October 22nd, 2007 by Jarmo Puskala

Falling stars in Stardust.

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.


(the trailer has spoilers)

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7 Responses to “Stardust.”

  1. As the resident Devil’s Advocate, I feel obliged to offer a second opinion, now that I’ve finally seen the film.

    It’s interesting that people should have told Jarmo that the film differed from the book, given that both myself and my g/f left the theatre feeling that here, finally, was a film-based-on-a-novel that actually stayed remarkably true to the original story. We were also rather better entertained by it, based on our mutual sentiment that the film didn’t feel as long as it was (131 min). Sure, it looked pretty plastic, but it wasn’t nearly as Disney as, say, Tales of Earthsea (which is rather more damning, in my book at least, given that the latter was a Studio Ghibli film). And, to me, the narrative did feel quite coherent.

    Then again, I’ve read the book. This may be the deciding factor. Judging a film like this purely on its own merits based on just one viewing just is not possible (not for me, anyway), and I suppose it could be rather confusing if one didn’t know the story beforehand. Especially the beginning, where most of the streamlining of the story took place – I think the first 30 minutes of the film covered the first half of the novel.

    All in all, though, I think Jarmo missed one important detail. Stardust isn’t a fantasy story – it’s a fantasy film based on a fairytale story. The narrative makes perfect sense if and only if you approach it as a fairytale. Things happen because they are necessary to reach the desired conclusion and mythologically appropriate, not (just) because they would logically follow from what went before. (Though they do, if you think about it.)

    The bottom line, then: I liked Stardust, despite all. I had some reservations about it, even though I had heard good things about it from people with similar tastes to my own, and bad things from people whose judgement is known to be suspect, like Jarmo. So, though your mileage may vary, it’s a safe bet that if you like Gaiman, you’ll like Stardust the film (and will, in all likelihood, already have seen it).

  2. Hlakile says:

    I thought that this was an excellent film. For my complete analysis, please visit:

  3. Well, I did like it too. Maybe the review came out a bit harsh, since the movie, even with it’s flaws was an enjoyable one. I just wish it would have been a bit better, then it could have been a big, big favourite of mine.

    ANd what comes to fairytale movies. I still think Edward Scissorhands is the defining modern fairytale.

  4. Sissy says:

    I think it is just is the only movie that makes Me feel that i live in magical has good taste of humor,romance,love,adventure,agony.all the ingredients which makes a film noticeable.furthermore,personally i believe that this Film has important ‘messages’ to show.the moment when yvaine tells to tristan what she watches from the sky,as a star,we take an idea of what kind of people we are..from greece,sissy

  5. trexter says:

    i love this movie and the star

  6. After three years this is still one of the most popular posts in this blog. I would almost like to think that means that Stardust the movie also has a lot of lasting potential.

    Now, I haven’t watched Stardust again since I wrote this, but I’ve bought the DVD and realised that what I remember now are the good parts.

    What I couldn’t have possibly expected when writing this was meeting Charless Vess, who illustrated the novel Stardust. He was a guest at Finncon 2008. He was a very nice man and brave enough to join us Finns in the traditional smoke sauna. Turns out it is a perfect place for men to talk about mythology – dark, warm and slightly mythical.

    Protip: if you ever end up in Finland and are offered a bath in a smoke sauna, do not turn it down.

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