Friday, September 28, 2007

Stardust, or On Aspiration

Stardust wears its ambitions brazenly: the aim here is revisiting the glory days of kidult fantasies like Willow and The Princess Bride. And it succeeds halfway: Stardust does make you feel like a kid again, but mainly inasmuch as it reminds you what it was like when grown-ups would all talk down and treat you like an idiot.

Let's face it here: while we all like these big sweeping fantasies just fine, they're brute-force storytelling. If you're doing it right, you don't have to overstate your plot loudly and slowly, like a tourist talking to a foreigner: your story's just not that clever.

Stardust does not realise this. Stardust, penned by the insufferably smug Neil Gaiman, really believes itself to be the cleverest, most subversive fairytale since... well, since The Princess Bride. And while it's unfair to compare a trifling frivolity with the all-time heavyweight in the genre, that's the comparison everyone seems to want to make.

But where a Neverending Story or a Krull would get on with the business of telling their tale, confident that audiences of any age would pick up on the important bits, Stardust is constantly stopping to make sure you know what's going on, and doing it via horrid, embarrassing attempts at down-with-the-kids dialog. Which is a shame, because when it just chills the fuck out and lets you wallow in its world, Stardust is really quite engaging. The big-name bit-parts disappoint terribly (De Niro's part seems entirely centred around the notion that gays are funny; Gervais' the assumption that we have watched The Office), but the core cast are singularly charming in a sprightly, winking, Sunday panto kind of way. The plot is shockingly inconsistent as a fairytale, but also gleefully plausible as - work with me here - an olde-worlde twist on the high-school-drama theme of fitting in with the popular kids.

Will Stardust be remembered with anything approaching the fondness of its esteemed antecedents? It's not likely, but then again, not quite inconceivable.

[originally appeared at Flicks]

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