When was the last time I actually reviewed a movie on this blog? It's been ages, and I've seen a lot of movies during that time, although not nearly as many as I once did, in the days before we had kids and my wife worked at the theater to maintain our free admission--back then I felt obligated to see every movie released theatrically, including the unbearable genius of the Dennis Rodman kicking vehicle known as Double Team. Now, we get to the movies a few times a month at most, and even though I like some of the films we see, I don't often feel compelled to write about them here. So it must be significant that I chose to write about Stardust.
Here's the reason: I thought Stardust was great.
And I didn't expect to have that reaction.
Stardust, directed by the oh-so-we-got-stuck-with-Brett-Ratner-on-X-Men-3's Matthew Vaughn and written by oh-so-you're-married-to-Jonathan-Ross-the-famous-British-TV-personality-slash-comic-book-fan-who-just-made-a-Ditko-documentary's Jane Goldman (based on the novel by oh-you-wrote-Sandman-and-that-was-quite-good-wasn't-it?'s Neil Gaiman), tells the story of young Tristan and his romantic quest to bring a fallen star back to his beloved Victoria. Which sounds nice and sweet and all, but quite dull, doesn't it? I think so, which is why I was relieved to find that it's not really about that romantic quest at all. It's about the magic of the adventure itself. It's about the seven warring sons of the dying Peter O' Toole. It's about sky pirates. It's about old men doing kung fu. It's about Ricky Gervais being a comic genius. It's about not taking itself too seriously while still telling an incredibly engaging tale.
I loved it.
It's full of strange moments, some of which are strange in a wonderful unearthly way (like Ron Weasely's dad as a goat in human form and the dead princes commenting on the action), and some of which are just strange artistic choices that could possibly hurt the movie's critical reception (like the Nothing But Trouble old-age make-up and the refuge-from-The-Birdcage performance of Robert DeNiro). But even with its stumbles, Stardust is full of excitement and fun and momentum and magic.
And I didn't expect it to be, partly because I abandoned the serialized Neil Gaiman/Charles Vess illustrated novel after the first installment, and partly because the trailer looked too dark and too ominous in tone. I went to see it thinking that maybe it would be a bit better than Eragon which was laughably bad in its Star Wars mimickry, but probably just something forgettable. Another failed fantasy movie.
It wasn't. It's not.
I've seen other reviewers comment (positively) on Stardust's tone, which they characterize as The Princess Bride-ish. I can see why they'd say that, since the movie does have a sense of humor about itself, but the movie reminds me most of Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, or at least my childhood memory of it, with its episodic feats of imagination and wonder. Stardust is better than Time Bandits, if only because it reaches a more satisfying conclusion, but Stardust has that kind of Gilliam illogic and sense of magic that I love to see in a fantasy movie.
Go see Stardust. It's surprisingly good.
It's even better than a Dennis Rodman roundhouse kick to the head of Mickey Rourke.