Stardust is perhaps the greatest high fantasy work thus far in the Post-LOTR era. There are other fantasy movies that rank very high, but, in terms of the high fantasy genre, it's beyond reproach. The key to the film's entertainment value and artistic success is that it blends the conventions of its genre with those of larger-scale fairy tales. The narrative is structured around the poetic concept of following a shooting start...but in a very literal sense. A dispute over sovereignty of a magical realm leads to knocking a star out of orbit (it makes far more sense in the film). The star, anthropomorphized and portrayed wonderfully by Claire Danes, becomes the sought after person of interest for a Earthen boy (Charlie Cox), a family of scheming and merciless princes vying for the land's throne, and a triumvirate of witch queens who seek the star's heart to return them to their former power and beauty. I'm making it sound very simple, but their's so much depth and play at work in this very well-polished piece. The fantastic visuals, gorgeous cinematography, and absolutely magnificent score each glisten individually, but they meld together to make a triumphant contribution to fantasy film and what we should expect from filmmakers working in the genre. The script is as concise as it is rich with intrigue and thematic exploration: employing the motifs of a veritable encyclopedia of magical conventions and always imbuing them with beautiful newness. It's exceedingly difficult to make a young man's transition from small-town everyman into romantic-warrior believable, but this film achieves that so well with Charlie Cox's splendidly written and phenomenally acted performance. As I mentioned, their are three major plot-lines that all focus on the Claire Danes's fallen star character, Yvaine. The princes of the land seek the king's necklace, which would give one of them sovereignty over this fable world of Stormhold. Each prince is villainous and willing to kill his brothers for the crown. Mark Strong plays the most intense of the brothers, and his performance, like those of the other brothers, is full of murder contrasted with elements of comedy. The previously discarded princes are cursed to a ghost state until the necklace is claimed, and they provide wonderfully dry comic relief. There are a number of cameo appearance by actors like Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, and Peter O'Toole, but, if they are to be defined as cameos, they are the most natural feeling kind of appearances--never detracting from the story but adding to it. Michelle Pfeiffer almost steals the show as Lamia, the most evil and powerful of the three witch queens. Always a consummate professional and rightfully ambitious actress, Pfeiffer's Lamia is an evil mastermind, a cunning warrior, and a villainous sorceress par excellence.
The only real flaw I find in the movie is surprising Robert De Niro's character, a secretly gay air-pirate. The character is written in a way that is hard not to see as willfully parodying gay men. I don't know that I'd call it a homophobic portrayal necessarily, but it does hearken back to foppish stock characters. There is nothing wrong with what we might call a more effeminate gay man, but there is very little by way of plot to suggest validation of the character's true self, choosing rather to make him a long-running gag character (though he is essential to the plot). With the three overlapping quests of Charlie Cox's young hero, the prince fraternity, and the witch sisters, the narrative is able to intersect them is so many different ways--all of which are entertaining and artistically reverent to the fantastic. The film does an excellent job of ranking the threat level by making Lamia's quest more covert, and thus more dangerous to anyone standing in her way. The revelations of the conclusion are so beautifully done and presented in a natural way. It's undoubtedly a fun film, but I'm very proud of its artistic merit. The film never seeks to cash in on those craving fantasy narratives: it only adds richness to the genre.