“Stardust” a funny but dark fairy tale for adults

“Stardust” sits at the crossroads where “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Princess Bride” meet. It’s funny, original and entertaining, to be sure, but there are some dark themes in this film that might not be suitable for a younger audience. Indeed, this film was not written with children in mind but adults.

Only the die-hard fans of Neil Gaiman, an award-winning author and creator of the cult classic “Sandman” series of graphic novels, will be aware of the novel that “Stardust” is based on. Those fans will not be disappointed by this adaptation, which only deletes what is superfluous for time’s sake and adds only what can supplement the film as a whole.

The storyline might seem simple at first glance: A star falls from the sky and a young man promises his lady love that he will retrieve it for her if she will marry him. This promise, however, becomes greatly complicated when he must travel through a magical faerie realm to do so and discovers that the star is a person, not an object.

Thus begins the quest and adventure that sets the pace for the entire film, and it is a magical thrill ride that viewers will enjoy. However, it doesn’t end there. Others are desperately seeking the star as well, and their purposes aren’t as innocent. There are witches who want the star so they can cut out her heart and eat it to retain youth and eternal life.

There are also some princes who are seeking her because she possesses a necklace they must obtain to become the next heir to the throne. While that might seem innocent enough, they throw in an unhealthy mix of murder as they vie to be the only remaining survivor who can ascend to the throne of their recently deceased father. And once killed, they do not disappear. Instead, they become part of a ghostly set of macabre characters that hang about commenting on the action of the film, decked out in makeup to show how they actually died and appearing quite gruesome at times.

It is unlike any other film being produced in Hollywood today. It is not derivative of anything in the theaters at all, and its originality might make people reluctant to see it – especially when they hear that it’s a fairy tale. But do not be mistaken, this is a fun movie with fantastic special effects and quite an amazing cast.

Michelle Pfeiffer (“Hairspray,” “What Lies Beneath”) is stunning as the evil witch chasing the star. She is not afraid to look old and haggard in her makeup, but plays the character to the hilt. But it is Robert De Niro (“The Good Shepherd,” “Meet the Fockers”) who steals the show with his portrayal of a captain of a ship of sky pirates. This is De Niro unlike you’ve ever seen him, playing against typecasting, and he is fabulously funny.

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But the stellar acting cast doesn’t stop there. There are many other recognizable actors in bit parts that will have the audience laughing and reveling at their inclusion.

And the visual appeal of this film is amazing. Not only is it filmed on location in Wales with beautiful scenery sprinkled throughout the film, but it is also reminiscent of “Lord of the Rings” with the fantastical sets that are designed as part of the faerie world.

The film is also rife with special effects. The witches use magic to transform people and things to their liking, there are flying ships, and of course the star Yvaine, played by Claire Danes (“The Family Stone,” “Shop Girl”), must glow from time to time.

This alone would make for a wonderful film visually, but the director also made some great artistic choices that make it beautiful to behold. There is a brilliant jump cut from a moon to a coin floating in air that must be cataloged right up there with the famous jump cut in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” And the appearance of the star when she first falls to the earth with her golden-white hair spread out around her like a halo shows beautiful design as well.

While a fairy tale might not seem like average moviegoing fare, this film delivers more than it promises from the previews. It is definitely enjoyable on many levels, but the mature subject matter might make it a difficult draw. Yet it is a fresh breath of air in a summer surrounded by films that try to remake or continue previous films that have been successful.