not so wicked

Recently I watched Stardust, which was directed by Matthew Vaughan, and co-written by him and Jane Goldman. I haven’t read the original comic, so I can’t comment on how well it’s adapted.

There were a lot of things in the film I liked, but there were several irksome issues that spoiled the experience because they pulled me from the story. The film is a pretty faithful quest story, where the hero realises that what he wanted and what he needed are two different things, with plenty of obstacles and interruptions. Since it is explicitly set in a fairy tale environment there are the usual tropes: a dispute over royal lineage, evil witches, a damsel in distress (two), sword-fighting, and a couple falling in love. In it Tristan (who is unaware of his special parentage) decides to find a fallen star, Yvaine, to win the heart of the fickle Victoria, but he has to cross the Wall into the fairy kingdom in order to do so. (This physical boundary between the worlds is one of the most incredulous elements in the story.)

A lot of the time the story gets things right, but when you pick at the threads much of the world unravels into inconsistency. At least twice people are saved through sheer coincidence – a unicorn appears out of nowhere, and the flying pirate ship saves the star-crossed (ha!) couple from death (how were they able to stand on clouds?). Apparently you can learn to be an outstanding swordsman in a couple of days. I wouldn’t mind this so much since time normally works weirdly in the land of fairy, but it’s explicit in the story that time runs in the same fashion both in and out of fairy.

What I did like were all the gruesome bits, such as the witches, even if they were completely stereotypical, because at least they were gloriously nasty. The squabbling of the brothers, their assassinations, and the ghosts provided a funny touch to the film. The flying pirate ship was great. The dialogue worked, and was quite funny, although it was anachronistic in several places. Most of all I adored Billy the hotel manager.

My biggest problem is with the ending. As it progressed towards its inevitable showdown I began to wonder what Yvaine could do except be pretty and glow. Oh, apparently, she can glow a lot. You see, with true love in your heart, and the right guy by your side, you can conquer anything. The ending becomes a feast of “and they all lived happily ever after”, which made my teeth ache a little. Towards the end I had a sneaking desire for the witches to cut out Yvaine’s heart.

I’m a fan of fairy tales, but often they are not nice. Because they came from an era where life wasn’t simple, good people didn’t always triumph, and the woods were teeming with creatures and bandits that could kill you.

This is not to say that I don’t want a happy ending – generally I prefer them to miserable endings – but they need to be earned, and ring true for the story that’s been established. I would have expected in this day and age that Yvaine could have been a bit more proactive, and the story could have examined or upturned the usual narrative forces.

Some people might think I’m being churlish, and I’m certainly being picky. It’s a film I would watch again, and there are memorable sequences in it, but it suggests more than it delivers. It’s a fun time, but I expected at least a new twist on what is an old tale.