of charisma, but it took far too long. And as for Claire Danes? She just didn’t do anything for me as an ethereal character fallen from the sky. Sure, she’s pretty and her lines were written to give her more depth than the girl Tristan was infatuated with, but for the most part she didn’t come across much better.

It wasn’t awful, but for most of it I didn’t care how it would end. Having said that, the film does redeem itself somewhat towards the last 15 minutes or so, but it’s certainly not great all the way through.

Go buy yourself a copy of The Princess Bride instead. You’ll thank me in the end.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5
(Good)

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TAGS: 3 star movies, stardust

16 Comments

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  1. I’m surprised you gave it 3 stars outta 5 instead of 2 or 2.5.

    heath

  2. Vic,

    I miss the podcasts buddy. :(

  3. Heath, it wasn’t awful, I just felt indifferent, mostly. But I did like the beginning and end, plus I’m getting to the point where I look at my past reviews and have to decide where new movies fit in ratings-wise compared to those.

    Vic

  4. Thanks, Chip. I’ll see about getting one out today. I should have done one last week, but really I don’t find them easy to do.

    Vic

  5. I’m surprised that you gave this film the low score that you did, and compared it to a film that it doesn’t deserve being compared to. There’s no more reason to compare this film to The Princess Bride than to The Godfather. The way I see it, you simply wanted to go and see The Princess Bride, and when it failed to be that film, you were disappointed. That’s your fault, not the film’s.

    The fact is that this film was based on novels by Neil Gaiman, whom also didn’t want it to be The Princess Bride. Quite frankly, I’m appalled every time critics choose to compare one movie with another because it becomes obvious they wish they’d simply watched the other and never even went to see the picture they are supposed to be critiquing.

    The next time you want a film to be something it was never intended to be, just stay at home and drop in the film you wanted to see. At least this way we’ll never have to hear you complain that a film wasn’t like a completely different film that had zero connections to the one you wanted it to be. Your critique completely left out Denero and his antics because you were probably upset that he wasn’t more like Andre the Giant!

    When this film comes out, I’ll own it. Conveniently enough, I also own The Princess Bride. At least I’ll never confuse the two.

  6. Brian,

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even you. :-)

    I didn’t go in looking to see The Princess Bride, I really didn’t know much about the film beyond the trailer I saw at Comic-Con. Even there, I have to say, what I saw seemed a bit “off.” My comparison is based upon the fairy tale nature of the story combined with the style and attempts at humor in the film.

    Even taking out any reference to TPB, the film still felt flat and like it missed the mark to me. I just mentioned the other film as a point of reference.

    I stand by my review.

    Vic

  7. Vic,

    Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and you gave yours in a fashion I felt was based upon the story line of The Princess Bride. You stated that you based your review upon “the fairy tale nature of the story combined with the style and attempts at humor in the film”. How many films exist that meet that requirement? Thousands? Tens of thousands? When you saw the film in the theater, did you notice all of the previews were of films along the same fantasy genre? Did you compare those to The Princess Bride?

    I don’t make a dime for my opinions one way or another so there’s nothing for me to gain by defending this film against comparisons to others. You mentioned it being “a bit off”, and for someone expecting the humor of The Princess Bride, I can clearly understand that.

    I was in a theater with I’d guess at least one hundred other people seeing this film. There were several laughs from the crowd throughout the film and I think everyone left happy. It had an amazing cast (whoever that guy was playing the goat was hilarious) great visual effects, and a good story line (more complex than The Princess Bride).

    I give this film four stars.

  8. Brian,

    I think Vic ended up comparing Princess Bride, because since the book came out, people were comparing it to that seminal William Goldman novel (his favorite he’s written, from what I can gather) and the excellent Rob Reiner-directed film version.

    In all the press I saw, The Princess Bride kept popping up; Director Vaughn’s wife read it and claimed it was great and he should direct it. And, of course, she mentioned T.P.B. I think even if you never knew of that, you’d end up thinking, huh, in the vein of T.P.B.

    Besides, the movie tanked, unfortunately, over the weekend. It made half what the studio hoped it would make. Many analysts and pundits said it was difficult to market, etc. T.P.B. tanked in theatres and found its audience on home video. Perhaps the same will happen; I eagerly await the DVD release.

    heath

  9. Here’s analysis by major Hollywood news writer and opinion maker, Nikki Finke:

    http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/rush-hour-threequel-wont-top-sequel-bourne-still-delivering-big-ultimatum/

    heath

  10. Sigh…

    Brian, when I saw the initial trailer I had NO preconceived notions about the movie, Princess Bride or otherwise, and I stated that above. Seeing the trailer for the first time at the Con, knowing NOTHING about it WHATSOEVER left me feeling like there was something missing.

