I was expecting the press screening for Stardust to be rather busy but then again it was first thing on a sunday morning and you can expect there to be small audiences in the morning, with those being there sporting hangovers and tales of a few hours sleep. However this screening was packed, and quite rightly so.
Stardust is the novel from Neil Gaiman brought to the big screen by Matthew Vaughn. It tells the story of a boy who is more than he appears, of pirates and witches, of true love, and of a kingdom awaiting a new king.
Sound familiar? Well in many ways it is. The wonderfully told The Princess Bride has become the benchmark film for this fairy tale fantasy story, and being a huge fan of that film early on I began catching the similarities, similarities which are hard to avoid but you soon forget to make.
It's not long before this story begins to stand up for itself, and although those connections are very apparent, it doesn't matter, because by now you're too involved in the tale.
The early scenes capture you easily and draw you to these characters, typical to other stories they may be, but it doesn't matter as they appear so vividly on screen and come to life so naturally.
Stardust is wonderfully filmed by Matthew Vaughn. Part of me wonders what would have happened had he taken on X-Men 3, but now that I've seen this beautiful film I wonder if we might have missed out on it had he not dropped out. I'm now glad he did.
Together with the excellent screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel, Vaughn weaves a fantastic story that is visually rich. The film uses some excellent effects and a strong use of camera movement to heighten the tension and action, particularly noticeable during the exciting chase sequences, neither of which overpower the story but bring it to life. Every scene has a richness to it with a great use of colour and costume, and all these elements combined bring a wonderful fantasy tale to life before our eyes.
The casting is superb and the most notable are Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer, with other great names playing superb supporting roles such as Robert De Niro, Peter O'Toole, Mark Strong, Rupert Everett, Dexter Fletcher and Nathaniel Parker.
Charlie Cox plays the boy who, at the beginning of the story, has a false idea of what he wants in life and of what he can achieve. He plays his role well, developing his character from the bumbling, uncertain boy, to the confident man he finally becomes, a change that is made in small and undefinable steps.
Claire Danes plays the star that falls to Earth. Not only does she look stunning in some of her costumes, but she plays her role with such ease and so naturally that you are totally convinced of her character. You truly believe that she could be a star and radiate such beauty.
Michelle Pfeiffer makes a superb return to this big role as one of the witches after the fallen star, and she's filled with malice and anger. The scene where she reverses her age for the first time is excellent and provided one of the many laughs in the hardened press audience. Oh, and she still looks stunning, well when she first reverses her age anyway! She really did shine in this role, and I hope we're going to see more and more of her back in big films.
Robert De Niro is a strange one for me. Although he carries this great history and this leading actor of Hollywood label, I'm not sure if his acting is truly up to the par that all this history suggests.
Here I felt that his lines were hurried out, but to counter that his physical performance was just perfect. So his overall performance was superb, but I felt that his line delivery seems rushed an lacked some pause and change. The moment his ship is surprise attacked is probably his best in the film and had me giggling throughout, it's a truly great Hollywood moment and Vaughn should be proud that he filmed De Niro doing this.
Mark Strong was excellent, as he always is, and the smaller roles for Rupert Everett and others still allowed for some strong on screen moments.
Much like The Princess Bride this isn't all about fantasy and moralistic tales, there's a huge helping of comedy in here too, although with Stardust the comedy is kept to a lower level than Princess Bride and the concentration is on the fantasy storytelling.
That's perhaps where this film excels, for the storytelling is truly wonderful. It captures the heart and imagination just as Princess Bride did and it really takes you through various emotions. It sets up and builds the characters well including the conflicts between them, and at times the script can be ever so subtle.
The tension and suspense was built well too, especially during those chase scenes which are so well filmed.
Another aspect of the film which was well done was the soundtrack. It was used to great effect during those chase sequences, and throughout the film.
Overall I find it hard to fault the film in anyway what so ever. I left feeling elated and with a renewed vigour for film, something which begins to fade after almost a week of seeing film after film. I had watched the film and laughed, felt a tear in my eye, been close to the edge of my seat, and been filled with joy for the characters. There really are some truly beautiful scenes in the film.
It's wonderfully directed by Matthew Vaughn, and as far on the other end of the spectrum from Layer Cake (Filmstalker review) as you could imagine. His adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel is filled with well created and developed characters, rich and vivid images, and it really does touch the heart as well as carrying some very strong messages.
If there was one thing I could say something about it would be the final few scenes. I wonder if we need the scale of the scenes after the battle, did it need to go on and explain that, or would the voice over reveal of the far future have been enough?
I'm not so sure, I can see the negatives on both sides and I wonder if there wasn't another way to do it. Regardless this is a tiny blip on such a superb film. If you liked The Princess Bride and that type of fantasy film then this is definitely for you. It is beautiful in so many ways.