'Doctor Who: The Doctor's Wife' —Clip

Here’s a clip from Saturday’s episode of DOCTOR WHO, The Doctor’s Wife.
The Doctor’s Wife was written by fantasy/comics scribe Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN) . 

The Doctor receives a distress signal from an old friend. Could there really be another living Time Lord out there? Hopes raised, he follows the signal to a junkyard planet sitting upon a mysterious asteroid in a Bubble universe, populated by a very strange family, as the time-travelling drama continues.
The Doctor, Amy and Rory are given the warmest of welcomes by Auntie, Uncle and Nephew. But the beautiful and insane Idris greets them in a more unusual fashion—what is she trying to tell the Doctor? As the Doctor investigates, he unwittingly puts his friends in the gravest danger.

The Doctor's Wife
The Doctor's Wife

Also starring  Karen Gillan,  Arthur Darvill and  Suranne Jones as Idris. Directed by Richard Clark

DOCTOR WHO airs Saturday at 9:00 PM ET/PT on BBC America.

'The Sandman' to Dream on TV?

Sandman_gaimanAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, Neil Gaiman’s comic books series The Sandman is in development as a TV series by Warner Brothers Televsion.
It’s early days yet, rights to the property have to be worked out with DC Entertainment, and thus far creator Gaiman has not been involved.
The article indicates that  Eric Kripke, who created had produced the first five years of Warner’s SUPERNATURAL for the CW Network is favored to be the show-runner.
Neil Gaiman’s version of The Sandman ran from 1989 until 1996, 75 issues under both the DC and Vertigo imprint. Dealing only rarely with the DC universe of superheroes and villains, it explored instead themes of horror, fantasy and mythology.  It followed the experiences of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, part of the family of the Endless. They are the embodiments of  Destiny, Death, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium.

The Score: Bruno Coulais and the Musical Magic of Coraline

Bruno Coulais’ score for Henry Selick’s 3D-animated film, CORALINE,  is an enchanting enactment for orchestra and choir, which brings to wonderful life the magical environment and story concocted by the brilliant author Neil Gaiman. The music features a perfectly appropriate blending of unusual instruments (mechanical piano, electric bass guitar, jazzy flutes, what sounds like a child’s xylophone, squeaks and squeals and all manner of bells and percussion oddities) with both adult and children’s choirs and a pervasively eloquent harp which is liberally spread throughout the length and breadth of the movie. The inclusion of a cute if very short song by the band They Might Be Giants fits nicely within the overall sensibility of Coulais’ music. This is a wondrous score, melodically intriguing, instrumentally engaging, and completely intoxicating.

Coulais, 55, was trained in classical music in Paris but gravitated toward film music through the suggestion of several acquaintances. He was asked to compose music to a documentary film by director François Reichenbach in 1977, but his first foray into feature films was in Sébastien Grall’s film, LA FEMME SECRÈTE, released in 1986. He had scored more than fifty films and television works when his music for the 1996 documentary film, MICROCOSMOS, brought him to international attention. His ability to provide music of eloquent grace and beauty for this new breed of artistic documentary with limited narration was further solidified with WINGED MIGRATION (2001), GENESIS (2004), and THE WHITE PLANET (2006).

Bruno Coulais has been equally adept in scoring dramatic subjects, such as 2001’s horror-fantasy, BELPHÉGOR – PHANTOM OF THE LOUVRE (2001), VIDOCQ (2001), and SECRET AGENTS (2004). His nearly 150 film scores to date have covered nearly every genre and embraced all manner of musical styles. Known for his use of ethnic instrumentation and human voice, Coulais is among the new breed of French composers – Alexandre Desplat, Armand Amar, Philippe Rombi among them – providing notably expressive work in contemporary cinema.

One of the first things to be noticed about a Bruno Coulais score is that one barely resembles another. From the energetic drama of VIDOCQ with its malevolent darkness and twisted chambers of sonority to the haunting ethnic melodies of the adventure drama HIMALAYA (1999) or the eloquent classical choir work that gave such poignancy to LES CHORISTES (2004, THE CHORUS, which earned him his third César Award), Coulais relishes films that allow him to become as varied as possible.

