Stardust (2007)


Dir. Matthew Vaughn
Premiered July 29, 2007

For most of these reviews, I include a sub-section called “Sign this was made in 2007.” With Stardust, that’s difficult. You can tell this movie was made in 2007 because it exists.

The Lord of the Rings is the last big blockbuster that changed everything. Going against his better judgment, New Line Cinema exec Marc Ordesky allowed Peter Jackson to make the entire trilogy at once, and by succeeding, gave us the instant franchise. More importantly, it brought Hollywood out of a late ‘90s dark age that 9/11 had prematurely killed, and fostered an unprecedented reliance on adaptations of recognizable properties. At the time, it was even thought that Jackson’s films had finally opened the doors for high fantasy as a popular genre.

But the last of those promises turned out not to be true, and by 2007, the last high fantasy epics were making little impression on the silver screen. The most well-received of these was Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust.

Somewhere in rural 19th Century England, an ancient Roman rampart is revealed to be a portal into the magical kingdom of Stormhold. After losing his job, young Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) discovers that his mother lives in this mysterious land, and vows to recover the remnant of a falling star that landed there so he can bring it back and win the favor of his materialistic crush Victoria (Sienna Miller).

Tristan’s intentions turn out to be more fraught and more fortuitous than he could have imagined. Not only do fallen stars take corporeal form in Stormhold (in this case Yvaine, played by Claire Danes), but they are also much beloved by witches (led by Michelle Pfeiffer) for the ability to restore youth, beauty and power. Stormhold is also a fratricidal dictatorship in the midst of a succession crisis, with Yvaine in possession of a jewel that bestows kingship.

…And that’s just the first act. The plot of Stardust, while comprehensible, is so devilishly complicated that reading any further plot description would either bore the reader or reveal far too much. While I wasn’t in love with this film, I did enjoy the hell out of it, and caught myself on the edge of my seat several times. While the basic plot has more than a little of the classic hero’s journey in it, the rest is as original as anything I’ve seen in this genre.

Most notably, Stardust is a fairy tale. A new fairy tale. And an unapologetic one. In an era that bemoans fairy tales as the bane of all modernity that will return us to the Dark Ages (despite the fact that civilization never abandoned fairy tales and yet still exists), Stardust makes no excuses, never takes refuge in detached cynicism, and tells its own story rather than subverting old ones. I realize that it’s based on a book, but the book was only written in 1999. That is a rare thing, and while I’m probably not going to revisit Stardust anytime soon, I’m glad that this was our coda to Hollywood’s latest wave of high fantasy.

At least I wish it was. The actual genre-killer came later in 2007. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Additional Notes

  • One thing I should mention: Robert DeNiro as a flamingly gay, Anglophilic sky-pirate. Worth seeing just for the what-the-fuckness of it.
  • Another thing: while some characters are iffy about black magic, the film treats its use as perfectly fine. That’s different.

How Did It Do?
Despite a unprecedentedly enthusiastic reception from test audiences, Stardust grossed $135.6 million against a $70 million budget, narrowly failing to make up marketing costs and earning an unusually poor $38 million in the United States– compare to its native United Kingdom, where it earned $31 million despite a much smaller population.

Nevertheless, critics were mostly positive, earning the film a 76% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes, and it really is impressive that this movie isn’t a complete disaster with all its wild shifts in tone and genre.

In his otherwise positive review, David Edelstein dickishly insisted on referring to director Matthew Vaughn only as “Madonna’s husband’s best man,” which is pretty fucking rich: Vaughn had already broken out three years earlier with Layer Cake, while his creative partner Guy Ritchie, the “Madonna’s husband” in question, was leaping straight into the late Bush era’s special brand of cinematic pretension with the gentile-bastardized-Kabbalah-manifesto-crime-thriller Revolver. Ritchie went on to direct two successful but instantly-forgotten Sherlock Holmes movies and failed to create an exceptionally grubby King Arthur cinematic universe, while Vaughn did Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsman. Advantage Vaughn.

Next Time: Rush Hour 3


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