‘Stardust’ …a film stands on its own

So twenty years ago (which in Hollywood years, dear reader, is about a century), the film that surprised everyone with its charm was ‘The Princess Bride’ by director Rob Reiner.
The film was nominated for a series of awards and won a few as well. It boosted several careers and cemented several characters and quotes in the public media consciousness. It’s a film that serves the book well (it should, the author did the screenplay) and the book was quite brilliant and complex.


Now we come to the films of 2007 and critics and public alike are talking about ‘Stardust’ by director Matthew Vaughn.
There are various reasons for people (especially ‘industry people’ like critics and producers and suits) to compare the two movies. They are both charming films and we don’t get many of those. They are both from directors who have done nothing like them before (and only a bit besides) at the time of their release. They are both sourced from excellent writers: Neil Gaiman wrote ‘Stardust’ and William Goldman wrote ‘The Princess Bride’.
Goldman also did the screenplay for ‘Bride’ and was a veteran of both books and screenplays. I mention this because ‘Princess Bride’ is a complex and compelling book which only gets skimmed for its film treatment, IMHO. If you’ve the time, you should read the original book if you like the movie. Goldman takes his material and manages to keep most of its complexity and charm while covering the important bits.
By contrast, Jane Goldman (strange world, another Goldman) and Matthew Vaughn did the screenplay for ‘Stardust’ and based on the quick peek at IMDB, neither of them had much experience with writing films before.
And here I’ll confess I haven’t read the ‘Stardust’ novel, only the graphic treatment by Charles Vess, which is very good.
So there you have the premise of these two films as sister-pieces. You can see the marketing blurbs now, ‘the Princess Bride for a new generation’.
Nonsense and poppycock.
Please do go see ‘Stardust’ and please do not go with expectations of enjoying it as a new ‘Princess Bride’. The two films could not be more unalike. A good review by a friend compared ‘Stardust’ favorably to ‘Baron Munchausen’ and that’s a more apt connection.
‘Munchausen’ and ‘Stardust’ are fantasy stories of a classic sort. ‘The Princess Bride’ is definitely not. TPB is a satire of the genre.
For all that I admire and love ‘TPB’, it is a tale about an old man and his grandson, about how fantasy stirs, connects and engages us but falls very short of the real world connections that sustain our hearts. It isn’t about Buttercup and Westley or Inigo, Vizzini and Fezzik. You find out about those people and like them, but it isn’t about them. The book is very clear about this, most of the text is about family, generations and the author’s own reasons to why he is writing the book and why he became a writer. (You can learn at wikipedia that this entire framing device is fictional as well. Talk about satire!)
TPB film decides to start and end with old man and grandson. It speeds along to introduce the supporting cast, even to the point of undercutting the main roles, Buttercup and Westley so that we see more of the fascinating cast. I’m sure this was the only way to get so much book into the movie. You might take a gander at the wikipedia entry on the novel to see just how much about Westley and Buttercup gets left out.
At any rate, I’ve put the case before you. Satire of fantasy and the real thing should not be confused.
Here is where I should lavish glowing and deserved praise on ‘Stardust’ as a fantasy film. But in order to do so, I’d have to touch on the wonderful character and plot points that would reveal too much.
Instead, I’ll dance a bit: ‘Stardust’ is about the two leads and it really is a romance. It has great action and adventure and magic that you really care about. It includes cruelty and evil that comes along with magic and being human. It is a showcase piece for several of the cast and it will hopefully become your favorite and stand the test of repeat viewing. It’s clever and wondrous and I wish people would make more movies like it.
Enjoy. It’s now one of my favorites.

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2 comments

  1. I’d agree with the comments about Stardust. We saw it yesterday (Sunday). I certainly wouldn’t have thought to mention it along with The Princess Bride – not because I don’t like that film – but because it’s so very different.
    Films tend to reflect the sentiment of the public who watch them and that’s been hard these last few months – with the run of seemingly never-ending fear/horror flicks that have been coming out.
    Stardust is a much needed breath of fresh air. And you’re right, we need more films like this. Neil Gaiman and those who worked on the film pull on much beloved archetypes with a good bit of humor, and also reframes them in a modern sense for a new generation.

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