In CORALINE, director Henry Selick’s impressionistically animated interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s short story,  an adventurous but lonely girl named Coraline (“Not,” she reminds everyone, “Caroline”) finds a mirror world that turns out to be a strangely idealized version of her own, but one whose sinister secrets soon keep her from returning home. It was Selick’s style of animation (ala his work on THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH) and the way in which the film was shot that gave Coulais his initial inspiration for the kind of music the film would need, rather that its nuances of story and fantasy.

“At first, I don’t attach myself to the narrative because I think music must be another character of the film,” he said. “I’m sensitive to the light, to the mood, and everything that you cannot see directly.”

Coulais devised his enchanting instrumental design according to Selick’s visual interpretation of the story, which gave the strange alternate world of Coraline’s home and its button-eyed denizens a menacing clarity.

“While watching the pictures of CORALINE, I was struck by the extraordinary pictorial invention as well as the different stratum of the film: the routine/the fantasy, the epic side/the dark side, the fear, etc. and I agreed with Henry Selick, that we must use a wide musical range in order to realize all these diversities,” Coulais said. “The challenge was to make emerge a musical unit in spite of these different stylistic [elements] and I believe that the themes have played this part.”

Once he had established the musical design of CORALINE, Coulais developed the score to coincide with Coraline’s journey, her descent into the darkness of the world beyond the bricked up wall inside the drawing room door (where her button-eyed Other Mother has entrapped her), her heroic attempts to escape from that world and save her real parents, and her ultimate redemption and triumph.

“Once I wrote the main music themes of the film, I tried to work in a chronological order so I could respect the film progress,” he said. “I needed to start from a realistic, routine mood and then go into a fantastic mood, becoming more and more frightening. It was important to make the music evolve with the story. The first themes, like the one illustrating Coraline’s first visit in the house, seem peaceful in order to make the character’s world more realistic. But then the bizarreness and the anxiety take over. Some funny and absurd bits join the music. But even from the beginning there are some musical touches that make us understand we’re not in a completely realistic film.”

Coulais composed and recorded his score in France while communicating with Selick in Hollywood. Selick had used his music from WINGED MIGRATION and MICROCOSMOS as temporary music while building his final edit of CORALINE; although Selick didn’t expect Coulais to mirror those scores in his original compositions for CORALINE, this temp track gave the composer a kind of referential shorthand that let him know the type of music Selick had in mind for his film.

“Despise the distance and the language barrier, I’ve rarely felt so close to a director,” Coulais said. “Henry explained what he was expecting from the music for each sequence. Once the demo was done, I sent him an mp3 file to listen to. He gave me his first impressions and then, later on, his final remarks once the music was edited in by [film editor] Christopher Murrie.”

Bruno Coulais (Photo Credit: Hotspot)
Bruno Coulais (Photo Credit: Hotspot)

For Coulais, the most challenging aspect of scoring CORALINE was keeping pace with its shifting tone and supporting its sense of mystery and menace – and doing so with music that conveyed both mysterioso and emotional expressions. “There are two sequences which for me, were extremely important,” said Coulais. “The first sequence is the mice Marching Band on which I tried to write a score where the density and the scale were that of the mice, using all kind of instruments like toys, Chinese instruments, child’s brass and child’s piano, but also instruments of a traditional Marching Band. The second and the most important is for me the sequence between Coraline and the Other Mother where I intended, in spite of the malevolency of the Other Mother, to bring a certain emotional level to the scene.”

Like much of Coulais’ film music, his CORALINE score sounds like nothing else he has written, embodying a musical character and style all of its own. Coulais believes this is possible due to the wide range of films he has been able to score, and the willingness of directors not to impose certain strictures upon him.

“A kind of schizophrenia exists because sometimes a composer gravitates to the idea of being at the service of the film; sometimes he inclines to write the most personal music as possible,” Coulais said. “However, some movies allow the composer to be as free as possible in the writing of the music score. I am of course unable to define my style, but I can say that I am attracted to strangeness, and to the hybrid mixing of human voices and instruments. Although, I do also like to work with homogeneous instrumentation, like a string quartet.”

