by Neil Gaiman
This post was inspired by the series my friend Jess does on her blog here – this seemed to be a golden opportunity to try it out. I think I’ll give it a go again!
Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall – named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…
Stardust mixes in romance and adventure, all in a fantasy movie guise, as it follows Tristan on his quest to retrieve a fallen star for the beautiful Victoria. Only it soon becomes clear that there’s a lot more going on as Tristan makes his journey (not least a companion more diverting than the aforementioned Victoria). Michelle Pfeiffer, for instance, returns to high profile movie making (after quite a break) in the role of the evil witch, while there’s space too for Robert De Niro’s pirate and an odd cameo from Ricky Gervais.
Seemingly one of a wealth of family films that made it out of the blocks off the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Stardust doesn’t quite hit those heights, but it has quite a sporting go. It’s an uneven tale, albeit one told with enough passion and enthusiasm to encourage you to cut it some slack. And when it gets to the end of the last reel, it’s hard to feel shortchanged by what you’ve just seen.
I’ve got very high standards for book adaptations. That’s not to say that I’m one of the people who think no film/TV series/Radio drama can ever be as good as the original source material – or indeed surpass it. The BBC’s version of An Inspector Calls completely changed how I read the play, the radio adaptation of Neverwhere was fantastic and the Hunger Games movies are a lot better than the novels. But if I’m willing to watch multiple versions of a story I’m likely to be invested in it. There’s going to be bits I love about it that I would hate to be cut out, characters I have very specific opinions on. If they don’t get that right (how could they after all, they don’t have access to my brain) then I’m never going to be completely happy.
That said, Stardust is one of the few works where I saw the adaptation before I read the book. In fact, I didn’t even realise that it was an adaptation of a Gaiman novel until well after the fact. The only thing I knew that was associated with it was that Take That had written a song about it…
I liked the film well enough the first time I saw it, there’s some great costumes, a lot of witty dialogue and the ghostly princes are hilarious. But it was lacking something, some sort of spark that would’ve allowed it to be a true classic. It felt a bit like it was being played too much for laughs rather than revelling in the weirdness that is Gaiman’s brain.
I tried to read the book after I had realised it was an adaptation, to see if I’d like it better but I struggled to get into it as it is very different tonally. The events of the film were too strong in my mind and I was confused by how different the stories were. Despite maintaining the same basic premise they are very different works.
So for quite a few years that was that, I tried to rewatch the film a couple of times and it was still OK – nothing groundbreaking. But I have never attempted to reread the book until this year when I received the ebook free through Amazon and took a punt on it on a long car jouney when my paperback proved disappointing. When I started reading I was astonished – it felt nothing like the film and more like I was experiencing the story for the first time.
I much prefer the book’s version of Victoria. I often feel like Gaiman’s female characters can lack a bit of depth, especially if they are an antagonist. From the way she’s portrayed in the film this was definitely what I was expecting, but I think he does an excellent job here. Victoria has just as much character development as the Tristan or Yvainne and I was really happy with where we left her i.e. not humiliated and dropped in a heap on the street like the movie.
The book also spreads the events of the film out over a much longer period and frankly make a great deal more sense as a result. At times the film plot has more holes in it than a colander, but the book plugs most of them – apart from the question of Tristan’s sister. No matter how sheltered you are, you would think it strange to be only six months older than your sibling.
I much prefer the book’s version of Yvainne too – she’s such fun. Claire Danes does a good job in the film but in the novel she is much grumpier and much more snarky. Frankly in her position I think most of us would be just as annoyed and rightly so, her transition to cooperating with Tristan is far from smooth and their relationship has a much better pay-off as a result.
There are aspects of the film I love – mainly the ghostly chorus of the stormhold brothers, Michelle Pfeiffer’s excellent turn as the sorceress and Mark Strong’s version of Septimus.
The brothers in particular are a huge highlight, I was very disappointed that the ghostly chorus wasn’t really present in the novel. The largely visual humour of the princes is something that the film does excel in, at one point they’re all crammed into the coach, in their various murdered states and the sense of an awkward family reunion is brilliant.
In this case I definitely prefer the book – if it had more of the ghosts it would be perfect!