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Paramount Home Video presents
Stardust HD-DVD (2007)

"Victoria, for your hand in marriage, I'd cross the wall and I'd bring you back that fallen star."
- Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 17, 2007

Stars: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller
Other Stars: Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng, Mark Strong, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Kate Magowan, David Walliams, Ian McKellen
Director: Matthew Vaughn

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy violence and some risqué humor
Run Time: 02h:07m:32s
Release Date: December 18, 2007
UPC: 097361317403
Genre: fantasy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A B-

DVD Review

As J.R.R. Tolkien observed, telling tales of faerie is a tricky business; doing so for adults is even more so. Only rarely do such efforts succeed without wandering into self-parody or taking themselves far too seriously. Noted comics writer Neil Gaiman deftly walked that tightrope with his novel (and graphic novel) Stardust, which was fun without being postmodern or ironic. That sense of wonder and delight comes to the screen in marvelous fashion in this delightful adaptation.

The story is fairly complicated, but its central conceit is the notion of a wall separating the little English village of Wall from the magical kingdom of Stormhold. Young Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), inept and ridiculous, tries to woo village beauty Victoria (Sienna Miller), and she mockingly agrees to marry him if he will retrieve the fallen star they've just observed. Taking his task seriously, Tristan sets out to the other side of the Wall, where the star fell. But since it landed in a magical realm, the star takes the form of Yvaine (Claire Danes), and Tristan endeavors to bring her back to Victoria. He's not the only one with an interest in her, however, for centuries-old witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her sisters know that they can regain their youth by cutting out Yvaine's heart and devouring it. At the same time, a group of fratricidal princes are in pursuit of her because the necklace she wears holds the key to obtaining the throne of Stormhold. Adventures ensue, with magic, swashbuckling and cross-dressing flying pirates led by Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) standing in the way.

Although many of the elements here are familiar, they are combined in a wholly original way that makes the story fresh and constantly entertaining. There is a sharply British wit evident throughout, and the dialogue is crisply funny, and often delivered with hilarious aplomb. A definite highlight is a largely-improvised session of bargaining between Captain Shakespeare and Ferdy the Fence (Ricky Gervais of the British version of The Office). The production design makes excellent use of practical scenery and effects, subtly combined with computer graphics to keep the magic grounded and feeling as if it's an everyday occurrence in Stormhold. The central romance works exceedingly well thanks to the superb chemistry between Cox and Danes.

Director Matthew Vaughn somehow managed to assemble a dream cast here, headed by De Niro, who at first appears to be wildly overacting, though it's soon revealed that there's a reason behind that. Pfeiffer is more than a good sport in her willingness both to be made up as an aged crone, and to poke fun at the character's vanity at her restored youth. That gives rise to some well-realized moments where she desperately tries to maintain her beauty, only to cause herself different problems. Peter O'Toole makes a brief appearance as the dying king of Stormhold, while an unbilled Ian McKellen serves as narrator. Danes is excellent, moving effortlessly from a innocent naivete to the wisdom of an ancient star, depending on the circumstances. Cox in all likelihood will not remain an unknown for long, because he does a superb job of holding down the lead and giving the character a credible arc that is highly satisfying.

There's a pervasive sense of whimsy present throughout, though it's measured so that it never becomes annoying or cloying. Particularly good are the deceased princes, who follow the ever-decreasing number of survivors around like a spectral peanut gallery, commenting on the action and trying ineffectually to influence events. The climax is built up to through a series of intercut chases that would do D.W. Griffith proud in the cumulative suspense. Comic bits such as the ridiculous behavior of a goat made human by Lamia keep the sense of fun going even when there are dark thematic elements at work, as is the case in the best fairy tales. Unabashedly romantic, Stardust is highly entertaining and enjoyable from beginning to end.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The visuals of Charles Vess are for much of the movie dispensed with, though that's not surprising; his ethereal work would be very hard to translate to the screen in flesh-and-blood fashion. But what's here looks superb for the most part. There's more fine detail and clarity than we usually see on live-action HD DVDs from Paramount, indicating that digital noise reduction has been restrained for once. By the same token, there's no hint of edge enhancement either. The one scene that doesn't look quite right is a very brightly lit sequence in the woods, which suffers from substantial blocking. That's disappointing and keeps this from getting the very highest marks; otherwise, the video is excellent.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
+
English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The musical score by Ilan Eshkeri is occasionally a mite twee, though when it shifts into bombastic mode (more than occasionally revealing a Howard Shore influence) it's more effective, and the DD+ tracks render it with excellent range. There's not a lot of clear directionality in the music, though there is plenty with the sound effects, particularly during the aerial sequences, as rain and lightning strike all around the viewer. Dialogue is crisp and clear at all times, and the sound is appropriately hiss-free and without noise of any kind.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Blooper reel
Extras Review: There's a reasonably solid package of extras here, though this would be one movie that I'd really like to see reissued with a proper HD commentary featuring visual examples of the blue and green-screen work. That said, Good Omens: The Making of Stardust (29m:52s) is a more solid documentary than we usually get. It focuses on the original writing and the adaptation process, as well as the casting, without being fluffy or vapid. There's a good deal of behind-the-scenes material here, as well as some interesting comments about the production design (for instance, the carriage that one of the princes drives is based on a Hummer). This documentary and the theatrical trailer are presented in HD.

There are five deleted scenes presented in standard definition, several of which are focused on the ghosts. They all work pretty well, so they obviously were cut for pacing purposes. Anyone familiar with Ricky Gervais will know that there has to be a substantial number of outtakes, and the blooper reel (5m:23s) doesn't disappoint on that account. It's funnier than most, and it offers more of the De Niro/Gervais improvisation sequence, which makes it worth viewing all by itself.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Easily one of the best films of the year, this underappreciated gem comes across beautifully in HD, with some entertaining extras to boot.

 


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