As I sat down to revisit Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel Stardust, a family friend who was visiting asked me a question. “What are you looking at?” “Stardust.” “What is that?” “This fantastic film with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro.” “I never heard of it.” “Henry Cavill is in it too and he’s fighting Daredevil.” “Ben Afleck? »
I found the conversation funny but also incredibly revealing. That this friend didn’t know Stardust was not an anomaly. The film debuted 15 years ago today and in that era certainly found its fans, but never quite captured the world’s imagination the way it should have. And yet, I saw it when it came out and I loved it. Was I an outlier? What was wrong with Stardust?
Part of the problem is probably Rush Hour 3. The Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker action-comedy sequel debuted the same day and was quickly beaten Stardust At the box office. It was also the second week of action-packed action The Bourne Ultimatumthe third week for the long-awaited The Simpsons movieand in the following weeks, the generational comedy super bad open, as well as Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween. Box office competition was fierce in August 2007, especially for films aimed at this younger audience Stardust was intended. It dropped out of the top 10 within a month. Internationally, it did much better, but that initial US box office punch did the film’s legacy a disservice. Fewer eyeballs on initial release meant fewer marketing dollars and a relatively quiet arrival in the domestic market.
Fifteen years later, nobody talks about Rush Hour 3 more. It’s because Stardust has something a lot of other movies don’t: it’s really, really good. Who better than Neil Gaiman to create a memorable and imaginative story? What better moment in a director‘s career than his second film, which Stardust was for Matthew Vaughn, for a filmmaker to take a big step forward? And the cast, though headlined with steadfast stars of the day like Pfeiffer and De Niro, was filled with incredible talent from top to bottom: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox (the aforementioned Daredevil, of course), Mark Strong, Rupert Everett, Henry Cavill, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Ben Barnes, Peter O’Toole, Ian McKellen, really, the list goes on and on. That several of them have become even more famous since the film’s release only adds to its success.
Consequently, although Stardust was not a box office sensation; it was a critical success upon release and remains as solid and entertaining a film as ever. A lot of it has to do with seeing this amazing cast work their magic on this story. But it’s also the brilliance, complexity and scope of the story itself. In his heart, Stardust is the story of a lovesick young boy named Tristan (Cox) who decides to cross a wall that separates his world from another to retrieve a fallen star for his crush, Victoria (Miller). He finds the star but it’s actually a person named Yvaine (Danish) and as the two try to get back to Victoria they are chased by the witch Lamia (Pfeiffer) who wants to eat the star – literally – and several princes (Strong and others) who need the star to become the king of the kingdom. It sounds complicated, but Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman (who also did Kick-Arse, X-Men: First Classand more after Stardust) lay it out very simply. The film then unfolds in such a way that everything remains cohesive and propulsive. There are no frills and the film is better for it.
Along the way, Gaiman’s world bursts with imagination; it’s filled with elements like pirate Captain Shakespeare (De Niro), who flies through the skies in his ship, sells eclairs, and hides his charming true self. The way people travel by candlelight. That the flowers offer protection against magic. Or how when each future king dies, they become death-like ghosts and become a Greek chorus for the events of the film. And just when the film feels like it can’t get more adventurous or bizarre, the budding romance between Tristan and Yvaine becomes more prominent and moving as Cox and Danes electrify the screen with a joy and contagious wonder. If it weren’t for a third act that dragged on a bit too long and a few non-PC moments that didn’t age well, I’d be hard pressed to say a single bad thing about Stardust.
So while the film didn’t immediately capture the imagination of movie-going audiences 15 years ago, I was thrilled to discover that Stardust is not a film subject to time. It’s so fun, heartwarming, and well-made that it’s sure to last and capture the imagination from now until forever. Quite simply, Stardust is magical, and that it can still work its spell after all this time is a testament to its quality.
Stardust is currently streaming on HBO Max.
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