Stardust [HD DVD]
R0 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (29th December 2007).
The Film

You can thank the success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-2003) and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005) for the recent spate of fantasy and fairytale films coming out of late. Some more popular than others but these include "The Brothers Grimm" (2005), "MirrorMask" (2005), "Eragon" (2006), "Bridge to Terebithia" (2007), "The Golden Compass" (2007), "Beowulf" (2007) and the forthcoming "The Spiderwick Chronicles" (2008) among others. Included in that list is "Stardust" a grand fantasy epic from the genius mind of Neil Gaiman. It seems like this genre is the flavor of the month, it seems like every studio is jumping onto this bandwagon, which is no surprise as we see trend like this every year, and just when you think the genre has all but exhausted itself a film like "Stardust" happens along.
Originally set up at Miramax, the option expired before they could do anything with the material. Terry Gilliam was at one point going to have a crack at it but decided not to having exhausting himself after "The Brothers Grimm". Gaiman held onto the option as he didn't want to turn it over to a studio or production company that wouldn't respect the material. That is until Matthew Vaughn came into the picture, the experienced producer known for his team-ups with Guy Ritchie spawned a couple of memorable gangster flicks like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1998) and "Snatch" (2000). Now a director having made his debut with 2004 gritty crime flick "Layer Cake". Gaiman trusted Vaughn's vision and gave him the option for free. It's an odd choice of material considering Vaughn is not really known for films of a fantastical nature. He'd have to deal with special effects and green-screens, a bigger than usual budget among many other challenging aspects. But Vaughn had a vision which he stuck with and the result is a solid film that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Sadly the film hardly made a scratch at the box office, in a year full of surprises (like "Grindhouse" (2007) faring the same bad luck at the box office despite fanboy and critical raves), this film couldn't find an audience despite great reviews. It's a crime when a film as rich and enchanting as this underperforms.
"Stardust" tells the story of a young man Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox), Tristan is in love with Victoria (Sienna Miller) an unattainable girl whose set to marry another man, the dashing Humphrey (Henry Cavill). Tristan longs to marry her and makes her a deal, that if he returns to her the falling star (which they saw fall together while on a picnic) they'll be wed. She agrees and Tristan begins his journey to recover the falling star, which so happens to be a beautiful girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Having found her he must take her back to the village, but that task is made much more difficult considering he's not the only one after the star, a witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her sisters want the star for her power to keep them young, and the King of Stromhold's (Peter O'Toole) sons are in search of the star in order to secure the Kingdom and be crowned King. What ensues is an adventure through beyond the wall of the village that will change Tristan forever and make him realize who his one true love is.
Vaughn has taken all the exciting elements of Gaiman's story and weaved a fantastic film filled to the brim with sincere performances, an engaging pace that doesn't bore and characters that a joy to watch. Charlie Cox and Claire Danes clearly have great chemistry and their relationship throughout the course of the film feels real and believable even though she is a fallen star. The supporting cast are equally impressive including Michelle Pfeiffer flexing her chops as an evil witch, at times her performance is over the top but not too much and works well within the confines of the genre. Additionally Robert De Niro as Captain Shakespeare is probably the most enjoyable supporting character in the entire film, the sky pirate has a reputation of ruthlessness to uphold yet in real life he's a sensitive gay man. He plays the role with panache and gusto and the result is a really fun character that puts a smile on your face. On the other hand funnyman Ricky Gervais doesn't quite fit and seems a little out of his element but still manages some laughs to his credit.
Vaughn has created a breathtaking fantasy world which isn't hard when you've got Gaiman's creation as the source material, the visuals are splendid from the sets to the visual effects, and it really immerses the viewer in the entire experience. The only drawback to this film is that it might a fraction too long for some people, but once you get into it the time will fly right by. I highly recommend this film to all audiences, there's plenty of adventure and magic for the little ones and also more than enough to keep the adults entertained.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 this high-definition transfer is presented in 1080p 24/fps and has been created using AVC MPEG-4 compression. As far as HD transfers go it's not going to blow you away but it's pretty good. The same problems that were on the DVD apply here as well, while a lot of the image is sharp there are still issues with softness especially for CGI-heavy shots. I noticed that some of the compositing created soft edges around characters. Some grain is also visible but it's light and very minor, otherwise we've got a transfer that displays colors exceptionally well, skin tones are natural and black levels are incredibly bold and feature no low level noise. The print is pristine in it's cleanliness without a single speck of dirt throughout the film which is expected for a film this recent. Furthermore detail is well rendered, from the minor artistic touches on the set design and costumes to the lush backgrounds and locations, these images look great and held up well for the most part.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, they are in English, French and Spanish. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. This track doesn't really take advantage of the HD experience and to be honest is a bit of a let down, it's not terrible, technically it's robust and a decent track. I just expected a Dolby Digital TrueHD track for this release. Despite this let down this Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack appears slightly better than the standard Dolby track on the DVD. The sound mix carries a decent range and is able to handle ambient sounds and more aggressive punchier effects quite well. The balance is spot on and the surround feel natural and impacting. Dialogue as expected is clear and distortion free and the film's score flies through the 5.1 space with an immersive quality. It's a good track but I couldn't help but wonder what this film would have been like with a TrueHD track or DTS HD audio.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Extras

Paramount has released this film with a few extras that include a featurette, a series of deleted scenes, bloopers and the film's theatrical trailer. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we've got "Good Omens: The Making of Stardust" a featurette that runs for 29 minutes 53 seconds and goes beyond the typical EPK fluff as it takes a look at the original concept and the creation of the book by Neil Gaiman and leading up to the making of the film. This delves into Vaughn's involvement, the visual aesthetic, casting an unknown in the lead but populating the support cast with established names, production design and the inspiration for the wall among other things including the visual effects and creating the world in which these characters live. This is a fine piece that takes you through the production without too much back patting, if anything I wish it was longer and much more in-depth.

Next up are a 5 deleted scenes which can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and include:

- "Candlelight Small Talk" which runs for 39 seconds, Tristan tries to make small talk to Victoria at the picnic but fails.
- "Lift the Stone" runs for 1 minute 32 seconds, the Ghosts argue over the fallen star and try to lift the stone but can't get a grasp on it.
- "Carriage Game" runs for 1 minute 10 seconds, the Ghosts play a game of 'I Spy'.
- "Goat Man" runs for 13 seconds, the Goat Man tries to take Tristan's coat.
- "The Next Ruler of Stromhold" runs for 1 minute 57 seconds, years later an old Tristan and Yvaine talk to their children to find the next heir.

Following that is a bloopers reel that runs for 5 minutes 25 seconds and includes a series of missed cues, technical goofs, line flubs and cast unable to keep from laughing among other things.

Also featured on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 27 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B+

 


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