Thursday, February 2, 2012

2008 Hugo Dramatic Presentation, Long Form – STARDUST

Neil Gaiman’s had a pretty good decade at the Hugos. Something written by Gaiman (or adapted from something written by Gaiman, in this case) won in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, and 2009, he received nominations in 2000, 2007 and 2010, and he declined a nomination in 2006. I guess he took 2005 off. Anyway, there’s been some grumbling about this, and even a New Yorker profile of Gaiman spent most of its space mocking his rabid fanbase. So, when you see a movie like Stardust, which did mediocre box office then promptly disappeared from most of the world’s consciousness (my wife claimed to have never heard of it*), well, it’s easy to chalk this up to Gaiman’s fanbase tipping another Hugo vote. Thing is, it’s actually a very cute movie.

The English town of Wall lies next to a giant stone wall that divides our world and a magical land called Stormhold. Tristan Thorne (a relative unknown named Charlie Cox) is a teenager who works in a shop in Wall and loves a girl named Victoria (Sienna Miller), who prefers the wealthier Humphrey (Clark Kent). To prove his love, Tristan promises to recover a falling star from the other side of the wall, then learns from his father that his long lost mother may be on the other side as well. Tristan finds the star personified as a young woman named Yvan (Clare Danes) and leads her back to the wall. Meanwhile, an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) hunts the star so she can consume its heart and regain her youth, and the surviving princes of Stormhold search for a necklace she wears so that they can ascend to the throne. Matthew Vaughn directs and manages to keep things light and make everything look good despite a moderate (though by no means small) budget.

When I saw the film in the theaters, I walked away with the impression that it was a bit of a mess. There are a couple of minor continuity errors and some awkward voice-overs that suggested a lot of late tinkering to me. There are also a couple of obnoxious celebrity cameos. I like Ricky Gervais, but he seems to be playing a parody of himself in a couple of brief scenes. Robert DeNiro has a bigger part with a few surprises, and I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or look away in embarrassment for most of his screentime. It’s a good idea (that I won’t give away), but the humor's a little too broad, and DeNiro doesn’t entirely succeed. I’ve never liked him in a comedic role, and this film didn’t buck that trend, even if it’s not as bad as the Fokkers stuff.

Those are really minor issues though.  Everyone else does quite well, despite much of the main cast being a mix of unknowns and used-to-bes. Gaiman’s plot is charming as hell, Vaughn’s touch is light but effective, and, overall, it’s a very sweet, fun film. I hardly noticed the minor errors this time, and I think my impression from my first viewing was just off. The film flowed quite smoothly, as long as you’re not being hypercritical.

So, as I said, very cute movie. Normally, “very cute” doesn’t necessarily make for a worthy Hugo winner, but when you look at the rest of the field…yeah. Harry Potter 5 was decent, but Golden Compass was very disappointing, Enchanted doesn’t really rise above Disney kids fare (though I’ve only seen pieces of it on cable, and Heroes season one was fascinating, but flawed (and its reputation was sunk by the awful seasons to follow, so it’s good it didn’t win). This is actually the one year where I’d support Jo Walton’s contention that “no award” should win Hugos for Dramatic Presentation more often, but Stardust is the best film of the lot, and I don’t mind it being on the list of winners at all.

Grade: B+

*but she watched it with me this time and really enjoyed it.

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