Old Refrain

Review by Vives Anunciacion
(print title: Once upon a star)
Inquirer Libre, October 27, 2007

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Charles Vess
Starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer
United International Pictures

“Sometimes I wonder why I spendThe lonely night dreaming of a
song.” Stardust, words by Mitchell Parish

A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” That’s how Stardust begins, as narrated by the voice of Ian “Gandalf” McKellen. Now this isn’t a philosophical movie, rather it’s a fairy tale romance. Once upon a time, movies told stories. Stardust is like one of them.

A hundred and fifty years ago in the English town called Wall, there lived a simple store clerk, Tristan (newcomer Charlie Cox), who promises to retrieve a fallen star to impress the pretty girl he loves, Victoria (Sienna Miller).

But across the stone wall of Wall, in the magical realm of Faerie, three witch sisters as well as the surviving princes of Stormhold all witness the falling star at the same time. For the old witches, led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), the star’s heart meant several hundreds of years more of beauty and youth. For each of the princes of Stormhold, whoever retrieves the star and transforms it back into ruby becomes the next king.

So between Tristan who wants to take a piece of the star back to Victoria, a trio of witches who want to eat its heart in the name of vanity, and a group of ruthless princes out to kill each other for their father’s crown, a small twinkling star falls into Faerie land and transforms into Yvaine (Claire Danes).

Little does Tristan know that his quest to get the star would yield him the love of his life, a piece of immortality, and, as it turns out, the throne of Stormhold. Just like old fairy tales.

However, Stardust isn’t exactly old-style fairy tale. It has a little bit of wry adult humor, a little bit of bloody violence, and the cross-dressing, Can-can dancing sky pirate Captain Shakespeare played by Robert De Niro. A “fairy” tale, indeed.

I watched this movie to see the return of Michelle Pfeiffer – you actually get your money’s worth with her and her alone. Some characters are unnecessary, the music tends to overwhelm, and the effects are a little less magical. But the main reason Stardust works is that it has fairly clear and determined storytelling, and a lot of earnestness that comes along with it, as it shows onscreen. Those who worked on this movie seemed to have had lots of fun making it.

So Stardust may not be an instant classic, nor is it magical romance of the Arthurian order. It’s still staged enthusiastically, with a little bit of charm. After all it starts with “Once upon a time” and ends with “happily ever after” just like old tales before bedtime, before the lights go out and the stars start twinkling in the night.


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