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Over the Wall

November 13th, 2007 (08:40 am)
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Continued from here.

I don't think I've ever approached an adaptation in the way I came upon Stardust before. I'd bought the book on Saturday, but had been distracted by necessary things like article-writing and treating my mould-prone walls, and consequently didn't get round to starting the novel Stardust (and it's the A-format paperback, not the large format version illustrated by Charles Vess) until a few hours before I left for Oxford. I thus saw the film when I was just under half-way through the book.

Stardust the film emerges very much as a translation of a niche book into a mainstream product. Most of the detailed picture Gaiman fills in of the village of Wall has been stripped out and replaced by a simpler background; the descriptions of working and social life in the village, which reminded me of the little I've read of George Eliot, have been replaced by something more Ruritanian and storybook, though emphasis is still laid on Wall's provincialism. This helps accelerate plot development, but the distinction between Wall and Faerie is blurred, as the cinemagoer is left moving from one fairytale setting, complete with rapier-wielding love rival, into another.

In the book, the country behind the Wall is Faerie, or perhaps a faerie analogue of England, where nursery rhymes become authoritative guides on how to negotiate the pitfalls of the world. In the film, everything has to be much more concrete. Stormhold isn't merely a lordship in Faerie, but the name of the faerie realm beyond Wall, and the first opportunity for a series of celebrity cameos. The magic of the candle is contained in the artefact rather than in the rhyme 'How Many Miles to Babylon?', though the rhyme is acknowledged in the name of the specific type of candle. It's enough to invoke the unicorn's affinity with virgins visually in the film; in the book it's Tristran who comes across the unicorn, fighting with the lion because Faerie is a land where metaphors are made real.

The Tristan of the film is a different person to the Tristran of the book. The second 'r' in his name has been exchanged for a little more wordliness and a good deal more cocksureness; his naivete is of the self-confident sort rather than one based in his having spent his entire life detached from one side of his heritage. His mentoring is delayed, perhaps as a result; the hairy little man who once stayed with his father Dunstan is fused with the lightning-farming Captain Johannes Alberic into the cloudfaring Anglophile pirate Captain Shakespeare, a role in which Robert De Niro can sink his teeth, with a side order of the scenery and lots of frocks.

Yvaine the almost eponymous heroine is a bit less ethereal than I imagine her in the book, in the substantially angular shape of Claire Danes, and her forthrightness is taken up a notch though her four letter expletive on falling to Earth is sacrificed to the family audience. Nonetheless (and I have to wrap this up otherwise I'd be here all day) this is an enjoyable film; but where Stardust the novel was a commentary upon fairytales, Stardust the film has given us a modern fairytale owing something to Time Bandits but (as KT pointed out) probably more to The Princess Bride, replacing the music of the spheres with the conventions of the action movie, and the 'bad' characters' acceptance of the limitations of their fates, once the wheels have turned, with a struggle to overcome their destiny. Still, Michelle Pfeiffer makes a convincing witch. The film has a cosier outlook on family life, too, than the book, where there are final partings and where Una is a far more forbidding figure than Tristran's accommodating stepmother Daisy.

edit: to acknowledge cealdis's correction.


Posted by: cealdis (cealdis)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 01:00 pm (UTC)

Just a note that Yvaine was played by Claire Danes in the film. Sienna Miller played Victoria.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 01:04 pm (UTC)

Thank you - and I've seen Sienna Miller on stage and everything...

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 06:34 pm (UTC)

Thanks, I will definitely have to read the book now!

While I appreciate Neil Gaiman, I am not a "serious" fan, and I hadn't realized Stardust was his one of his until the final credits, and the film did not really have the full flavour of his handiwork.

I enjoyed the film on its own terms, but from what you say, it looks like the book will be sooo much better!


Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC)
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I enjoyed the film on its own terms too; but it wasn't as original as the book, which I definitely recommend.

Posted by: ms_rebecca_riot (ms_rebecca_riot)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC)

Crumbs- this film is so far in the closet, its in Narnia...(sorry, epic levels of facaetiousness)
Peter Bradshaw gave it one of his one star film reviews...so I'm a bit nervous...Not that great with total fantasy, unless, like Dr Who, it has plenty of political/social comment weaved in (is the Master like Tony Blair just a bit?)
Still Neil Gaiman is ace, of course.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 13th, 2007 07:48 pm (UTC)

John Simm's Blair-like depiction of the Master is made more savage by RTD's decision to base 'Harold Saxon''s fake career on the exaggerated (allegedly) early career of Jeffrey Archer, politician, novelist, and convicted perjurer.

Bradshaw also made the comparison with Time Bandits, I see...