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Featured Blu-ray Review: Stardust

September 4th, 2010

Stardust - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Since breaking into directing with Layer Cake, Matthew Vaughn has yet to make a bad movie. Even throwing in his producing credits and he only has one real dud, Swept Away. On the other hand, he's never had the breakout box office success either. (That might change with X-Men: First Class when it comes out next year.) Stardust earned impressive reviews, but it wasn't able to live up to expectations at the box office, barely making more than it cost to advertise. I've previously reviewed the film when it came out on DVD / HD DVD (Remember that format?) so much of this review will be seem familiar to long-time readers and the question is if the movie is worth owning, it is, but is the Blu-ray worth is worth upgrading to.

The Movie

The film is set in England, at least for a little part of the movie. We are told about the town of Wall, which is named after the long stone wall it is located near. This wall has been there for hundreds of years and is meant to keep the world of England separate from the world of Stormhold, a magical world. However, there's a break in the wall that must be guarded at all time. At the beginning of the movie, we see a young Dunstan Thorne manage to outwit and outrun the old guardian and get into Stormhold. Once there, he meets the beautiful Princess Una, who is a slave to Ditchwater Sal, a witch. Una and Dunstan share the night, which results in Tristan.

The film then moves forward to when Tristan is about the same age as his dad was when his dad had his adventure. It seems unlikely that Tristan will have the same kind of luck. He's hopelessly infatuated with a woman, Victoria, which everyone thinks is out if his league, and that includes Victoria herself, as well as Humphrey, her boyfriend. He tries one last attempt to win her heart by taking her out on a midnight picnic and when the pair see a falling star, Tristan swears he will retrieve that star and give it to Victoria, but it will be a very hard oath to uphold, as the star fell in Stormhold.

Further complicating maters, is the fact that the star didn't exactly fall, as it was knocked out of the sky. Also, it's not so much an it, as it is a she. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. In Stormhold, there is a rather peculiar tradition among the princes in the royal family. They tend to kill each other off, so that by the time the king is old enough to be thinking about his heir, there's only one left. However, this time around, The King is on his deathbed and four of his seven sons are still alive. So in order to determine who will be king, he throws a ruby into the sky and tells his three remaining sons whoever finds it will be the next king. So his two sons, Primus and Septimus, the eldest and the youngest, travel to where they believe the ruby landed.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, the ruby actually knocked a star out of the sky causing it to fall to Earth. It turns out these fallen stars are filled with magical power, including the ability to restore youth, and even grant immortality. A trio of witches immediately set to work to find the fallen star, but it has been so long since they had one, that their powers are all but gone and only one of them, Lamia, can travel, and then only after they combine their powers.

So Tristan, the two princes, and the witch are all headed to the same area, but despite being painfully unprepared for the world of Stormhold, he manages to get there first. And when he does, he finds the shooting star is not a lump of rock as he was expecting, but a woman, Yvaine. Also, finding the shooting star is not the end of his adventure in Stormhold, but the beginning.

There's a lot of stuff happening in this film. The plot synopsis above is longer than most I write, and I still didn't get to major characters like Captain Shakespeare or Ferdy the Fence. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there is a truly rich and wonderful world within this movie. On the other hand, there is so much happening within the movie, that some have complained that it is simply too much for its two-hour running time to handle. I vehemently disagree with this objection. It does have a lot of elements, but it works. The film is a romantic comedy in a fantasy setting. It's an adventure movie with a protagonist who is unprepared for a world of magic. There's political intrigue with the princes, even if the outcome it telegraphed pretty early on in the movie. Fortunately, the film maintains an excellent balance between the three elements.

A lot of credit has to go the the cast, especially Charlie Cox, who infuses Tristan with the right mixture of charm and cluelessness. He is obviously being used by Victoria, but you still cheer for him. Or at least hope he wises up in time. Other major stars in the movie includes Claire Danes, Michelle Pfieffer, and Robert De Niro, not to mention actors like Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole, Ian McKeller, etc. in smaller parts.

With a great cast, a sense of wonder, and a story that is terrific (if a little busy), this should have a following similar to The Princess Bride. Granted, it's not quite as good, but odds are if you like one, you will like the other. And if you haven't seen either, they would make a great double-feature.

The Extras

This is not the first time this movie has been released on the home market and much of the old extras have been ported over (deleted scenes, outtakes, etc.). There are also plenty of new extras, starting with an audio commentary track with the director, Matthew Vaughn and the co-writer, Jane Goldman. Crossing the Wall: The Making of 'Stardust' is a five-part making of featurette starting with The Quest For the Stone, which chronicles how Neil Gaiman created the book. A Portal to Another World: From Page to Screen is a nine-minute featurette on how the book was adapted into a movie. What Do Stars Do? is a 15-minute look at the cast and how they were chosen. A Quest of Enormous Importance... looks at the shooting locations used throughout the film. And finally there's Have You Seen a Fallen Star?, a 16-minute look at the visual effects in the movie. Nothing Is True is a behind-the-scenes featurette with Neil Gaimen and Charles Vess, the writer and illustrator of the original book. In total, it's just over an hour of extras, most of which is new. Not a bad collection of extras, but it is missing the previous making of featurette, Good Omens: The Making of Stardust.

As for the film's technical presentation, it has a soft look and can appear a bit artificial at times. However, this has more to do with artistic choices made by the filmmakers than it has to do with a weak transfer. The sound is better, with the surround sound speakers getting a good workout throughout. It's good enough to show off your home theater system.

As for the price, it's a little hard to compare to the DVD, which came out a few years ago and is now heavily discounted. (You can pick it up for under $10.) $20 for a nearly first-run Blu-ray with new special features is an excellent price and this movie is worth owning in High Definition.

The Verdict

Stardust is a movie that really should have been a much bigger hit at the box office, even with a release date that was a little late in summer. I'm still not 100% sure why it didn't find an audience theatrically, but it deserves to be seen by more. Fortunately, the Blu-ray is worth picking up if you haven't seen it, and worth upgrading if you own it on DVD.

On a side note, this is the last movie I own on HD DVD to come out on Blu-ray (not counting the ones I got free with my player) and while it took nearly three years to come out, it was worth the wait.

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