Coraline – Film Review

CoralineWhether you go through the looking  glass, down the rabbit hole, over the rainbow, or into the labyrinth, you are bound to encounter wonders beyond your imagination, sights and sounds that impress the senses and embed themselves upon the brain with all the enchantment of a beautiful dream, but somewhere in our minds we know that dreams are not real and that if something seems too good to be true, inevitably it is. This is the simple lesson of CORALINE, the amazing new stop-motion film from Henry Selick (director of Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS), but like all truisms, the very simplicity lends power to the moral; the old familiarity makes us feel as if we are re-learning something that was known and then forgotten, and in doing so we regain an important part of ourselves that was lost: a little piece of childhood imagination, a renewal of our Sense of Wonder. This is especially true when the lesson is painted in vivid hues that spark the imagination, that take the abstract concept and bring it to life. This is the triumph of CORALINE.
The opening titles perfectly set the tone – both fanciful and grim – as spidery metallic fingers perform surgery on an old doll, retrofitting its appearance for what we will eventually realize is a new victm. Coraline is a bored young girl who has just moved into a new home far from her old city life. Mother and Father are too busy writing a catalogue to pay much attention; fortunately – or so it seems at first – Coraline discovers a small doorway to a parallel world, where everything seems the same, only better. The “other” Mother and Father cook tasty meals instead of boring health food, and the lavish their daughter with love and attention. However, there are ominous hints for those with eyes willing to see – such as the fact that all the alternate characters have buttons instead of eyes. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, this alternate reality offers no real escape; gradually, this dreamworld of bliss and childish fun will transform into a nightmare world of horror, and Coraline will have to take a big step toward adulthood if she hopes to escape.
Typically, modern entertainment aimed at families and children tends to be told from a romanticized adult perspective that glosses over the emotional traumas of childhood. CORALINE, like the best fairy tales, dives right into the deep end of the dark pool, drowning its audience in uncanny images guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine: a cat crunching on a cute mouse (that turns out to be a rat in disguise) or the “Other Mother’s” eyes being clawed from her face. The sense of childish vulnerability in the face of unbridled malevolence lends CORALINE all the shuddery effectiveness of a horror movie; in fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that this is, in fact, as good as or better than any horror film we have seen so far this year.
The little joke embedded in the storyline is that the traditional figure of the Wicked Step-Mother is blurred and doubled. Coraline’s real Mother conforms to the stereotype, neglecting the girl, refusing to purchase finery for her, smf speaking in harsh reprimands that ignore the child’s need for affection. The Other Mother at first seems to be the “Good Mother,” the one who will supply all of Coraline’s childish needs. But this Goodness is really an illusion – or rather a mistake in perception. Like all selfish children, Coraline defines Good in terms of what is good for her, ignoring that there is a price to pay and that the well being of others must also be taken into account.

Coraline is indifferent to the plight of the mute Wybie.

