Nothing says “romance” like the gift of a kidnapped injured woman.
Why did I watch it?
I read Gaimen’s original novel a couple of years ago, and adored it. I find Gaimen a bit hit and miss, but Stardust is definitely more The Doctor’s Wife than Nightmare in Silver. In fact, I think it’s my favourite thing I’ve read of his.
Did it meet expectations?
Much of the magic of the book is in Gaimen’s prose style, so the film was always in danger of losing something.
“there were times when the wind blew from beyond the wall, bringing with it the smell of mint and thyme and redcurrants, and at those times there were strange colours seen in the flames in the fireplaces of the village.”
But more of the spirit is lost in trying to turn this into a fantasy action (no doubt with more than half an eye on the profitable Harry Potter franchise). The most memorable sequences from the book were, for me, Tristan’s journey to find the star (entirely cut) and especially his treatment of the injured and chained star, and their discovery of the battle-scarred unicorn. The star’s injuries are glossed over in the film – she can walk without splint or crutch and is conveniently healed early on. Tristan’s ill-treatment of her here is minimised. Yet the act which goes some small way to redeeming him in the book – letting her free – is something he simply does not do in the film.
“‘If you had kept her chained, and she had escaped her chains, then there is no power on earth or sky could ever make me help you, not if Great Pan or Lady Sylvia herself were to plead or implore me. But you unchained her, and for that I will help you'”
But that is exactly what Tristan does in the film, and the tree nymph is written out with along with any rebuke. In the book Tristan goes from treating the star (and, effectively, Victoria) as a thing, and growing to see her as a person is part of his coming of age.
The compression of Tristan’s journey might be a forgivable concession to limited screen running time if it weren’t for an extensive expansion of the lightning boat plot which barely accounts for 12 paragraphs in the book, but which becomes an extensive vehicle for Robert de Niro (as the effete captain heading a fierce piratical crew led by Dexter Fletcher).
Charlie Cox and Claire Danes (My So Called Life) are really rather good together in the lead roles, and although Danes part has been rewritten to expunge both her profanity and her vulnerability she is, at least, suitable sarcastic. They do well to capture the magical tone of the book, something other members of the impressive cast do only in varying degrees – Michelle Pfeiffer in particular seems bent on chewing the scenery, although it is impressive scenery (including Skye, Iceland and Llyn y Fan Fach).
Perhaps more disappointing than the simply unnecessary changes (what became of the 9 yearly fair on the Faerie side of Wall?) are the moral changes – the witch is denied her prize by love, and is forgiven in the book; instead we get the obligatory action-showdown. Victoria behaves rather honorably in the book, and there is a beautiful resolution between her and Tristan; Una gets to become ruler as regent (and the male-only succession in Stormhold is broken). Tristan and Yvaine spend 8 years travelling happily on their own terms, rather than requiring validation in a colossal coronation ceremony.
What a waste.
You should watch it if…
- You were wondering what happened to Claire Danes (I want to rewatch Romeo+Juliet now)
- You’re after a decent enough Harry Potter substitute
You shouldn’t watch it if…
- You don’t want to spoil the book
Up next: 1984 (1984)