I love a good fantasy. There's no worrying about facts or what will blow up or where the story is heading. I can sit back and enjoy the unexpected journey. That's the case with Stardust. It begins with instant intrigue, abounds with one marvel after another and features a spectacular cast portraying witches, young lovers and a pirate cross-dresser. The latter character is played by Robert De Niro, which should certainly pull in some movie fans.
Based on Neil Gaiman's novel, the tale begins in a small village far away in another era. Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), dropped on a door step as a baby and raised by his father, is now a young lad in love. Tristan's shyness and poverty are not appealing to the apple of his eye, Victoria (Sienna Miller), who is courted by other guys. In exchange for a real star, something she knows Tristan is incapable of getting, she promises to give him her heart.
Not only does Tristan have no idea how to find this star, he must cross through the town's gate to the outside world in order to find it. That will be difficult because the gate is guarded by an old man (David Kelly) who beats anyone to a pulp when they try to get through. Although Tristan manages that task, containing himself in the outside world is another matter. He passes through a carnival where he's enthralled by a young slave girl (Kate Magowan) who claims to be a princess held against her wishes. Next, he finds himself in the mystical land of Stormhold where he discovers he's not the only one looking for the "Star."
A family of witches also wants this "Star." They wish to use its magical powers to return them to their youth. The witches are led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s so busy out-witching her own sisters that Tristan manages to survive her spells. When he finally finds Yvaine, the fallen "Star" (Claire Danes), they make a mad dash through the mind traps of odd situations and zany characters -- including a crazy time with Captain Shakespeare (De Niro).
The film looks amazing. Cinematographer Ben Davis proves -- as he did in Hannibal Rising -- that he's a genius behind the camera. He captures unfamiliar lands and makes them a major part of this movie. Production design by Gavin Bocquet, set design by Peter Young and costumes by Sammy Sheldon definitely make Stardust appear highly mythical and eye-popping.
Charlie Cox (Casanova) and Claire Danes (Evening) are very good as the young lovers discovering as much about themselves and the world around them as they do about each other. Pfeiffer, who gets more beautiful with every movie she makes, is a goofy, spontaneous and sultry witch all rolled into one. And the comical, surprising De Niro turns Stardust into meteors of laughter.
There's some lag in the third act of the film when three princes also battle over the "Star" because the one who obtains it will rule their kingdom. But this imaginative tale is hard to surpass. Director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake), who also wrote the screenplay, certainly had his work cut out for him with this complex story.
Wonderfully narrated by Ian McKellen, Stardust can be a tad bawdy, so remember it's not for youngsters under age 13, but adults who enjoy a good fantasy will thrill at the unexpected freshness and enthusiastic creativity of this film.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for some fantasy violence and risque humor.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.