Bluntly stated, Stardust the film was a billion times cooler than Stardust the novel – and I say this with great disappointment. I have a bias towards literature and I am almost always on the side of the novelist in the tacit battle between pen and picture. I very rarely watch a film adaptation of any novel that I am interested in reading, before having read the novel. I hate having character, plot and context dictated to me on screen. I love to read and let my imagination run wild, and then see what brilliant acting and directing can contribute to an author’s mastery. At least if a novel is destroyed by a poorly crafted film, I still have the written word to cling to. That said, I broke my own system by watching the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust before I read the novel, and it was a really bad idea. Although, I have a sneaking suspicion that I still would have preferred the film, even if I had watched it after reading the novel.
I like Gaiman’s writing, having read Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett) and Neverwhere. I have a passion for fairytales and Gaiman writes quirky modern fairytales for an adult audience, as he so aptly reminds his reader with the insertion of a small print “Fuck” in the first chapter of Stardust. Gaiman abandons the notion that fairytales are sweetly innocent stories told to children to help them sleep, preferring to draw on their dark and foreboding tone to which he adds his own special twist of humour. However, the magical fairytale quality inherent in the movie, which is encapsulated by the extreme representations of good and evil, isn’t present in the book. In the last chapter of the novel, evil witch Lamia turns out to be not so evil, a massively disappointing anticlimax after the earlier reading of a disturbingly horrific incident, in which she decapitates a unicorn to use its blood for divination purposes. The characters are not sufficiently developed and their relationships, particularly that between Tristran (Tristan in the film) and Yvaine, are not convincing. Upon reading Stardust, I realised how much license the script writers had taken when adapting the novel to film. Compliments to them. It was a delight to watch Robert De Niro as the cross-dressing Captain of the flying pirate ship. Michelle Pfeiffer is a captivatingly evil Lamia, and her performance captures the sinister and grotesque tone of the novel’s unicorn murder scene. Claire Danes abandons her characteristic tearful chin scrunching and manages to be less annoying and more charming. Charlie Cox does a sterling job as the naive and dashing Prince and the blossoming love of Yvaine and Tristan is believable in that special fairytale way. The film fleshes out a rather flat piece of literature with dark humour, great CG and sparkling performances. In this case, picture accentuates Gaiman’s imagination and manipulation of the traditional fairytale elements, better than word. I found myself missing the indulgences of the film when reading the novel.