Another Underrated List is yet another list of so called “underrated” films from yet another white guy who writes about films on the internet. This month, I’m adding Stardust, a truly wonderful, and dare I say better, adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s delightful fantasy novel.
While I was writing the last issue of Another Underrated List on Only the Brave, a thought occurred to me: Despite the fact that I’m now five issues into this newsletter, I have yet to write about a film with a happy ending.*
Now, I’m not someone who is anti-fun and happy movies. But, I do have a tendency to watch dramatic and realistic works way more often than comedies and lighter fare. In 2017, this tendency led me to watch, thirty-two Film noirs, all complete with Hays Code mandated endings where the criminals must get punished (killed) for their crimes against society. And though I watched plenty of other films in 2017, with many of them being fun and happy, all I could think and talk about during this time was Film noir.
However, 2017 was also the year I read Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s darkly comic novel Good Omens, which involves the misadventures of an angel and a demon working together to stop the twelve-year-old Adam, who happens to be the Antichrist, from destroying the world. This past May saw the release of the long awaited miniseries adaptation, and, I must say, it was delightful. It also reminded me of another delightful film based on a Neil Gaiman book that I had kind of forgotten about: Stardust.
Stardust is a bit of an oddity when it comes to modern fantasy films. Since the success of The Lord of the Rings films, recent entrants to the genre have focused on bringing realism and grittiness to their magical worlds; think Game of Thrones.
Stardust, on the other hand, embraces the charm and whimsy that has traditionally been apart of the fantasy and fairytale genre. It’s a simple story. A boy, Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), likes a girl Victoria (Sienna Miller), but the girl is engaged to another.** But the boy really, REALLY likes her.*** So, to prove to it to her, the boy promises to retrieve a shooting star and gift it to her as a token of his “love”.
Yet, since this is a fantasy after all, the star is a woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes) Though they argue and fight at first, during the ensuing adventure Tristan and Yvaine discover that they need each other to survive. And, also true love. Toss in an evil witch, plus a competition for the throne of the kingdom, and I’m sure from this basic description that you can already guess that Stardust ends in happily ever after.
But, as the old adage goes, it’s journey that matters, not the destination. And what a journey Stardust sends you on. From ghost princes to more average witches to a goat turned human, there is a lot to love about Stardust other than it being a charming, and I do mean charming in both senses of the word, love story.
There are a plethora of great supporting actors: a different but surprisingly good turn for Robert De Niro as the pirate Bill Shakespeare, Mark Strong as one of the princes vying for his father’s throne****, and even the late Peter O’Toole as the sadistic, late king. There is, as always in any Neil Gaiman work, the author’s whip smart sense of humor. Though, I will say having read the original novel, writers Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman are also worthy of praise for their original ideas that they brought to the film. (Yes, the film is better than the book.*****) There is even a playful narrator, voiced by Ian McKellen no less.
While the overall whole might be the same as any classic of the fairytale genre, it parts like these that make Stardust truly shine, and once again, I do mean in both senses of the word..
*Into the Inferno doesn’t really have ending that can be classified as sad or happy, but since it ends on the rumination that the molten magma of the inner earth will one day burst forth and destroy the entire planet, I wouldn’t exactly call it happy.
**Also she’s just using him to get free stuff.
***BUT HE REALLY LIKES HER!! (Cue teen angst.)
****Note: Mark Strong actually has hair in this film.
*****The written word and film are two seperate mediums. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages. You can enjoy both without having to compare them to the other (End soap box rant.)
******For further, fun footnotes, read Good Omens.
Originally published in October 2019