Stardust With Matthew Vaughn

In the magical land of Stormhold, the everyday Victorian village of Wall, a blazing star has fallen from the sky. This star is no ordinary meteorite but a beautiful young woman whose tumble through the cosmos has instantly left her in peril. Her secret powers are now chased after by an incredible array of seekers: From a love-struck young villager who needs the star to win his beloved; to a ferociously wicked witch determined to gain back her eternal youth; to a covetous prince who will stop at nothing to beat out the competition for his father's throne; to a supernatural series of spell-casters, goblins and even a flying pirate. Everyone the star encounters has an agenda, some good, some evil, yet they all desire just one thing: her heart.

“Stardust” is a romantic adventure that mixes and matches the themes and imagination-sparking elements that have ever caused anyone of any age to fall in love with fairy tales. Unfolding on both sides of a parallel universe separated by only a thin barrier of stone, the film reveals just how amazingly close the familiar and the totally fantastic can be to one another.

Starring an extraordinary cast of newcomers and stars, including Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jason Flemyng, Henry Cavill, Ian McKellan, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, Ricky Gervais, “Stardust” may be this summer's most unexpected escapist enchantment.

The inspiration for the film began with one of today's most visionary and best-selling authors: Neil Gaiman, whose award-winning works span from novels to comic books to screenplays, each marked by penchant for spinning memorable tales. In 1997, Gaiman published “Stardust,” a fireside-style fairy story that unfolded in a four-book DC Comics miniseries, featuring illustrations from Charles Vess. Released a year later in book form, “Stardust” hit the bestseller lists and was named as one of the year's best novels.

The story drew comparisons to “The Princess Bride” and “The Neverending Story,” with its mix of humor and magic and creation of an enchanted kingdom where a shooting star could be a stunning young woman who inspires an ordinary villager to become the heroic young man of his dreams. The story quickly became a modern classic fairytale. “I set out in the beginning to tell a story about a young man who goes after his heart's desire only to discover it isn't his heart's desire,” says author Gaiman. “I started with that idea in my head and followed that all the way to the end–and was very proud when I got there that the story did exactly what I had set out for it to do.”

Once it won over fans of all ages, “Stardust” seemed destined for the big screen. From its initial publication, there was talk of what an epic film the tale could become in our contemporary era of high-tech moviemaking and special effects. It took the passion of an indie director, best known for his skill with the visceral and the gritty, Matthew Vaughn, to make this fantastic world come to life on screen with all its storybook charm intact.

Vaughn had established himself as the producer of the fast-paced, fun-loving British action comedies “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” and made a directorial debut with the gangster thriller “Layer Cake” featuring Daniel Craig before he became the new James Bond.

Although the fairy tale territory of “Stardust” was a complete change of gears for Vaughn, he was hooked by the story. Vaughn was seduced by the meteoric beauty and all the characters that would use her to fulfill their desires. “I thought it was one of the most wonderfully original stories I'd ever read,” he recalls. “As a director, I'm mainly interested in telling stories, which seems like a forgotten art in modern movies. This was clearly a story that was meant to be made as a film.”

Inspired by the magic Gaiman had created, Vaughn sought out the writer's blessing. Gaiman had so far resisted handing out the rights to Stardust, but changed his mind by Vaughn's obvious love for the material and creative ideas. “Most of all, I trusted him,” says Gaiman.

With Gaiman backing him, Vaughn set out to draft an adaptation that would make the writer's characters come to flesh-and-blood life on screen. He took Gaiman's advice to seek out the British novelist-scripter Jane Goldman, celebrated as one of England's most inventive writers for her novel Dreamland, and served as the presenter of the popular UK television series “Jane Goldman Investigates,” in which she explored the enigma of the paranormal, from ghosts to ESP.

Faithful Adaptation

Gaiman hoped that Goldman would bring her innate sense of romance, mystery and humanity to the story, while Vaughn would contribute his creative vision for how the many-stranded quest to possess the star Yvaine could unfold at a blistering pace in two hours of visually entertainment. The partnership unfolded in just that way.

“Our goal in the adaptation was to keep the story as faithful to the book as possible while, at the same time, making it more cinematic and using a bit of our own poetic license to ensure that audiences will have a fantastic ride,” Vaughn explains.

The duo focused on providing, with no holds barred, all the storytelling pyrotechnics any fairy tale lover ever lusted after, but also inserted more down-to-earth observations about life, as the best fairy tales always do. “Inside this incredible adventure are a lot of ideas about identity and fitting in and following your heart, things that everyone can relate to in real life,” she says.

The story's mix of the real journey of a young man coming-of-age blended with the fantastical tale of witches, ghosts and dashing royalty all trying to kidnap a mystical fallen star with a razor-sharp wit paid off. When Gaiman read the first draft, his support grew even stronger. “It was thrillingly exciting for me because it was quite good,” he says. “It was funny and scary and had a very filmic quality to it.” Gaiman then joined forces with Vaughn and Goldman to develop the screenplay even further–each pushing the other's imaginations to a further edge.

When the screenplay was complete, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who was involved in taking the beloved Harry Potter from novel to blockbuster, got on board. Di Bonaventura was impressed with the film's vision. “The script was an extraordinary piece of material that successfully intermeshed many different tones,” he says. “There was romance, drama, laugh-out-loud humor. Most of all, there was the story of a boy becoming a man and falling in love as he overcomes pirates, witches, megalomaniac princes and all kinds of wonders.”

Di Bonaventura felt the joyfully playful yet wrenchingly suspenseful film was unlike any other epic fantasy. “Stardust” might take place in the realm of epic adventure but it brings in elements of realism and comedy we haven't really seen much in this genre,” he comments. “I love 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Narnia,' but this film doesn't have that sense of earnestness and the characters don't take themselves as seriously. It's very unique and fun.”
Although the film became a star-studded, globe-trotting production, it was always driven at its core by a more independent spirit. He says: “Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman come from an indie background so the film became a distinctive combination of big filmmaking techniques and independent filmmaking spirit. With this film, Matthew had a chance to bring his vibrant, indie aesthetic to a much larger canvas.

“Stardust” is filled with enchanted, cursed, questing, hilarious and larger-than-life characters–so there was little doubt from the beginning that the film would need to conjure up a cast with its own magical talents. In the end, the filmmakers could hardly believe the good fortune they had in the ensemble they assembled.

“To have a film in which you have Robert De Niro showing a side of himself that's never been seen before, Michelle Pfeiffer delivering a wonderful star turn, Claire Danes delivering another of her phenomenal performances, Charlie Cox, a new face who is going to be a major star, as well as the legendary Peter O'Toole and the hilarious Ricky Gervais, was a wonderful experience,” says director Vaughn.