If I hadn’t been watching Stardust in a movie theater, I could have been mistaken to think that is was made for HBO or Scifi channel. Now, I know that sounds like an insult, but I assure you I mean it in the nicest ways possible.
Stardust is based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. All in all I have a quite weird relationship with his writing. Somehow I keep imagining that I’ve read a lot more of his work than I actually have. From his novels I’ve only read American Gods and from Sandman I’ve only the earliest stories. I haven’t read Stardust the book, but those better educated tell me it’s quite different from the movie.
There is a lot of good in the film, but let’s start with the bad. Most of the film the main characters wander around locations in rural England without any clear direction. Then, in many scenic locations they stumble on something fantastic or dangerous and there is a scene of action and/or special effects. Then, without actually doing anything themselves they get out of that situation and onto the next. There is a plot running in the background, connecting all these seemingly random encounters, but that’s not helping. The main plot offers no suprises. It’s very clear where everyhing is going and how the film’s many characters will come together in the end. It all feels both too random and too convenient at the same time.
This isn’t the first time I say this of things Neil Gaiman has been involved in, but I think the script would have worked a lot better as a miniseries. There really isn’t that kind of a tight narrative that would keep the film together for two hours. However spreading it our over several episodes would let the good things shine. Either that, or then a lot of the random wandering should have been left out and more meat given to the remaining parts of the story for it to work better as a movie.
If the script feels more like a miniseries, then the effects make Stardust look more like a movie of the week. They’re not exactly bad, but they don’t look like they belong to a $65 million film. I wouldn’t mind the obious bluescreen work or airships that look like CGI, but I do object to effects sequences being boring. Most of the effects in Stardust are either green or purple glowing things zipping around the green. This becomes boring very fast and there’s a lot of that in the film.
Among the smaller annoyances there is certain Ricky Gervais, who – for some un-godly reason – has been cast as a merchant. The Office is completely unwatchable and the most overrated comedy since Seinfeld, but I don’t really hate the actor, I even like his new sitcom Extras – but Gervais can only play one character and as a lightning dealer in a fantasy world that character sticks out like a sledgehammer banging on a sore thumb. He just doesn’t fit in.
The good things in Stardust are numerous as well. First of all, it has Airships in it. They’re pretty much the coolest thing ever not really invented. And it has lightning pirates. In the cool ladder they’re just step below steam-powered dinosaurs and alien ninjas. And I have to admit that the idea of falling in love with a fallen star is a romantic one.
There are some great scenes and characters. Claire Danes is always beautiful and lovely and most of the actors do a good job. And the goatman Billy is excellent. If there was an Oscar for the best potrayal of a goat I’d bet my money on this guy.
In the end we have a film that has great parts, some parts that are less than great. It’s a fun movie to watch and very likable, but it’s not as good as it should be.