This first becomes apparent in the figure of Corline’s annoying neighbor, Wybie, who in the Alternate World has been permanently silenced by the Other Mother. Coraline’s concern is at best fleeting – she hopes the process didn’t hurt – but by the end of the tale she will have reached a point where, even when her own safety seems assured, she will put herself at risk to aid others. Like Peter Pan, she has (figuratively) flown away from home, looking for something better; also like Peter, she comes to regret her decision and flies eagerly back to the safety of the nest, only to find the safety gone. In Peter’ case, he was locked out, his parents having moved on; in Coraline’s case, her parents are gone, forcing her to rescue them (along with a trio of the Other Mother’s previous childhood victims).
Fortunately, Coraline has an ally or two. Besides Wybie, there is a feral feline, identified simply as Cat in the credits, who speaks in the Alternate World, doling out useful advice, and who also joins the fray at a crucial juncture. Whether intentional or not, the cat seems like the next step in evolution from the stop-motion kitty first glimpsed in Tim Burton’s short “Vincent” before reappearing in the Burton-Selick collaboration NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS; a similar cat also showed up in Burton’s CORPSE BRIDE.
At last, the cameo kitty has been given a major supporting role. There is something special and amazing about animals in a fantasy context, their familiar behaviors at once recognizable and also transformed into something more human, and without overdoing it, Selick plays up the Cat for all its worth, celebrating the importance of a friend in need without sugar-coating the relationship. Late in the film, the Cat tries to block Coraline from taking a risk and she all but kicks it out of the way – not out of cruelty but because she is past the point where her own personal safety is paramount to her. It is a moment that hurts emotionally, even while we understand why it happened.
This kind of sophistication is laced throughout the film, which  is filled with unpleasant but understandable actions that imbue the characters with a fallible humanity. Especially Coraline’s Mother and Father make mistakes, but we know they are not bad people; they are simply under a deadline that forces them to be abrupt, even curt, with her. This unvarnished view of the worl, seen through a child’s eyes,  is a big part of what makes CORALINE special – and also helps distinction Selick’s work from that of Tim Burton.
In Burton’s films, the bizarre and the strange seldom have much genuine menace to them; for example, Halloween Town is an whimsical place, where the residents proclaim that scaring people is their job but “we’re not mean.” CORALINE has a bit more of a jagged, unpleasant edge to it; with it Selick succeeds at crafting a film that successfully stirs darker themes into what might have been a simple fantasy (an effort at which he failed in MONKEYBONE).
The voice cast is excellent, especially Keith David as Cat. Terri Hatcher does a fine job  at delineating the different and overlapping aspects of both “Mother” and the “Other Mother.” The look and feel of the stop-motion animation – an old-fashioned technique polished to perfection here – is easily the equal of any computer-generated imagery; it perfectly suits the story, capturing the bizarre and horrifying elements while rendering them in terms appropriate for a fairy tale. And a special mention must go to the music by Bruno Coulais; often sounding like a haunting lullaby, it captures both childish innocence and and underling sense of the sinister.
The film is not perfect. Too often the pace is slack, especially in the early scenes. In attempting to portray Coraline’s boredom, Selick comes dangerously close to boring the audience. Fortunately, interest accelerates after Coraline discovers the Other World, but even then some of the highlights are so high that the intervening moments seem like let-downs. This occasional unevenness seems to be a result of trying too hard to lay the foundation and follow through carefully on all the plot points, when the film’s real strength lies in its darkly demented fairy tale trappings. This is a film where dream-logic should prevail, not a strict adherence to Dramatic Structure 101, but on the other hand, the careful approach allows us to engage fully with Corline as a character, ensuring that the film is as moving emotionally as it is beautiful visually.
It has been a rocky road for Henry Selick since NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. After that early promise, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and MONKEYBONE suggested Selick might turn out to be a one-shot wonder. CORALINE puts that concern safely to rest. Like the best movies allegedly aimed at children, it reminds adults that childhood is a time not only of fascination but also of fear -even if those fears are only of shadows and of nightmares rather than real danger.  Eventually we overcome that fear, but its echo lingers deep in our memory. Somewhere inside us, our child-self still lives, but it cannot be summoned with only sugar and sunlight, which feels too much like a comforting lie. CORLINE mixes the dark and the light in the perfect amounts; the result is all the sweeter for having dared to tread the bitter path of childhood fears and uncertainties that led us all to adulthood.
Coralines Other Mother turns out not to be so nice.
Coraline's "Other Mother" turns out not to be so nice.

CORALINE(2009). Written for the screen and directed by Henry Selick, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman. Voices: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, Robert Bailey Jr, Ian McShane.

