Deborah Ross

Familiar fantasy

Cinema: Stardust

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OK, here we have a fantasy film and I absolutely hate fantasy films. They bore me to hell and back, plus what if one day I don’t actually make it back? What if I end up stuck for all eternity in some place where, for example, everyone insists on speaking Elvish and having three-day message-board conversations about the story arc of Blake’s 7 or the nuances of Quidditch before going back to work on the helpdesk at the library?

I accept this is probably my limitation; that my imagination is a dried, shrivelled-up husk of a thing, which does makes it simpatico with my face but does not make it simpatico with this particular genre. But there you have it and there I have always had it. As a kid, I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe until they went into the wardrobe, and then I lost interest entirely. If it is completely beyond the bounds of human possibility, why should I care? I’ve got better things to do, as you know.

So, why Stardust this week, then, when it’s just the kind of film I loathe? Good question. Well done, you! For that, I might not box your ears, although I’m not promising. I might just feel like it anyway. The answer? I was intrigued, I guess. It’s directed by Matthew Vaughn, who produced Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and then directed Layer Cake. He also wrote the screenplay along with Jane Goldman, a successful author in her own right, as well as wife of Jonathan Ross, also in her own right. And it stars, among others, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter O’Toole (don’t get too excited; he has three lines then pops his clogs), Sienna Miller and Ricky Gervais. What would, could, such an ensemble pull off? Might they play with the genre, have a bit of fun, take it for a ride and then maybe smash it against the sidings? I hoped so.

Here’s the deal: the film opens in Victorian England, which is cool, nothing wrong with that, except for this: the characters say things to each other like ‘grow up and get over yourself’, which doesn’t seem very Victorian to me, but there I go again, being all literal and exact, for which I hope you’ll forgive me and understand that I cannot help myself. Now, this England is separated from the fantasy kingdom of Stormhold by a wall, and inside the wall, in a village conveniently named Wall, lives a lad named Tristan (Charlie Cox), who is in love with a snotty lass named Victoria (Sienna Miller, being snotty, which might not be such a stretch).

He fears losing her to a rival, but one night they see a shooting star fall inside the wall, and he vows to retrieve it for her. So over the wall he goes, which is treated as a big thing, even though the wall is the most scaleable wall ever — no higher than you or I — but there I go again, so I’ll quickly move on and say that beyond the wall he discovers that the star is, in fact, a beautiful girl with long blonde hair named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Why is this girl a star? No idea. Why is Claire Danes a star? No idea. She acts as if she’s just successfully auditioned for a Timotei ad. And then the rest, as they say, is fantasy.

This is utterly formulaic. True, there are a few jokes, but as they are all extraordinarily lame — as is Gervais’s cameo as a tricky trader — this can’t be called a send-up. It is what fantasy always is. It’s good v evil and magic powers and spectral ships and enchanted gems and runes and lots of sword ’n’ sorcery action — with such climatic music it’s like putting your head between a pair of cymbals — and, at the heart of it all, the imperilled beauty that is Timotei Danes and the questing handsome fella who is Charlie Cox but could just as well have been Borelando Bloom, because that’s how colourless he is. True, De Niro as a camp, cancan-loving pirate does steal the show but rather as, say, Brando might have done if he’d ever agreed to a guest appearance on Holby City. It wouldn’t have taken much.

All in all this, alas, is a grindingly familiar huge pile of nothing which may please six-year-olds and fantasy nerds, but that’s about it. I wish, of course, I could say all this in Elvish but, of course, I’m only joking. I’d rather be dead. Toodle-pip!