I saw Stardust in Perth last month and had long wanted to review it, but never had the time. While I like some of Gaiman's works, Justin and I had been rather outspoken about our problem with Neil Gaiman. I never understood the fuss about AMERICAN GODS, I found it underwhelming and paled in comparison with his earlier works, STARDUST and NEVERWHERE and even the short stories he wrote in SMOKES AND MIRRORS (won't be bringing the graphic novels into the fray).
Stardust is BY FAR my favourite Neil Gaiman book, and I'm just as excited as anyone when I heard news about the star-studded (pun unintended) film. To have Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O'Toole, Ricky Gervais, Claire Danes, Sienna Miller etc. in the cast heightened my expectations, because I am still not yet cynical enough to believe that too many cooks can spoil the broth.
The trailer fazed me a little because it looked like a generic fantasy film, more Eragon than Lord of the Rings, but I thought 'Nah! This is Stardust, it can't be as bad as Eragon!'. When the film became a resounding flop at the box-office, and the overall reviews hadn't been kind, I thought 'Perhaps this film is not THAT mainstream thus limiting the amount of people who would enjoy it'
When I saw the film, I was definitely disappointed. I've said over and over again that I never compare a film adaptation with its source material, to enjoy a film for what it is based on its own artistic merits instead of hating on a film because it's not faithful enough to the book. Yet Stardust is one of those rare films that made me wish that director Matthew Vaughn would have tried to be more faithful to the book so that the film could possibly be better.
Stardust the book is, to me, essentially a romance and a coming-of-age story, the adventures and quests, along with the other colourful characters Tristan met are merely ornaments to the fine love story between he and Yvaine.
Stardust the film, however, tried to conform to most Hollywood formula, hoping to appeal more to the masses. Less a romance and coming-of-age story and more an action-adventure, characters are now painted in broad strokes, Victoria, Tristan's initial object of affection, becomes a one-dimensional bitch, just so it'll be easier for audiences to root for Tristan's relationship with Yvaine. But how can Yvaine and Tristan's love story work when their interaction is so underdeveloped? Their bickering is funny at first, but there are only one or two of those scenes, and all of a sudden, they are madly in love with each other... the climax of the film becomes an unnecessary showdown with the main villain (that's really more anticlimatic than mindblowing) instead of a realization of one's true feelings for another.
Sure, it makes things more 'Hollywood', but execution isn't that good, and when the shallowness of the characters are concealed by their forced quirkiness, I feel a little more annoyed than entertained, yes, Robert De Niro plays a cross-dresser who dances can-can, it's a highlight of the man's illustrious and legendary acting career, but it's sad when THAT is the highlight of a bland and lifeless film.
What is so unique, to some, about the film is perhaps its attempts at being more 'British' than previous fantasy fares like Eragon, with its (forced) British humour that we don't see in the self-serious Eragon, Narnia etc. So the film DID make me giggle, but most giggles were followed by a grimace.
Character development became secondary to the plot, and thus harder for me to be interested in what's going to happen to the protagonists, and when audiences cannot relate to the main characters of a fantasy film (often they serve as the guides to a fantasy world, it's the realism amongst the fairies that make these films more engaging) the film's screwed, regardless of how funny it tries to be, how colourful the fantasy world seems, how many explosions and fights they have, how lavish the production values are etc.
In his Sept 27 Guardian article, Neil Gaiman had voiced his support for adaptations of his work, saying that it's just like one fairy tale being passed from one generation to another, the tale itself constantly evolving as if it were a living being, he had lots of kind words to say about this film. I have nothing against this film's refusal to stick closely to its source material, it's good for filmmakers to try take creative liberties when adapting a novel for the sake of maximizing its quality for something of a different medium, but I feel that this film is doing the book a great disservice by becoming so contrived and generic that it ends up seemingly emulating all other fantasy films out there.
Quite a pity, really.