Monday, August 13, 2007

Stardust Memories

I'd like to say it was a real cross-over, mainstream kind of crowd that sat with us at the early-evening, opening night showing of Stardust on Friday, but even in this geek-tilted town where rocket scientists and their sons and daughters abound, I'm afraid there was a disproportionate lot of cerebral and slightly socially fringed attendees. And more daughters than sons. Not that I really think Stardust is a chick-flick, I just think that Neil Gaiman's fan base turned out in strength here. Groups of girls from their teens to their thirties dominated the theater, some with a couple of male companions, the kind of young men that are especially glad to be hanging out with women, any women (not that these were unattractive girls, just ones with a separate sense of fashion).

At any rate, either Neil's fan base is bigger than thought or more than his fans turned out across the country since Reuters pegged a 4th place box office pull for Stardust, not bad at all.

Early in the film I had misgivings, thinking the treatment seemed very matter-of-fact, if well staged; but by the second half of the film, as the threads began to pull together and seeds planted in the early dialogue blossomed into cause and effect, I started to identify with the characters. It was my mistake to listen to the comparisons with The Princess Bride, that caused expectations for farcical wit. While a suitably broad genre may encompass both TPB and Stardust, Stardust takes itself a bit more seriously, even if its world is a bit more fantastical. There are unicorns here but no badly animated Rodents of Unusual Size, and not many one-liners. Only Claire Danes deadpan heroine performance matches Robin Wright's Princess Buttercup, other parallels don't exist. For example, Robert De Niro's Captain Shakespeare is no Dread Pirate Roberts. De Niro does nearly steal the show, but the strength of the rest of the ensemble cast holds together and Tristran's transformation (largely at the hand's of Shakespeare's shears) is both quaint and powerful. Michelle Pfeiffer well plays scary and evil; I wish the dead princes would have been used more as a greek chorus -- my guess you can find a fair amount of that on the cutting room floor. Imperfections aside (and there aren't any more here than in any movie where you've already read the book), it's a beautifully-shot feel- good film.

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