CHANGING SAKÉ INTO WINE – Neil Gaiman on Adapting "Princess Mononke" for America

Over a decade afters its original release, Hayao Miyazaki’s PRINCESS MONONOKE remains a monumental achievement in animation, an enthralling adventure-fantasy whose traditional hand-drawn cells easily outclass much of the soulless computerized cartoons of today. Looking back, it is easy to see MONONOKE as part of a trend toward showing some respect for anime when releasing it for the U.S. market; in an earlier era, Japanese animation was typically re-edited and dubbed down to the level of a kiddie cartoons, but that was not the case here.
When PRINCESS MONONOKE first began appearing at press screenings in the United States in 1998, it was Japan’s official entry in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences category for Best Foreign Language Film, and U.S. distributor Miramax had picked up domestic distribution rights. This was good news to fans of anime in general and fans of Miyazaki in particular, because Miramax was in the habit of setting new box office records for subtitled, foreign language releases, with films such as LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and IL POSTINO. (LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, which came later, continued the trend.)
However, the Motion Picture Academy, against all good sense, failed to deliver a foreign language nomination to Miyazaki’s brilliant animated epic. Without the statuette, or at least the potential of one, to use as a marketing hook on which to hang an advertising campaign, Miramax head Harvey Weinstein opted to abandon a planned release of the subtitled version in favor of taking the time to dub the film into English for release in 1999. Considering the quality of most foreign-film dubbing, especially of anime, this was a sore disappointment to those who had seen and fallen in love with the Japanese version. Thoughts of cartoony voices giving stiff line readings within the audible confines of a tiny recording studio sprang quickly to mind.
Fortunately, the expected debacle did not occur. Miramax hired a big-name voice cast (Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton), giving the American version its own sheen of respectability. Equally important, they hired author Neil Gaiman to write the English-language dialogue, working from a translation of the original Japanese. Gaiman is a noted author in his own right, who has worked in diverse media, including comics (SANDMAN), television (NEVERWHERE), and even records (he collaborated with Alice Cooper on the concept for the album THE LAST TEMPTATION, and also wrote the tie-in comic book illustrating the story). Gaiman captures most of what was apparent in the subtitled version and even clarifies a few points for the benefit of Western viewers—while also making the whole thing sound natural in English, adopting a poetic, sometimes mythic tone in keeping with the film’s visual impact.
Purists might quibble over whether the result matches or exceeds the subtitled version. But it is a testament to the quality of the dub that any evaluation of the new version has to be based on weighing the relative merits of valid artistic choices. Whether or not one thinks English-language performances improve upon the original, one has to acknowledge that they are legitimate acting performances in their own right. In short, the fact that the film has been dubbed is almost no longer an issue: we’re not assessing a clearly inferior product whose only justification is selling tickets to those too lazy to read subtitles; rather, it is a faithful adaptation that was rendered into a new form for the benefit of its audience.
How was this remarkable feat achieved? Below, fantasy author Neil Gaiman explains why he took on the task, how he surmounted the inevitable difficulties inherent in the project, and what he thinks of the final result.
Neil Gaiman: I was astonished. I was amazed by the film. I’d never see anything like that before. That was what got me to agree. I had expected to say no. When Harvey [Weinstein] asked me to write it, I wasn’t going to say no outright, so I said, “Send me a video.” He said, “No, I don’t want you to see this on video. I want you to see this on the big screen.” I said, “Oh…okay.” I came to LA., went to a screening room, sat down, fully expecting to come out at the end of the day and say, “I don’t think so, but thank you very much for asking me.”
The film started, and all of a sudden there’s a giant demon creature that turns out to be a giant boar but looks like a spider covered with snake-worms, and I was hooked. I sat there, and sat there, and sat, and came out at the end and said, “I have to do this. I have to be involved. This is so cool, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I love the gods, and I love the animals and monsters and the people. I love the complexity of the people and all the motives.”
I felt I could write these people, but more important I felt I could write the gods, these giant animals, without ever going Disney.
I was given a raw script translation, and I translated the translation into lines that people could say. What they gave me was the subtitles, essentially—slightly expanded, but “here, word for word, is what people are actually saying in Japanese.” That was very interesting, because you’d run into a number of phenomena. For example, some things would be untranslatable. Sometimes you would want to “elegant” the translation. I was trying to explain to somebody the other day: the jokes are really hard to translate, because they don’t—not quite. Why something is funny doesn’t necessarily translate. You have to go and find something that is the emotional equivalent.
There was an enormous amount of creativity in the job. If it had just been a matter of taking the script and tidying up the language to make it sound more like dialogue, that would have been easy. The fun for me was that all of these people are different; they have different characters and different voices.
