British director Matthew Vaughn, who created some impression with his small-budget crimer “Layer Cake (starring Daniel Craig in his pre-Bond era) makes a big, but not entirely successful leap into the big league with the large-budget special-effect ridden Hollywood world with “Stardust,” based on the fantasy novel of the best-selling author Neil Gaiman. While faithful to the source material, end result is a hybrid of a film that mixes genres and styles, with a tone that changes from reel to reel, making demands on the audiences to switch gears themselves while they are watching the film.

Vaughn's intent, to make an enchanting fable that's grounded in reality, is honorable, but at this phase of his career, the task may be beyond his reach. Few directors can pull that trick, perhaps someone like Terry Gilliam, a fantasist-filmmakers whose own work has shown the difficulties of switching effortlessly from one universe to another.

The premise is intriguing: A fallen star (Claire Danes) crashes into a magical kingdom. She turns out to be no ordinary meteorite, but a beautiful, imperiled woman chased after by a whole group of seekers who want or need her secret powers. They include all the characters that usually decorate fairy tales: wicked witches, power-mad princes, flying pirates, and dueling goblins. Each of the participants who meet the star has his or her own agenda, but they all desire just one thing: her heart.

As a literary work, “Stardust” aims higher than the usual, not confining its appeal to young readers. The beauty of Caiman's tale of true love and high adventure is that despite borrowing themes and elements of numerous fairy tales, it establishes its own universe with great, original imagination.

“Stardust” begins in the sleepy English village of Wall, named for the cobblestone wall that has kept the villagers safely apart form the supernatural parallel universe on the other side. Protagonist is handsome youth Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who makes a wild promise to the village's prettiest girl (Sienna Miller, recently seen in “Factory Girl” and Interview”), whose heart he hopes to win: that he will bring her back a fallen star.

To achieve his task, Tristan must cross the forbidden wall and enter a mysterious kingdom lit by unending magic and unfolding legends. Can he do it Can he become a part of that world by will The recurring visual motif by Vaughn and his creative team is that of the fence, seen from long and close shots, that divides the parallel universes.

In the fantastical realm known as Stormhold, Tristan discovers that the fallen star is not what he expected but a spirited young woman injured by her cosmic tumble. Like many heroines in fairy tales, she is a damsel in distress, in terrible danger of being sought after by colossal powers including the King's (Peter O'Toole, for a change not overacting), scheming sons for whom only she can secure the throne, and a chillingly powerful witch (Michelle Pfeiffer in a comeback performance) desperate to use the star to achieve eternal youth and beauty.

As Tristan sets out to protect the star and bring her back to his beloved on the other side of the wall, his journey forces him to battle with an eccentric pirate captain (Robert De Niro) and a shady trader (Ricky Gervais). If he can survive by his wits and the strength of his new love, Tristan will also uncover the secret key to his own identity.

The screenplay, co-penned by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, is understandable episodic, but it's also choppy, with too many rough transitions from one milieu to another. As a director, Vaughn shows problems with pacing and rhythm, resulting in a sharply uneven work, likely to divide both film critics and audiences.

A large, colorful cast, assembled by Vaughn from both the U.K. and the U.S., brings a lot of joy to the viewing experience, and the helmer is shrewd enough to let each performer establish his/her unique persona without overstaying their welcome.


Paramount Release

Running time: 128 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

Paramount Picture in association with MARV Films a Matthew Vaughn/Lorenzo di Bonaventura production
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenwriters: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Producers: Matthew Vaughn, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Michael Dreyer, Neil Gaiman
Executive producers: David Womark, Kris Thykier, Peter Morton, Stephen Marks
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Gavin Bocquet
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Costume designer: Sammy Sheldon
Editor: Jon Harris


Yvaine: Claire Danes
Tristan: Charlie Cox
Victoria: Sienna Miller
Ferdy the Fence: Ricky Gervais
Primus: Jason Flemyng
Secundus: Rupert Everett
The King: Peter O'Toole
Lamia: Michelle Pfeiffer:
Captain Shakespeare: Robert De Niro