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Review (8/10)
(By Adam Whyte)

I try not to read reviews of movies before reviewing them myself, but I have noticed every time I've glimpsed at a review of "Stardust" that words "The Princess Bride" have jumped out; generally in the first sentence, so there I go repeating everyone. The comparison is useful, I suppose, because if you like "The Princess Bride," and you really ought to, then you're likely to enjoy "Stardust," which follows in the tradition of amusing, witty and old-fashioned-yet-knowing adventure stories without needing to reach for pop-culture in-jokes or crude humour. The comparison is also slightly unfair, because as much as I enjoyed "Stardust," it isn't up there with "The Princess Bride" for entertainment or involvement. Nevertheless it provides you with something rather lacking in this year’s blockbusters: a good time.

It tells the story... well, I'm not even sure how to finish that sentence. The movie is so fast-paced and audacious in its storytelling that when it does allow for moments of introspection, we're slightly taken aback. We start in the 19th century, in a town in England called Wall. There, a boy called Tristan sees a star fall to Earth and decides that if he retrieves it then the girl he loves will shake off her arrogant boyfriend and run off with him. He's fairly smart, but not smart enough to realise that any girl with such a viciously obnoxious boyfriend is probably not worth the effort. The star is on the other side of the wall that runs along the village, a wall which, legend has it (what a wonderful phrase), borders with a magical land.

Tristan crosses the wall and, wouldn't you know it, it really does border with a magical land, known as Stormhold. Here, the King (Peter O'Toole, who is getting a lot of work these days considering the way people keep talking about him as if he's about to die) sets his seven sons a challenge to find out which is worthy of the throne; they must retrieve a ruby. Meanwhile, Tristan finds the spot where the star fell. The star that fell turns out to be Claire Danes, or rather Yvaine, who was just minding her business when the same bloody great ruby knocked her to Earth (or to Stormhold, at least, which may or may not exist in this universe, I dunno). Meanwhile (I promise that's the last 'meanwhile') three wrinkly old witches spot the star and decide to retrieve it to restore their youth; the witches are led by Lamia, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who has held onto her looks surprisingly well - at least, in the scenes when she isn't under make-up that adds a good 100 years. Just to make things neat, Yvaine has the necklace with the coveted ruby around her neck, so both the seven princes (whose numbers deplete rather quickly, but who continue to appear as ghosts) and Lamia are both after the fallen star, making her one of the prettiest MacGuffins the movies have ever seen.

The world of Stormhold all looks rather wonderful; I particularly liked the exteriors of the witch's mansion and the castle, which sits on a tower so high that it ought to have a lightning rod. Talking of lightning, Robert De Niro turns up as the fearsome (or maybe not so fearsome) Captain Shakespeare, who sails across the sky in a ship channelling and collecting lightning bolts. De Niro, along with Ricky Gervais as a dodgy tradesman, provides the movie with entertaining diversion along the way. It goes without saying that Tristan will have learnt a few lessons - not to mention look a lot cooler, thanks to the work of an unexpected hair stylist - by the end of the movie, but the destination is not so much the point. What "Stardust" provides is a thoroughly entertaining movie that even at 2 hours never bored me - which is really saying something considering how long some of this Summer's blockbusters have felt. The movie has not been a big success in America, thanks in part I expect to the marketing - the trailer tries to show too much of the plot, and ends up just being confusing. But the movie never is, and I'm also pleased by the fact that the film is a PG that will doubtless be enjoyed by kids of all ages. It doesn't have over-the-top violence and avoids the darkness of "Lord of the Rings" - indeed one of the things I liked about it is that, unlike the Narnia movie, it isn't just a sub-Rings rip-off, but takes a cheerful, more escapist route.

It is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who made "Layer Cake" - which couldn't be more different - and adapted from a novel by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman was also behind the script for 2005's "Mirrormask," a movie deeply loved by me and unseen by just about everyone else. I wasn't as taken aback by the visuals of "Stardust" as I was for "Mirrormask," but it nevertheless looks good, provides a genuinely good time, and, if nothing else, puts De Niro's trademark mole to superb use.


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