Unless I'm reviewing something, I'm the kind of guy that needs to hear some opinions on a film before I go and see it blindly, especially if said film has been flying low on the hype radar. I saw a trailer for Stardust a few years ago and thought it looked intriguing enough, but I never heard anything following its theatrical release. The buzz had been quiet on every front - Internet, media, friends, you name it. Hell, it was only recently (three years after the fact) that I had a friend tell me, "I effin loved it!" Furthermore, the trend continued upon the film's debut on both DVD and HD-DVD. I tried to use recommendations from the trusted reviewers of DVDTalk to help me out, but as their ratings ranged from 'rent it' to 'highly recommended', I was just as mystified as ever. I wanted to see this film, but I just wasn't sure if it was going to be worth the money, or more importantly, my time. Fate has a funny way of working things out though, as I was pleasantly surprised to see that a Blu-ray copy of Stardust had finally found its way into our review queue. Needless to say, I couldn't resist. Fate had seemingly determined that I would indeed go into this film as blind as a bat, but you know what? I'm really glad I did, because Stardust is one of the most fun and entertaining films I've had the pleasure of watching in years.
Outside the English village of Wall, there's a portal that leads to a magical kingdom known as Stormhold. In this world of the fantastical, the king is on his deathbed. Although he's had no less than seven sons to ensure the continuation of his royal bloodline, they've all been raised to be as ruthless as necessary in their quest to claim the throne... up to and not excluding murdering their brothers. As a result, only two have survived the test of time (and luck), but the king insists that the once 'conventional' methods of climbing to the top will no longer be necessary, as he has a different test in mind for them. Using the last bit of strength he has, the king sends a ruby deep into the night sky and informs his sons that the first to recover the ruby will be the new king. It collides with a star and sends it crashing to the Earth in a magnificent show of light. Unfortunately for the royal brothers charged with the quest, this quickly gains the attention of others, making this a bigger hassle than even their father had anticipated it to be. A trio of old and decrepit witches enter the race (Michelle Pfeifer the most notable of the bunch), but they seek not the ruby, just the star itself. Devouring the heart of a star promises youth and rejuvenated power, so they'll stop at nothing to get to it first. Meanwhile in the plain and magic free village of Wall, a young man by the name of Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) also sees the star fall from the sky. In an attempt to win the heart of a girl he so desperately loves, Tristan promises to retrieve the star in time for her birthday. Little does he know that the star he's set out to find is not only a living being, but a very beautiful girl that would introduce herself as Yvaine (Claire Danes). Despite the surprise awaiting Tristan in the impact crater however, he's still determined to bring his 'true love' in Wall the star for her birthday. Needless to say, Yvaine isn't thrilled about being used as a trinket in a love game, but once she learns there are others out there that wish to extinguish her life for their own personal gain, her outlook on the situation changes drastically.
Now as I mentioned before, I had no idea what to expect going in to this film, and I admittedly had some concern after watching the first half hour or so. First complaint? The beginning of the film had too many moving parts being fired off in succession, and I was afraid that it would inevitably collapse under its own weight. Not to mention, it seemed like there was a strong possibility the film would move along at a snail's pace. Next, the acting had been more in line with a fine play than that of a theatrical tale of fantasy. As soon as Yvaine crashes to Earth however, my major concerns were put to bed. The overlapping storylines involving Tristan and Yvaine, the fratricidal brothers competing to find the ruby, as well as the witches that literally want to eat Yvaine's heart, instantly become one and the same. As a result, Stardust finally finds its stride and begins to flow at a fun and natural pace, never dragging its heels along the way. As far as the 'fine play' style of acting goes, it was clearly an intentional artistic choice by the filmmakers. It adds a bit of a fun camp factor to the film as a whole, which is more than fitting for the fantastical storybook vibe the film was seemingly trying to convey.
However, the central plot is only part of what makes Stardust such a fun-filled fantasy flick. For example, did you ever imagine Robert DeNiro would ever take the role of Captain Shakespeare, the man in charge of commanding a flying pirate ship? That's humorous enough, but there's more to Captain Shakespeare than meets the eye. His rough and tough exterior is only a façade to hold the respect of his crew, but there's a secret he's hiding that you're just going to have to see to believe. I guarantee you'll bust a gut laughing once you do, because you've never seen DeNiro like this! Ricky Gervais also makes a few brief appearances to add a little more comical spice to the mix. I could go on, but all that really needs to be said is this - Stardust has it all. Adventure, fantasy, drama, comedy, suspense, you name it. The real joy of Stardust however, lies within its romantically driven coming of age story. Tristan may have left the village of Wall thinking he knew what it meant to love, but stepping into the kingdom of Stormhold and finding Yvaine at the bottom of a charred crater changes everything. Wit, honor, and courage are tested at every turn, and the true meaning of love begins to reveal itself in the place he least expected to find it. I know this sounds like it's just another exhaustive story element on top of everything else, but this is the anchor of the film as a whole. The 'coming of age' does seem a little quick considering most of the movie takes place over the course of a week, but the budding relationship between Tristan and Yvaine is as natural as they come and makes this film a great choice for your next date night.