    I didn’t walk into the theater with any expectations and the Princess Bride comparison didn’t occur to me until I was sitting in the theater watching the film, got it? The MOVIE made me think of TPB as I watched it, I didn’t walk into the theater thinking about TPB.

    I’m not the only one who didn’t think the movie was awesome:

    “Vaughn, who made the enjoyably tricky gangster movie Layer Cake, gets points for ambition, but this antic fantasy eludes his grasp.” – David Ansen, Newsweek

    “There are lots of good things in the movie, but they play more like vaudeville acts than part of a coherent plot. It’s a film you enjoy in pieces, but the jigsaw never gets solved.” – Roger Ebert, Ebert & Roeper

    “Stardust staggers with end-of-summer excess, seldom winning more than a weary gasp.” – David Elliot, San Diego Union Tribune

    “There are parts of this film that actually try to fly. The vast majority though is grounded in a level of labored levity that never provides the wings – or the wherewithal – to get airborne.” Bill Gibron, Popmatters

    “The movie isn’t remotely as sardonic or irreverent as it so clearly wants to be.” Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

    Oh, and looky here:

    “An overstuffed, overlong epic with a tongue-in-cheek approach that repeatedly begs unfavorable comparisons with The Princess Bride.” – Lou Lumenick, New York Post

    As I’ve stated in other posts here on Screen Rant, you are free to go to blogger.com and start up your own movie review site if you believe so passionately in the merits of this movie.

    Best regards,

    Vic

  11. Vic,

    Let’s not get testy. I’ll not start up my own blog about reviews when there are so many out there. Most of the reviews above sound arrogant to put it politely. These same people reviewing the films probably loathed 90% of the films most people love. Heath mentioned above that TPB tanked in theaters as well, and most people you run into will say they loved the film (I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve seen it – and I own it), and yet it did less than expected in theaters.

    The problem I find with other critics (you haven’t done this yet that I’m aware of) is that they’ve sold out. They give horrible reviews to great films and state that their favorite films are Casablanca and Gone With The Wind.

    We’ll agree to disagree on this film. I think it was a great film, wasn’t hollow at all, and the only thing I think they could have done to improve it a bit more is let the camera drop a bit when Michelle Pfieffer dropped her robe.

  12. Brian,

    First, I appreciate having you comment here even if we disagree. The reason I got “testy” (and this happens even when my wife does this) is that you repeatedly insisted that I came into the movie determined to compare it to The Princess Bride, which was not the case. It drives me nuts when people presume to know what I’m thinking, get it wrong and insist that they know what was going on in my head better than I do… and it’s MY head! :-)

    Regarding review styles, although I’m sure I’m more critical than the average moviegoer, I do not write reviews from an “ivory tower” perspective. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I review movies within the context of their genre and I realize that you need to use different criteria when comparing “Casablanca” to “Aliens”, two movies that are completely and utterly different from each other but to which I would give both 5/5.

    And I agree that Michelle Pfieffer looked incredible especially considering her age. :-)

    Vic

  13. I didn’t really think about The Princess Bride through this film…but I agree that you, Vic, and I have pretty much the same opinion on the film. It was odd how my wife (not into fantasy at all) seemed to love it, and I was disappointed. I guess I expected a lot more from something based on a Gaiman work. She went in with low expectations. I’m really surprised at how many people loved it so much.

  14. Well it certainly was far from terrible, it just missed the mark IMHO.

    Vic

  15. Oh god, it wasn’t like The Princess Bride.
    Poppycock!

    Stardust was a great movie on its own, without all the comparisions to The Princess Bride. It made me laugh out really hard in most places, and did what it was supposed to do: entertain me. Whatever it did or did not look like The Princess Bride meant jackt to me, and I suppose it meant jack to most eeverybody else as well-your sourpuss review didn’t take that away from me or them.

    Too bad it didn’t make any money, but hey, neither did The Princess Bride, and look how that turned out eventually. I know that I’ll be getting this one on home video.

  16. Sorry Neville, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    Even removing comparisons to “The Princess Bride”, on it’s own I thought “Stardust” was just ok despite it’s great production values.

    Vic

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