Stardust: On a Claire Danes You Can See Forever

Like the star that falls to Earth near the beginning of the movie, Stardust (Paramount) is glittery and pretty and possesses its own pleasing-enough personality, but it won't set the world on fire.

Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of a book by the often masterful fantasist Neil Gaiman, Stardust is now out on DVD (and HD DVD), and it's a sure bet that it'll stuff a lot of stockings this Christmas. But all that early hoorah about this deliberately old-fashioned fairy-tale being this generation's The Princess Bride? Piffle. Unlike the aggressively comic and storybookish The Princess Bride, the more mild-mannered and self-consciously derivative Stardust doesn't so much create its fantasy world as assemble it from used parts. From one box of familiar tropes we get three evil witch sisters -- led by Michelle Pfeiffer winking at us to show that she's comfortable with camp -- and from another box we get Disney-like balloon-borne pirates led by Robert De Niro showing us that he's not quite so comfortable with it.

In between we have a suitably engaging, occasionally clever, at times delightful boy-meets-girl story. Rather, it's boy-meets-star because, you see, the girl Yvaine (Claire Danes, apparently told to make us think of Gwyneth Paltrow) is actually one of those celestial beings overhead and she has been yanked ungracefully to Earth. Young, headstrong Tristan (Charlie Cox, an appealing newcomer) treks out from his humdrum English village to bring the fallen star home to his beloved upper crust Victoria (Sienna Miller), who merely looks down her perfectly powdered nose at the penniless nobody Tristan. To reach the star, Tristan must cross the Wall, the ancient and guarded barrier that separates his Fodor's Guidebook Britain from the Classics Illustrated storybook fantastical kingdom of Stormhold.

Tristan soon discovers that bringing home the star isn't as easy as he'd hoped, especially since instead of a smoldering stone he finds one seriously cheesed-off young woman. Together they embark on a "there and back again" story that tests Tristan's mettle against the wicked machinations of the heirs to Stormhold's throne -- even dying in various comically unpleasant ways doesn't stop them -- and the vain witch Lamia (Pfeiffer), who is out to steal the star's power to restore youth.

It's a given in stories like this -- and Stardust is every inch a story like this -- that through tests and trials the boy will become a protector and a man. Swords shall clash, lost birthrights shall be restored, transformations ensue (a goat becomes a man, mostly), families reunited (you foresee one such "surprise" the moment it's telegraphed), helpful companions (such as Ricky Gervais as a black marketeer) met, plot points picked up like tokens on a game board, and an Obi-Wan Kenobi figure encountered at precisely the right time to turn the plot just so.

That last component is De Niro's Capt. Shakespeare, a sky-sailing, lightning-wrangling buccaneer who does Jack Sparrow one better by being Peter Pan's Capt. Hook as filtered through Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. De Niro doesn't necessarily convince us that he was the best choice for the role. For a moment or two we might see Capt. Shakespeare on the screen, but more often we just see Robert De Niro in drag, and he doesn't appear to be having as much fun as Michelle Pfeiffer is.

There's romance too, of course, and it's nice even if it brings no surprises if you've seen any Shrek movie.

Yet for all its dips into familiar wells, Stardust delivers enough charm, sense of humor, visual pleasures, and a pleased-with-itself air to make it a likable family fantasy. It won't set the world on fire, but it's got a rosy warmth of its own.

Paramount provides us with a DVD of Stardust that displays a flawless print (anamorphic 2.35:1) given a just pretty good digital transfer (expect some murkiness). Stronger is the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio, which does a fine job spreading the film's assertive sound design around the room.

The DVD doesn't come with a big collection of extras, and what's here is standard fare. "Good Omens: The Making of Stardust" is your typical prefab visit behind the scenes of the production, although here it's enhanced by the presence of the original story's author, Neil Gaiman. During the 30 minutes he comments on the transition from book to screen, and joins us for peeks into Vaughn's directorial duties, the special effects processes, rehearsal footage, and input from cast members, including some improv between Robert De Niro and Ricky Gervais.

The disc also contains a few deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and the theatrical trailer that demonstrates Paramount wasn't clear on how to sell the film ahead of time.