Friday, August 17, 2007

Stardust (Review)... and associated thoughts

(No spoilers)

I mostly enjoyed the film Stardust, which stars Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro. All the acting is very good. Most of all, this is my kind of movie. My heart's with Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, JP Blaylock, Tim Powers and Tim Burton - people whose fantasies are primal battles that evoke nostalgic longing, who create adventures that include the Royal Academy of Science and dirigibles and 6" high elephants. There simply isn't enough of this type of fantasy, and it's hard to get right in film - Big Fish being a recent notable success and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being a recent notable failure.

Part of the problem with Stardust may be the author who wrote the original novel. The only book I've read of Neil Gaiman's was American Gods and I found it derivative and unsatisfying. It was a Tim Powers book rewritten as an airport bestseller: it had all the trappings but it rang false. Stardust occasionally rings clangingly false as well, partly because of some glaring plot holes and partly due to some corny premises. (Writer/director Matthew Vaughn covers up some of it pretty well, but a star who falls from the sky and is rescued by a unicorn... c'mon guys.) Yet parts of the plot are charming, like pirates who fish for lightning in the clouds.

Another problem with Stardust is an issue of post-production: the music sucks. The music was hackneyed, overly manipulative, too loud and unpleasant to the ear. There were no subtleties like leitmotifs, just heart-pounding chase music and heart-warming romance music and other annoying movie cliches. That made me think how often it's happened to me in the last few years that bad music has soured a movie for me. It's like watching a sitcom that's funny but has an obnoxious laugh track. It's a mystery why so many films are meticulous about special effects but throw away the sound track. We have several powerhouse movie score composers these days, such as Howard Shore and Danny Elfman - it's a puzzle why so many movies (even good ones) have godawful annoying music. If they're going to be derivative, why not copy the film scores that work?


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