Recently, while watching Stardust, I remembered why it is one of my favorite movies. It is hard to rank it with epics like Lord of the Rings since it only spans a couple hours, rather than providing a masculine alternative to Pride and Prejudice—the needlessly long one. Stardust is more like the Kiera Knightly edition, in a different category entirely.
If you are not familiar with the film, here is a brief spoiler-free summary (at least, the amount of spoilers you might suspect in a movie listing synopsis or a trailer): To prove his love, Tristan ventures across the wall into a mythical kingdom retrieve a fallen star. At the same time, the star, in the form of the beautiful young woman Yvaine, is also sought after by an evil witch in search of immortality and devious young princes eager to hold the pendant she wears. There is a lot more to the story, but as Dr. Riversong likes to say, “Spoilers!”
I hesitated to write this post because I am certain I will not do the movie justice. For lack of a better description—when I watch Stardust, my artistic energy is moved. It is moved in the same way I am moved by a stunning performance from a grand orchestral piece such as the 1812 Overture (a cliché, but a great example nonetheless). It is the same feeling felt by an artist standing before the Mona Lisa, or even a football fan sitting down to admire Doug Flutie’s miracle play or the ending to the 1982 Big Game. It is that feeling when your chest puffs as you are filled with endorphins and adrenaline as you experience euphoria. So, my actually-not-so-over-the-top explanation done, here are some of the things that get my creative juices excited when I watch Stardust.
1. The music.
I used to buy the soundtracks to all of my favorite fantasy/sci fi movies. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Pirates of the Caribbean, even Batman Begins… then I got more serious in my musicianship. I played in an orchestra (a darn good one too) for the first time, having previously done mostly concert bands like you might find in a high school, with the occasional musical sprinkled in. While concert band is great, it felt like the first time I picked up a 500-page installment of a fantasy series after an entire life of Encyclopedia Brown and Hank the Cowdog. (Ok, I’ll admit, bad analogy for me. I readRedwall before even hearing of those two. My teacher made me read them because I’d read Redwall over a dozen times in 4th grade and he thought I should expand my horizons with something juvenile.) Nothing against those books, but it wasa whole different—and complex—universe.**
Why go into my musical taste and history? Because Stardust is one of only two movies I have seen since my former musical phase where I have actually purchased the soundtrack. (I purchased the Hobbit, though I generally only listen to about 4 tracks from any of the Middle Earth films. I bought this one exclusively for the main Dwarf theme and its reprise in the credits. ) I still enjoy the main themes from anything John Williams, but in Stardust, I actually thoroughly enjoy the entire soundtrack. Sure, a few tracks such as Lamia’s Inn are not a 10/10, but as a whole, the entire soundtrack is just so… invigorating! While my favorite soundtracks have 4 or 5 good tracks and a dozen more that I skip over, Stardust is amazingly consistent in its mystical intrigue. My favorite musical moment is during a sequence when, during the middle of the piece, a character plays a few notes of the soundtrack using an on-screen keyboard, evidence that the director joins the composer as being a man who knows how to incorporate a great soundtrack rather than just lay on music tracks over moving images.
2. The little things.
By “little things,” I mean subtle details, whether important or not, that go a long ways towards enhancing the story, whether visually, musically, or through continuity. My favorite is the name of the king’s children—each one’s name is based on birth order. (Child #7 is named Septimus. Child #1 is named Una.) Such a small detail, but for some reason I have always absolutely loved it. For another example, Yvaine, the star, glows when she is happy. That is neat in itself, but there are moments where her glowing grows brighter or softer. Sometimes it is the focus of the scene; other times, it is just a minor detail making the movie consistent with itself. Yet another example is the piano scene in the soundtrack already mentioned. Yet another example is the “Slaughtered Prince,” an inn referenced in the film’s opening sequence, shown in oneof the final sequences, and more importantly fits a overarching comic thread throughout the film (in which somehow, the macabre scenario of princes killing each other actually is quite humorous). I could go on, but there are numerous small details, some that matter a great deal to the plot, and others that are available only to the viewer watching for those fine details.
3. The romance.
Ok, I’ll admit it… I’m a guy who doesn’t mind a little romance. In high school, I even instigated a movie night selection in which all of the guys in my youth group chose A Walk to Remember. I don’t mind the romance as long as it is not over-done, cheesy, or detracts from the real story. (In A Walk to Remember, the romance story and her cancer story are hand-in-hand, rather than the romance stealing the whole show.) On the flip side, it bugs me whenever romance is inserted just for the sake of including a romantic twist in an otherwise unromantic movie. Fortunately, in Stardust, the romance is the motivation (the main character’s whole purpose is to prove his love), but it actually makes the fantasy storyline stronger, not unlike how “true love’s kiss” is an integral in many masculine-friendly fantasy stories. And it is pretty cool when she literally glows because of their love. (I just hope that when she has kids, her delivery doctor wears sunglasses, or he will go blind.)
**For any concert band fans out there who are outraged at the comparison, I’ll grant you– there are exceptions, such as Gustav Holst, but a good 95% of concert band literature out there is George Cluny or Ben Affleck, while Orchestra is Christian Bale, if Batman is the art under production.