There were plenty of great films in 2007 that deserved the acclaim they got, but for my money, Stardust has the best replay value of them all. Don't take that to mean I think it's a superior film to the likes of Sweeney Todd, Across the Universe, or 3:10 to Yuma (my favorites from '07), but it's certainly the most fun and entertaining. The fact that I can sit down and watch this with my wife and know she's having just as much fun as I am is a big bonus. The film isn't without some pacing issues in the first half hour or so, but once the stage is set, every remaining minute of Stardust consistently remains better than the last. I had a big grin on my face after all was said and done, and I was already thinking about when I'd have enough time in my hectic schedule to watch it again. If that's not a compelling endorsement, than I don't what is. Just do yourself a favor and don't over think this. Either start researching the best prices at your local retailers, or at the very least queue it up on Netflix. However you go about seeing this film, just make sure you see Stardust at some point in the very near future.
Stardust arrives on Blu-ray on a decent, although not stunning AVC encoded transfer (1080p, 2.40:1). I'm sure most of the people that are reading this review really only have one question in mind - Is it better than the HD-DVD>? Seeing as how this is the first time I ever had the pleasure of watching Stardust, that's unfortunately a question I'm unable to answer at this time. That being said, the word I'd probably use to describe the high-def presentation this time around is 'inconsistent'. Edge enhancement isn't a concern, nor is digital noise reduction (more on that in a bit). There was one shot however that displayed some pretty nasty banding in the night sky, but it was the only time this particular culprit reared an ugly head. More often than not, Stardust exhibits a very natural film grain structure, but there are many shots throughout that look overly noisy, making the grain structure look way too digital for its own good. Black levels can look slightly heavy at times, whites have a tendency to bloom every once in a while, and skin tones have a tendency to come off looking a little warm. This is a fantasy/fairy tale kind of a film however, so I'm willing to bet the tweaked contrast levels and heavy color saturation had been an intentional artistic choice. The only other minor quibble I have is that there are a few soft shots here and there, but again, this seems to be indicative of the source, and not of the transfer itself.
Despite these complaints, Stardust is undoubtedly going to knock the DVD right on its duff in the video department. Much of the film is sharp, highly detailed, and offers a pretty nice sense of depth. There are some pretty bold uses of color throughout the film, and the Blu-ray really knows how to make those colors pop off the screen. I really can't imagine watching Stardust any other way, and I'm quite happy that my first experience with this film was on a Blu-ray disc. Maybe Stardust isn't the best that Paramount's had to offer, but I can't say that this AVC encode is a slouch, either.
Stardust's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is, in a word, magical. Much like the first half hour of the film itself, the sound mix really doesn't go out of its way to impress you. As soon as the core of the story begins to roll however, the soundstage really comes alive. The star of the lossless track is the musical score, without question. It fills the room with an intensity that makes you feel like the orchestra is playing right in your home theater, yet never crosses that very fine line of distracting us away from other sound elements in the film. No, sound effects are delivered with a nice sense of precision (although I wouldn't go as far as to say it was 'surgical'), and dialogue is always crisp and clear throughout. LFE is given a respectable, but not overwhelming , presentation as well. There's not a chance in the world that this isn't a huge step forward from the DVD, and audiophiles that happen to be fans of the film will walk away quite pleased.
Commentary by Writer and Director Matthew Vaughn and Writer Jane Goldman - Unfortunately, after enjoying Stardust upon my first viewing as much as I did, it was hard for me to sit through this commentary in its entirety (but I did anyway). The most interesting tidbits presented throughout were the details that speculated on the 'could have been'. There were some technical aspects of Stardust's production that appeared to be a little chincy, but Vaughn and Goldman are completely honest about some of the financial problems they had in regards to certain parts of the film. To their credit, Stardust is really quite impressive in its own right anyway (minus a few of the special effect shots that stuck out like a sore thumb). Other than that, Vaughn and Goldman leave quite a few silent pauses along the way, unfortunately making this commentary fall short of expectation. If you have a hard time sitting through most director commentaries as it is, then I'd skip this track entirely and move along to the following supplement.
Crossing the Wall: The Making of Stardust -This documentary is almost an hour long in its entirety, but is broken up into five parts for our viewing convenience - The Quest for the Stone, A Portal to Another World, What Do Stars Do?, A Quest of Enormous Importance..., andHave You Seen a Fallen Star? You'll see everything about the film's production - How it was translated between book and film, how they were able to pull such a fantastic cast into the mix, tons of behind-the-scenes footage, and a detailed look at how the special effects were crafted for the final product. Any fan of Stardust would be a fool to miss out on this in-depth supplement!
Nothing is True... - This is another brief (10 minutes) behind-the-scenes look at the film with Illustrator Charles Vess and Novelist Neil Gaiman.
Also included in this short list of special features are 5 Deleted Scenes, a Blooper Reel, and the Theatrical Trailer in HD.
Stardust may kick off with a bit of a stutter step, but once the story was finally given the opportunity to progress, I was having entirely too much fun to care. This film has a very pleasant blend of adventure, magic, fantasy, wit, charm, and humor, all of which culminate to make one of the most entertaining films I've seen in quite some time. Hollywood can be a little predictable and boring more often than not, as they have a tendency to churn out the same ole' crap year in and year out. Once in a while however, once in a great while, a shooting star falls from the sky and truly delivers on what filmmaking and cinema is truly about - Going to the movies and having a good time. Stardust is that unexpected shooting star, and if you're looking for something that's adventurous, fun, and a little different than the typical offerings from Hollywood, then you need to find a way to see this movie as soon as possible. As far as this Blu-ray disc itself is concerned, I can't imagine it being anything less than a substantial upgrade over the DVD in the AV department, so the upgrade there is really a no brainer. There aren't a lot of extras to bowl you over, but the nearly one hour documentary that's featured is about as in-depth as they come. This release comes highly recommended.