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Imaginative Stardust Casts a Silly Spell

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2007 10 Aug
Imaginative <i>Stardust</i> Casts a Silly Spell

DVD Release Date:  December 18, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: August 10, 2007
Rating: PG-13 (for some fantasy violence and risque humor)
Genre: Fantasy
Run Time: 130 min.
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Actors: Charlie Cox, Ian McKellan (narrator), Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Sienna Miller, Peter O’Toole, Mark Strong, Robert De Niro

In Stardust, three witches cast spells, transform humans into animals, practice divination and unleash their fury upon anyone who stands in their way. It’s a fantasy film, but as a story that explores witchcraft and black magic, it’s bound to alienate many Christian viewers. Should we expose ourselves to depictions of these individuals, whose behaviors explicitly are condemned in the Bible? Are the characters glorified or vilified? Do they serve a story with redemptive themes? Is that story well told and well acted?

These questions and arguments have grown old, but the battle lines remain drawn. Does conscience dictate what sort of stories Christians can watch, or are certain stories declared off-limits from the start, leaving conscience out of the equation altogether?

The debate over such material is sure to rear its head again with the release of Stardust, an imaginative tale with no small amount of humor to underscore its story of love and devotion. It’s also frightening at times—not appropriate for younger children—and so packed with plot and characters that it might temporarily lose even the most attentive viewers. But in the end, the film pays off as a romantic fantasy in which good triumphs over evil.

A quest for love runs up against a quest for immortality when Tristan (Charlie Cox), a village boy who desperately wants to win the hand of Victoria (Sienna Miller), vows to venture beyond their village and retrieve a fallen star from the magical Stormhold.

The fallen star takes the shape of Yvaine (Claire Danes), who hobbles around Stormhold while Tristan tries to track her down. However, he’s not the only person interested in the star. Stormhold’s king (Peter O’Toole) tells his three surviving sons that the one of them who captures Yvaine will inherit the king’s throne.

The brothers’ machinations are watched by the ghosts of four deceased siblings, who killed each other off in earlier attempts to position themselves as the heir to their father’s kingdom. This amusing Greek chorus grimaces and offers droll commentary as they watch the trio of surviving princes jockey for advantage—with mortal consequences—in their pursuit of Yvaine.

Also after Yvaine are a trio of witches, led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who plan to eat Yvaine’s heart—a gruesome ritual that will, they claim, restore their youth and beauty, and grant them eternal life. Using their powers, the witches transform the hag Lamia into a knockout, but one whose beauty fades each time she uses her magic powers.

There’s yet more to the story. In his quest to return to his village, Tristan and Yvaine catch a ride on a flying ship commanded by Shakespeare (Robert De Niro)—a tough-as-nails captain in front of his men, but a lover of frilly women’s clothes and makeup when his crew is out of sight. De Niro’s performance brings a broad comic tone to the proceedings, and while the purpose of Shakespeare and his crew to the overall resolution of the plot is tenuous, the performances are so entertaining that most viewers won’t notice, or care.

Although cluttered with characters, Stardust rarely lags. We’re not so much vested in the outcome of Tristan’s romantic future as we are in enjoying the shenanigans among the king’s three sons, Lamia, and Captain Shakespeare and his shipmates. The witches’ dark powers are disturbing at times, but the women are never portrayed as anything other than evil and conniving. The only character with good intentions is Tristan, whose transformation from smitten village boy to swaggering hero is nicely pulled off by the likable Cox. Danes fares less well as Yvaine, but Pfeiffer and De Niro more than compensate for the weaker portrayal. Pfeiffer’s Lamia, especially, is brought vividly to life—a second strong role for the actress this summer (she’s also the villain in Hairspray) after a long time away from the big screen.

Stardust is, in the end, a lot of fun, if inconsequential. Its appeal is limited by some frightening moments and darker characters, but it concludes on a note of hope and love—a storybook ending to an enchanting summer’s tale.

Questions or comments about this review? Contact Christian Hamaker at

  Teens and up


  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; a few profanities.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking of champagne.
  • Sex/Nudity: Some kissing; a woman asks a man, “See anything you like?”; a man and woman close a door before having sex, which is implied but not shown; a woman disrobes, but nothing is shown; a witch turns a man into a woman, giving him breasts; a ship captain dresses in women’s clothing and is secretly homosexual.
  • Violence: Man is shoved out of a window; ghosts of dead men reveal their grisly causes of death; witches sacrifice animals; a guard hits a man with a staff; plans to cut out a woman’s heart and eat it; captain of a flying ship throws someone overboard; a woman’s headless body continues moving; a person is impaled; a witch employs a voodoo-doll technique to incapacitate and attack a man; exploding glass.
  • Witchcraft/Wizardry: Witches practice divination, cast spells, and unleash their powers against anyone who stands in their way; men cast runes to determine a course of action; discussion of how to gain immortality through certain rituals; discussion of black magic.