Matthew Vaughn's irreverent and magical adaptation of the Neil Gaiman book came out a decade ago.

By Dan Heching
August 10, 2017 at 09:45 AM EDT
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The third major novel by Neil Gaiman, Stardustseemed destined from the start for cinematic treatment; it brimmed with magical portals to other worlds, falling stars that take the form of iridescent women, and evil, heinous witches.

In 2007, a film adaptation arrived, and the result was a splendidly ethereal adventure that didn’t get bogged down by some of the heavier fantasy tropes. Sure, everyone speaks with that rather difficult-to-place British accent, but Stardust took a gamble with a slightly lighter, comedic touch — and won. (Robert De Niro in pink feathers, anyone?) This was largely thanks to the film’s director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, the Kingsman movies), who has said, “I want[ed] to do Princess Bride with a Midnight Run overtone.” Who knew that would work?!

If it’s been a while since you’ve last watched Stardust — a sweeping and imaginative tale about a boy becoming a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) and the celestial woman (a pre-Homeland Claire Danes) who falls in love with him — jog your memory with these tidbits that’ll make you appreciate this gem of a movie perhaps a little bit more.

1. Neil Gaiman was highly protective of the rights to his book — and good thing, too. 

While Gaiman had been an underground literary hero for decades, his appeal in the ’90s was not nearly as widespread as it is today (post-Coraline and American Gods on TV). So when his book Stardust was snatched up by Miramax around the time of its publication in 1999, he was probably pretty thrilled…at first. Soon, those talks fizzled and the option expired, but the project still remained attractive to various filmmakers: Terry Gilliam, the fantasy master-worker behind Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, as well as relative newbie Matthew Vaughn. Both directors had various other projects to juggle, but Gaiman was determined to keep Vaughn attached. Eventually, when the younger filmmaker walked away from helming X-Men: The Last Stand, he became available to jump on board the Caspartine and Stardust.

2. Stardust features Michelle Pfeiffer as a witch — for the second time.

Thirty years ago this summer saw the release of another, decidedly different fantasy film: The Witches of Eastwickalso based on a novel and also featuring Michelle Pfeiffer as a witch. While Sukie Ridgemont, her character in that film, is sweet and well-meaning in her powers, Pfeiffer’s villainess in Stardust, Lamia, gives the film its bite and spark. (The filmmakers actually expanded her role from that which is found in the novel once Pfeiffer signed on.) Lamia is a cruel and wholly vain creature who would happily cut the heart right out of Danes’ beautiful Yvaine in order to stay young and beautiful — and to Pfeiffer’s credit, her charm and beauty is part of what makes Lamia so undeniably watchable. (Interestingly, another one of Pfeiffer’s Eastwick sisters, Susan Sarandon, also returned to evil sorcery in 2007 — in the Amy Adams film Enchanted, playing Queen Narissa. This only leaves Cher, the last remaining witch of Eastwick, to cast another magic spell.)

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3. Robert De Niro’s Captain Shakespeare might be the most unsung gender-fluid millennial character there ever was.

While some of his moments might now read as slightly cringeworthy, De Niro’s secret-harboring sky pirate (yes, a pirate who sails through the sky) shows us a delightfully misunderstood character, one that may have been ahead of its time. Shakespeare must appear as surly and rough as any seafaring marauder in order to successfully lead his squadron of scalawags, but in private quarters, his touch is light as a feather — a whole plume of them, to be exact, as we see him traipsing around in frocks and wearing period makeup. This was definitely the film’s riskiest move, but De Niro’s cross-dressing, comedic approach paid off, and it set the irreverent tone for the film as a whole. And we’re not the only ones who appreciated this unorthodox treatment of a fantasy pirate: Stardust won the GLAAD Media Award in 2008 for Outstanding Film – Wide Release.

4. Location, location, location.

While the special effects in Stardust were well-done and stand the test of time, one of the film’s most arresting visuals comes from the realest effect of all: Breathtaking, expansive views and authentic medieval towns. The Scottish Highlands, Isle of Skye, and areas in Iceland were all tapped for scenic location shots, and the historic Elm Hill in picturesque Norwich, England, which dates back to the 11th century, served as the stand-in for Stormhold.

5. The movie has many superhero connections — six, to be exact.

Stardust featured many gifted (and mostly British) actors and actresses in various stages in their careers, and six of them have played superheroes — or villains — in Marvel or DC fare. Sir Ian McKellen, who narrates the film, has of course been immortalized as Magneto in the X-Men franchise, while Jason Flemyng (Primus, the first of seven brothers vying for the crown of Stormhold in Stardust) later played Azazel in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. Primus’ evil brother Septimus is played by Mark Strong, who portrayed the also-evil Sinestro in DC’s misfire Green Lantern, while Henry Cavill, who plays the vain playboy Humphrey, would soon become our currently reigning Clark Kent/Superman. Additionally, Charlie Cox, Stardust‘s protagonist, would eventually bring the Marvel universe to Netflix as Daredevil. But let’s not forget perhaps the most noteworthy of them all: Michelle Pfeiffer is still the Catwoman to beat, after her historic turn as Selina Kyle in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns.

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