Wednesday, November 14, 2007


"Getting killed by pirates...heart eaten by a Victoria--I can't seem to decide which is worse!"

Matthew Vaughn's film of "Stardust" is so far removed from his last film, "Layer Cake," that it would take a Babylon Candle to bridge the two (Don't know what a "Babylon Candle" is? Then you'll have to see the film. You should anyway). "Layer Cake" was a whooping, swooping kitchen-sink-and-porsches story of drug-dealing in contemporary London. And while some of the stylistic touches are the same for "Stardust," the story couldn't be more different. For instead of modern-day Britain, he is spinning his camera through Neil Gaiman's Faerie-Land.

Gaiman's reach is all things mythical, from the twee to the atrocious--across the stars, underground, beyond the pale and underneath your fingernails. He borrows from all sources, and puts them through his own personal salad-shooter and spits them out with his own dressing. In his work you'll find echoes of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Milton, G.K. Chesterton and Jorge Luis Borges and the Brothers Grimm, Greek mythology and Roman gods, History and Urban Legend, The Arabian Nights and the Book of the Dead, The Bible and the DC/Marvel Multiverses. I've been reading Gaiman with delight (no pun intended) for years, starting with his "Sandman" saga, which dragged on for maybe a dozen more issues than necessary because he had so many stories he wanted to get to, but I also love his "Violent Cases," and much of his book-work. It is with some trepidation that one watches his forays into film--Jon Peters owns the film-rights to "Sandman," for instance, and Gaiman wrote the English translation for "Princess Mononoke," and worked on "Mirrormask," and there's talk of filming "Good Omens," the book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. That's scary talk. For what it's done to the works of Alan Moore, Hollywood looks like a gold-plated abortion clinic, and one wonders if they could do any justice to Gaiman's work. Even to attempt to film his "Signal to Noise" would be to destroy it.

"Stardust" makes the transition fairly well, though it eliminates the faeries and sprites that populate Gaiman's world like smoke, dust and flotsam do in Ridley Scott's (they also serve as little "Rosencrantzes" and "Guildensterns"). They throw in a sock-o finale, and the film has none of the delicacy of Charles Vess' illustrations from the graphic novel that Gaiman expanded to book-length. In fact, it has the sensibility several refinements up from Monty Python-design. But it does retain Gaiman's special form of "myth-busting," the wink-and-a-nod to the "real" world that suffused "The Princess Bride," but without the Borcht Belt cinched around its waist.

What's interesting is how Paramount is selling it...or not selling it, as the case may be. Looking at the poster, you'd think it was one of the endless string of pre-teen or teen fantasy novels adaptations that are filling the Previews, or as reverent as "Chronicles of Narnia," when nothing could be further from the truth, (but there are enough spinning helicopter shots of big landscapes to reassure the Suits that it has a "Lord of the Rings" quality). It's frequently hilarious in surprising and snarky ways, especially in the casting. Michelle Pfeiffer may not be the best at holding an accent, but her comic timing, and willingness to play against her looks is delightful. Robert DeNiro makes an entrance and you worry that he's been put in the wrong movie, but then he comes through with flying colors. Peter O'Toole does wonders with his limited screen-time as the Lion-King of a family of blue-bloods, and Rupert Everett shows up long enough to tweak his image hilariously. It's a fun, fine, un-gooey fairy tale that charms and delights. It's not doing well at the theaters, so do yourself a favor and go. Don't wait for Paramount to get their act together to convince you.

"Stardust" is a matinee

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