Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stardust (Matthew Vaughn)

Tristan and Yvaine.

"My dear, I will give you everything, even the stars, just for the sake of our love". From that romantically far-fetched a line that is oh so abstract a thought and all too hyperbolic a statement begins the startlingly original adventure of "Stardust", a film adaptation of the Neil Gaiman graphic novel of the same name that vibrantly tells of magical realms and transcendent love that may initially look as if we've seen it all before, but with a comedic execution that makes it seem fresher and genuinely a notch more enjoyable than any films of the fantasy genre had ever been.

It's like Tim Burton's fantastically twisted vision merged with bits of Monty Python and some conventional fairy tale staples. As the film starts, with that deep-voiced narration by Ian Mckellen, "Stardust" created a distinct universe of myths and magic with eager flamboyance and familiarity, visually decreasing the sense of otherworldly surprise (that is clearly present in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" via the wardrobe and in "Alice in Wonderland" via the rabbit hole) and minimizing the line that separates the human world from those of flying vessels and ambitious witches.

But this time, there's no spells to cast or tornadoes to be felt just to enter the land of whatever, but merely a wall to cross secured by a not so quick-witted a guard. Now there's Stormhold for you.

Matthew Vaughn, who previously directed the great "Layer Cake", captured the essence of the said parallel universe without any foreboding of age-long reign of darkness a la Sauron or suggestions of full-fledged random craziness a la Lewis Carroll. It walks along the fantasy land with Shakesperean opportunism (as to how the film has portrayed the ambition of power by means of the King's (the legendary Peter O'Toole) sons' struggle to possess the ruby that is the affirming object of kingship) and the commonly grim characterization of witches who want nothing but eternal youth and beauty.

They can separately try to get what they want and get done with it, right? Without getting on each others' nerves and may even inhabit two different films to isolate their goals, isn't it? But as it unfolds (effortlessly that is, thanks to Gaiman's source material), their goals manifest in the guise of Yvaine (played by Claire Danes), a fallen star that is as knowledgeable as she is clueless. But wait, there also enters our alliterated hero Tristan Thorn (played by Charlie Cox) who, based on the opening line of this film review, also strives to capture Yvaine and bring her to his true love as a romantic gift. And just like that, "Stardust", with a relentless but wholesome narrative pulse and high doses of magically bizarre slapstick, begins its rat race for a star that, in some ways, resembles that in "Maltese Falcon".

Now, if there's something I'll definitely remember in the whole film, it will be the 'characters' themselves and no, it's not Yvaine and Tristan. Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro, who gave unforgettably comic, over-the-top performances as Lamia the witch and Captain Shakespeare respectively, provide the sideshows that paint the world of Stormhold with contrastingly two-sided hues of eccentricity. With Claire Danes and Charlie Cox in the lead roles whose star powers and on-screen charisma (but based on what I've seen in the film, there's not much to scrutinize in their performances and formed chemistry) still isn't particularly tested that may also potentially give its studio a clunker of a film, veterans Pfeiffer and De Niro lend their shoulders for a share of the burden and oh what a support it was. "Stardust" just isn't the same without the presence of Pfeiffer's vain witch and De Niro's closeted pirate.

Add up Mark Strong, whose villainous roles in films bring him closer and closer on the verge of type-casting, portrays the sole-surviving prince Septimus (among his seven brothers) with that kind of vilely murderous instinct unforgettably displayed by Macbeth minus the downward spiraling insanity. Yeah, at first, I was quite unimpressed. Another antagonistic one for Mr. Strong, indeed. But all throughout his portrayal of the said character, one can sense his 'tongue-in-cheek' intent.

He bullies, brutalizes and kills anyone on-sight who hinders him in his goal for Yvaine and her ruby necklace. He renders anyone not on his side dead or dying, but he's deadpan in what he does. In this Septimus role, "Stardust" has immensely succeeded with its darkly comic tone. With the film being a fantasy picture, with such heavyweights as the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" films serving as the genre's flag carriers, "Stardust" may have used some ideas that can easily be branded as repetitions.

But to what it is particularly disadvantaged, it makes up for its perfect approach for comedy. And to where it may look cliched (specifically in its magical and romantic elements), it makes up for its uniquely conveyed gallery of characters. "Stardust" is a beautiful, sometimes softly tender, sometimes ruggedly fast-paced and grotesquely overwhelming fantasy film that has achieved to leave a mark in such a conceptually-loaded genre.

By observation, after I watch some fantasy movies, there's always this recurring feeling of wonderment and awe mainly because of the visuals and nothing more. But after watching "Stardust", of course there's still the same feeling, but with a delightful smirk traced upon my face.

"My dear, I will give you everything, even the stars, just for the sake of our love". If that rings true to the one who promised the words and a place such as Stormhold a thing of reality, there will surely be a hundredfold of star-chasing adventures here and there. Yeah, right.


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