Wednesday, 13 February 2008

DVD: Stardust

Lowdown: Prince's Bride.
I first encountered Stardust when Uri gave the Neil Gaiman book to Jo for her birthday. The book comes up in conversation from time to time, as Jo claims it is the best of the books Uri ever gave her (and that's saying a lot). As for me, I am yet to read the book and up until now I didn't see myself reading it any time soon; my experience with Gaiman so far has been less than favorable, and my attitude has been that given the limited time I have for reading I want to make every book count. That is, I want to read books I can take a lot from, and frankly it seems as if a Gaiman book is vastly outmaneuvered in this department by, say, a Carl Sagan book.
Needless to say, that perspective of mine is flawed. Not that I ever presented myself to be anything other than an inherently flawed person, but even I should know there is much more to take from a book than just mere facts. There is more to literature than meets the eye, I guess.
With films, however, the problem does not exist: films are much easier to digest than books and demand much less time. And thus when Stardust presented itself I took the opportunity to get into it; and I'm glad I did, because Stardust is one hell of a film.
Stardust's story is quite complicated, reminding me of Princess Bride with diluted cynicism. It takes place, sort of, in 19th century England, in a town called Wall that features a wall. One day a curious inhabitant decides to go and see what lies behind the wall and finds himself in a world of swords and sorcery. He adventures there for a while and then returns home, only to receive a young baby at his doorstep 9 months later. Years pass by and the baby is a guy totally unaware of his origins but in love with this girl who doesn't even look in his general direction.
At the same time, the swords and sorcery world world is having a fight for its throne between the sons of the world's newly dead king. The next king would be the prince who brings in a fallen star the king drops on his last act.
Our loving hero sees the same star fall and promises to bring it to his love, who in turn argues that she would marry him if he does. So like his father he crosses the wall and finds the star, only that the thing he finds is a woman (Claire Danes). So he ties a rope around the woman/star and starts the quest to bring that woman/star to his love. On the way, however, he has to fend of evil witches who seek the woman/star for the immortality to be gained out of her heart (led by the still good looking Michelle Pfeiffer) and some of the remaining nasty princess that seek the woman/star to gain a kingdom with the slight bonus of immortality.
The result is a gripping tale of adventure with a marvelous plot and well developed characters that go through a typical process of enlightenment as the film progresses. It's all a lot like Princess Bride, really, only with more special effects and more fantastic elements. It's a proper fantasy film the way fantasy should be filmed: imaginative, often funny, yet gripping. Yes, most of all, Stardust is imaginative.
I often think that certain films receive too much credit. Take Matrix, for example: the idea of us living an illusion is not exactly new, and I feel the execution of the idea in Matrix is significantly flawed. I mean, in a world where anything I can imagine can happen, I would let my imagination run much further than a few martial arts stunts. Stardust, on the other hand, does not suffer from a lack of imagination; it is full of imagination. It's bursting at the seams with imagination. And that makes it a great film!
Stardust throws in a long lineup of cameos by actors of the likes of Ricky Gervais, Rupert Everett, Ian McKellen, Peter O'Toole, and many many more into the mix. Unlike many other films that feature cameos for the sake of cameos, Stardust's cameos actually enhance it. Gervais, for example, plays a similar character to the one he does in Extras, so his blending into the Stardust environment is quite smooth.
If there is something Stardust suffers from is its over reliance on special effects, mostly of the CGI type. Sometimes the screen is just flooded with them, and most of the time they are not done as well as, say, the Lord of the Rings' standard dictates. Given that CGI has already become an epidemic ruining films en masse, Stardust should have settled for a more subtle approach there.
Best scene: I've already mentioned the long lineup of stars making a cameo. Robert De Niro's role is a bit more developed than your average cameo, but whether you define it as a cameo or as a supporting role, the scenes with De Niro are so smashingly hilarious he is bound to completely reshape your view of pirates.
Picture quality: Inconsistent. Some scenes look very good, while others feature low detail, much noise, and overall color inconsistency.
Sound quality: Quite good, especially in its aggressive use of the surrounds. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement in fidelity and clarity.
Overall: As far as I remember, last time I saw a film for the first time and felt like I want to immediately watch it again, I was watching Return of the King. Stardust broke the long spell, and despite its minor flaws it deserves 5 out of 5 stars. Simply excellent!

1 comment:

Uri said...

I said this a while ago, but it disappeared for some reason - Neverwhere is my favorite Gaiman novel.
(in my original comment I said favourite so you can guess when that was)