This past Friday Yahoo unveiled the first trailer for the summer fantasy epic Stardust. I've watched it several times now. Not because I loved it but because I've read the book and was trying to place certain scenes in--oh forget it...y'all know why I have it on loop. But more on her in a minute.
This preview does a good job of outlining the basic jumpoff of the story: Tristan (Charlie Cox), a lovestruck spontaneous young man vows to bring his wouldbe girlfriend (Sienna Miller) back a fallen star (Claire Danes). She doesn't take him seriously (no one ever leaves their village for the magic kingdom beyond its borders!) but he is quite serious about the vow. Unfortunately, retrieving the fallen star won't be easy and Tristan isn't the only one looking to possess it. Cue all sorts of shady characters including an evil sorceress (Michelle Pfeiffer) who needs the star to recapture her youth. Guess what will happen to that star should the witch prevail? Let's just say it won't be pretty. Adventure, chases, and battles ensue.
The trailers cutesy narration is actually less offputting than it might seem to those unfamiliar with the source material. The movie is based on Neil Gaiman's richly funny adventure novel of the same name. The book is not really in the somber bloodline of recent literary fantasy adaptations like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. It's closer in spirit to something like The Princess Bride though his novel does have darker undercurrents than that film.
Though the comic tone of the trailer didn't surprise me at all, I worry about the abundant CGI. This is clearly overkill. Take a simple scene in a merchants shop wherein the sorceress shushes a merchant who is bothering her. Her magical silencing is accompanied by a green CGI thingie shooting from her fingertips to his lips. This is rather as pointless as visualizing the force in Star Wars. The wow effect should be in your head. Even George Lucas, whilst pissing all over his original Star Wars trilogy with needless f/x updates, didn't think to put glowy green CGI effects around the use of the force --imagine how silly it would be to see Yoda's levitation of a spaceship at Dagoba accompanied by colored energy or see Obi Wan's mind control illustrated with CGI. "These are not the droids you're looking for"
When you've cast great actors (Stardust has a fine cast from top to bottom) and you've got a great story, a lot of your work is already done for you. When you cast an actress as exceptional as Michelle Pfeiffer as your villainess you really don't need to "help" her performance by making her face go all monstery to scare people. Had the filmmakers never seen White Oleander ? This bitch will cut you.
Matthew Vaughn sat in the directors chair for this adaptation and though the trailer's abundant special effects give me a haunting The Haunting vibe I am still somewhat optimistic. Vaughn's debut feature Layer Cake was tense, cinematic and clever. He also knew just how to use his terrific leading actor (Daniel Craig). But whether this new film is good, bad, or mediocre ... I hope everyone will read Stardust before seeing it. The very best thing about Neil Gaiman's writing is his prose: it's fanciful, witty and deliciously flavored with competing tones and wonderful turns of phrase. Great prose can't really transfer to the screen but great acting, direction and general visual creativity can achieve similarly dextrous moods, humor, and spirit. CGI on the other hand? That's a less supple filmmaking instrument.