That got a bit silly for awhile. “Samurai” they left; we got to keep “samurai.” We lost “sake”; “sake” became “wine.” We lost “Japan,” interestingly enough, and we even lost China—at one point [in the original version] they talk about these guns that come from China.
It’s not even a matter of how long they’re moving their mouths. It’s a matter of matching exactly. People have been asking if we reanimated it. There are two schools of thought coming out from the film. School of Thought #1 is that we reanimated the mouth movements. School #2 is that they must have made two different versions at the same time.
What is interesting is that we actually match the mouth movements better than the Japanese one did, only because what would break suspension of disbelief for an American audience is much more than for a Japanese audience, so we had to be closer.
The delight with PRINCESS MONONOKE is we set a new standard for dubs. You get different responses from fans, because you get different types of fans watching it. One are the people who have seen the original Japanese film many times; sometimes they love it, and sometimes they have stuff they miss from the Japanese version, in terms of performances. In the Japanese one, for example, the part of Moro, the giant wolf, is played by a transvestite, a female impersonator; it actually sounds, frankly, like a fairly deep-voiced male actor, although Moro the wolf is a female. So they sort of remember a very deep, growling kind of voice. Now, we have Gillian Anderson, and we don’t try to recreate that voice. There was no attempt to recreate that. There was no attempt to tell Gillian Anderson, “Do it in a deep voice like a bloke” or anything. The idea was, we have Gillian Anderson, and she’s wonderful and astonishing, and she’s really, really good. We did that all the way through. Billy Bob [Thornton]does not sound like the Jigo from the Japanese version. But on the other hand, Billy Bob as this wonderful, sort of used car salesman—this little wild card forever fiddling stuff behind the scenes—is terrific.
In the Japanese one, they are talking about other things, and he goes and cuts his hair, puts it on the alter, goes out, and never comes back to his village. As far as most Americans are concerned at this point, he’s just given himself a haircut, possibly because it’s going to be a slightly long trip. You want people to get the same amount of information that they would have got.
Rarely. Mostly no. There was very little that got left out. You change things for effect. At one point they’re talking about women and how they have to stay and guard the town. The captain of the guard says, “Don’t worry about our ladyship. I will protect her.” One of the women in Japanese turns to him and says, “Useless!”—and everybody laughs. Which is fair enough, but it doesn’t take you terribly far in doing the translation. You go, “Why is she saying ‘useless’? Why is this so funny?” So I have her go, “Even if you were a woman, you’d still be an idiot!”—and everybody laughs. Now, we lost the word “useless,” but we had the laugh and the context.
Basically, although Claire [Danes] was in there from the beginning. I knew pretty early on that if I wasn’t going to get Minnie Driver, I would get Helena Bonham Carter, and if I didn’t’ get Helena Bonham Carter, I’d get Kristen Scott Thomas, if you see what I mean. It was going to be one of those. Lady Eboshi was going to be icy and British. Actually, Minnie is astonishing. She gives Eboshi a level of ambiguity that is astonishing.
Wonderful, although the point where it really became great was just seeing it with an audience. That made me very happy.
They laughed in all the right places. And in a couple of places I still haven’t figured out why they laugh. It’s like when the heads go flying: audiences always laugh, but it’s an uncomfortable laugh. It’s funny and there’s a moment of rejection.
I can’t ever imagine doing it again. It was wonderful. If Miyazaki asked me to, I probably would, and if a movie came along that was even cooler…but how many of them are there going to be? I’ve been asked a lot since, especially from Japan, where they say, “MONONOKE HIME [the film’s Japanese title] was the greatest Japanese animated movie—we want the guy who did that.” So I get a lot of requests, but I have no real interest in doing it again.
Let me say, the person who really did raise the bar—I may have done it in terms of script quality, I like to think—but the dub itself is Jack Fletcher, who was the dubbing director. He is the reason why we match the lip movements even more accurately than the Japanese did. He is the one who took every line and… Fundamentally, it’s all my dialogue. Every once in awhile, there are little bits where I go, “How did that happen? I don’t get it.” I was asking them last night, “Why did the little girl in the village become explicitly his [Ashitaka’s] sister? I didn’t think she was in the script they gave me, and she certainly wasn’t in the script I wrote.” And nobody seemed to know where that had come from.
But mostly you got the lines that I wrote, fiddled with very slightly by Jack to make them work, if you see what I mean. Sometimes, you get my dialogue perfectly. One of the reasons I love all the Gillian Anderson-Moro stuff so much is it’s mine, dammit, all mine. Which I really do like; it makes me very happy. At that point, that’s what you’re hearing, because we didn’t have to match lip movements, so you could actually hear the rhythms of my dialogue. That was great.
The hardest thing, as a writer, was coming up with a line of dialogue that was absolutely beautiful, powerful, brilliant, elegant, poetic, fine, and then…only if the character had moved their mouth one more time, I could have used it!

