This movie wants to be The Princess Bride so bad it almost makes me feel like a heel to break the news. Almost. Unfortunately, this desperately earnest fantasy overstays its welcome and drags on far too long.
Rob Reiner’s fantasy clocked in at a spry 97 minutes while this adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel is weighed down by a 127-minute running length. It is not without its charming moments, but this movie lacks the light touch that it needs to be successful.
Part of the problem is that the story takes way too long to set up its overly complex mythology. Let’s see, there is this small English village called Wall that’s, well, next to a wall, which forms the boundary to a mystical land and is guarded by an old man, who prevents people from passing between the two worlds. A young man named Dunstan tricks his way past him to the village on the other side, where he has a dalliance with a local working girl (this is definitely not your grandfather’s mystical land), which produces a boy named Tristan (Charlie Cox). Raised with no knowledge of his origins, Tristan has a crush a local girl named Victoria (Sienna Miller), who has a rich rival suitor. On a picnic, they spot a falling star, which Tristan promises to retrieve for her.
Now, said mystical land is ruled by a dying king (Peter O’Toole) whose sons are engaged in a homicidal sibling rivalry to determine his successor. To determine the most worthy, he throws his royal diamond into the sky and sends them to retrieve it. However, its flight knocks a star to the ground, where it lands in this person of Yvaine (Claire Danes). In the meantime, three aged witches led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) see the star fall and believe that it is a chance to restore their eternal youth.
This puts Tristan on a collision course with the witches and Septimus, the king’s sole surviving son (Mark Strong). He’ll needs all the skills imparted upon him by Captain Shakespeare (Robert DeNiro), a dirigible-borne pirate with an exquisite fashion sense. In the parlance of The Princess Bride, I guess he would be known as the Dread Pirate Fabulous.
As an entertainment, Stardust seems to be straddling the two worlds of William Goldman and J.R.R. Tolkein and not comfortably inhabiting either. There is no shortage of nice touches, like the ghosts of Septimus’ brothers serving as a squabbling Greek Chorus. On the other hand, while it’s nice to see Robert DeNiro get away from Ben Stiller movies, his prancing pirate winds up milking a one-joke character for more than it’s worth.
As a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, I’m disappointed that the first major adaptation of his work fail to take flight, but it’s nice to see Hollywood taking notice. Hopefully, the next time around, he’ll have better luck than this.