Stardust (2007)

I read the original illustrated serial novel of Stardust published by DC Vertigo. Charles Vess, who penciled the Edgar Award-winning Sandman issue "A Midsummer’s Night Dream", provided the pictures to accompany Neil Gaiman’s prose.

I can’t say I really liked it. Gaiman’s fairytale style didn’t possess the nuance or depth of The Sandman, and the storyline felt really predictable. A maligned child grows to be someone really important? Where have we heard that before?

When I learned Stardust would be turned into a movie, I actually thought it would be a great fit. The story wasn’t really that impressive, and Hollywood effects magic could go a long way into giving the plot some flesh. I didn’t expect the film to gut the source material and actually make it better.

Stardust the movie retains much of the basic plot as Stardust the book, even maintaining the myriad connections between the various threads in the plot. I don’t own my copy of Stardust anymore, but an exhaustive comparison between the two is available.

In the prelude, Dunstan Thorn (Ben Barnes as the young Dustan/Nathaniel Parker as the older) defies his town’s rules and crosses the stone wall after which the town is named. He has a tryst with a woman in the market (Kate Macgowan), and nine months later, a baby son, Tristan, is left at his door.

Tristan (Charlie Cox) grows up not knowing about his enchanted ancestry, and in wanting to woo the unattainable Victoria (Sienna Miller), he promises to fetch a star that has fallen beyond the wall. The star itself was hit by a jewel shot from the castle of a dying king (Peter O’Toole), who sends his remaining living sons to fetch it. Whoever can retrieve it inherits the kingdom. At the same time, a trio of witch sisters witness the star’s descent. Wanting to reacquire their youth, one of the sisters, Lamia (Michelle Pfiffer) sets out to capture the star for themselves.

Tristan gets there first and discovers the star is actually Yvaine (Claire Danes), who sprains her ankle in the fall. He must now make his way back to his town with the injured Yvaine, and of course, he encounters the princes and the witches and all manner of faerie folk along the way. In the end, he turns out to be a more significant person than people assumed.

I didn’t realize how long ago I read the book because I didn’t even notice some of the big changes made to the story.

Captain Shakespeare, for instance, is an entirely new character. I had a vague sense that he wasn’t part of the original story, and I wish he were. The Advocate mentioned Shakespeare’s portrayal was handled with remarkable sensitivity. Shakespeare, played with great fun by Robert De Niro, leads what he believes to be a double life. To his crew, he puts on a front as a fearless, formidable leader, but in private, he dresses in women’s clothes and can style hair. Implication: teh ghey!

The crew, however, know about their captain’s true nature, and they really don’t care. But they play along with the ruse out of respect for the captain’s efforts. How 2007 of them.

The plot development on the ship — an entire section not in the book — is less Gaiman, more Miyazaki Hayao. I couldn’t help but think of Laputa: Castle in the Sky or even Howl’s Moving Castle.

The film also moves the story along much faster than the book. As multi-threaded as the book was, it tended to drag. Hollywood pragmatism whetted the story down to an adventure suitable for summertime consumption. As a result, the characters are painted more starkly in the movie. I don’t remember Yvaine being so snotty and Tristan being so much of a wuss at the start of the story. I prefer it that way, though.

I really didn’t like the ghosts of the princes in the book. They added little to the story. In the movie, they turned into terrific comic relief, making them the best part.

Stardust is an enjoyable diversion, but it won’t erase anyone’s memory of The Lord of the Rings trilogy — not that it aims to, nor should it. For me, it’s a very unique kind of adaptation. I didn’t like the original book, but the story told in the movie is the one I like better.