Stardust – Fantasy Film Review

This genre film is not very generic, which is to say it has a distinctive personality that sets it apart from run-of-the-mill fairy tale films. The personality happens to be British (despite the American stars), but that’s all to the better: the ghosts, witchcraft, flying pirates, and other fantastic imagery filling the film are treated with a distinctive touch of deadpan black humor that prevents STARDUST from lapsing into formulaic family fantasy film-making. It’s not Monty Python or HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, but if you have a taste for either of those, you should be on the correct wavelength to receive transmissions from this particular star.
The story follows young Tristran (Charlie Cox), whose father crossed the wall that separates an English village of Wall from an enchanted land, where a dalliance with a Princess in servitude to a witch resulted in the conception of our hero. In order to gain the love of the lovely Victoria (Sienna Miller), Tristran follows in his father’s footsteps, crossing the wall to retrieve a fallen star. The star, however, turns out to be in the lovely human form of Yvaine (Claire Danes). For reasons of their own, Yvaine is also being sought by the witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and by the surviving heir to the magical kingdom (who has killed off his brethren to insure in ascension to the throne).
The coming attractions trailer does a poor job of representing the film, suggesting an insipid, almost childish comic fantasy. STARDUST contains humor to be sure, but it tends to be of the quirky, English variety, and the tone is distinctly adult, although children should be pleasantly amused. Contrasting with the whimsical charm and romantic adventure, we see witches divining the future by carving up the entrails of harmless animals; there is a wonderful running gag about the growing ranks of dead heirs to the throne, who must remain on Earth as ghosts until a new king is finally selected; and to top it all off, the film serves up a decapitation when Lamia grows tired of a rival witch. Not your typical Disney film by a long-shot.
One of the many droll highlights is Robert DeNiro’s turn as a pirate (who literally captures lightening in a bottle) named Captain Shakespeare. Although he poses before his crew as a threatening, murderous rogue, the captain has a softer, effeminate side that he reveals to Tristran and Yvaine in private. In plot terms this explains why he aids the besieged couple (who certainly could use some aid, considering that they are pursed by multiple villains), but the true value lies in the bizarre delights of seeing Travis Bickle turned into a transvestite. (The trailer’s brief glimpse of DeNiro is unimpressive; the revelation that he is hiding a personal secret makes sense of his off-kilter performance.)
Danes is lovely and convincing as Yvaine, a role that could have been a non-descript love interest. Being non-human, she has none of the personality quirks that distinguish the other characters; her only distinctive characteristic is her disparaging, almost but not quite modern “attitude” toward the naive Tristran. As the male lead, Cox initially seems too boyishly bland, but that is merely part of the film’s strategy, which charts his change into a dashing romantic hero. (If he can do it, there is hope for us all!) If one were forced to make comparisons, it would be to Orlando Bloom As Will Turner, but frankly, Cox has more genuine panache, and the romantic triangle in STARDUST is handled far more deftly than the belabored soap opera theatrics in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia
Michelle Pfeiffer as Lamia

Peter O’Toole shows up for a few moments of fun as the dying king, who is amazed to see that he still have four out of seven sons living (he had killed his brothers long before his own father’s death). Rupert Everett generates laughs as the first royal heir we see tossed to his death by a rival brother. However, the real scene-stealer is Pfeiffer, who has not had this much fun on screen since playing CATWOMAN in 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS. As the evil Lamia, she makes Glenn Close’s Cruella DeVille in 1010 DALMATIANS look like a mildly annoying spoiled brat in comparison.
The only area where STARDUST sometimes falls to Earth is in the special effects department. The early attempts to wow the audience with visual pyrotechnics feel like a desperate attention-grabbing device, as if fearful that bored viewers will walk out if there is nothing spectacular in the first five minutes. The computer-generated imagery is distinctly lacking in magic and often ill-conceived; for example, the falling star is astronomical in approach, suggesting science-fiction rather than fantasy. Fortunately, at some point the filmmakers seem to realize that the effects work best when they are punctuating magical moments in the story; from then on, they augment the fairy-tale feeling of the film.
A bit like SHREK, STARDUST puts a spin on familiar fairy tales; this is, thankfully, not a made-to-order fantasy flick. The oddball elements may surprise viewers expecting something a bit more ordinary in approach, but the surprise should be a pleasant one, even for those without a predilection for quirky British humor. The nice thing about STARDUST is that, for all the knowing winks at the audience, it never undermines the magic and romance at the heart of the story, which works just as well as – in fact much better than – more earnest endeavors. It just goes to show that you can have your cake and eat it too, even with your tongue pressed in your cheek.

Fallen star Yvaine (Clare Danes) astride a unicorn.

STARDUST (2007). Directed by Matthew Vaugn. Screenplay by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn, from the novel by Neil Gaiman. Cast: Clare Daines, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mark Strong, Jason Fleming, Sienna Miller, Robert DeNiro, Peter O’Toole, Rupert Everett