Film Reviews: Stardust and Rome

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My schedule allowed me to see the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” during its opening weekend (a rare occurrence in my household), and since I plugged the movie on my blog earlier this week I thought I would provide a review. But let me preface by quoting a small bit from Roger Ebert’s review that mirrored many of my own feelings concerning “Stardust”.

“There are lots of other good things in the movie, but they play more like vaudeville acts than part of a coherent plot. It’s a film you enjoy in pieces, but the jigsaw never gets solved. I liked it, but “The Princess Bride” it’s not.”

There are many good small things in the film. Michelle Pfeiffer is charming as the witch Lamia, and the Greek chorus of dead brothers are entertaining throughout, but the film itself is something of a mess and the romance lays the syrup on so thick diabetics should be warned. Though it has been some time since I read Gaiman’s original work, I don’t believe it was so openly mushy and sentimental. That more than anything else separates this film from the modern classic of swashbuckling fantasies “The Princess Bride” (which it has been compared to several times), a film that wasn’t afraid to add a generous dose of cynicism, sarcasm, and doubt (not to mention a script as tight as a steel drum).

Perhaps the greatest sin of “Stardust” is that it doesn’t trust the audience to make connections for themselves, everything is explained and narrated to a point where the characters don’t have a chance to expand and breathe. We all know that fairy tales involving dashing heroes will (generally) end up with a happy ending, but most of us don’t watch for the pay-off happy ending, we watch to see how well the storyteller convinces us that it might NOT work. In “Princess Bride” we are shown an array of characters with their own fully-formed motivations helping, hindering, or confusing the main quest for true love, in “Stardust” every plot point seems like just another tick on a check-list to “happily ever after”. “Stardust” isn’t a bad film per-say, like I said before there some bright moments that can charm you, but I was hoping for a classic and ended up with a trifle.

On a completely different note, I started watching the second (and last) season of the HBO television drama “Rome”, which recently came out on DVD. I don’t have cable, so it has been quite awhile since I visited these characters, and I must say that I had forgotten how fresh “Rome” is in its ambition and scope. The aftermath of Ceasar’s death (which happened at the end of the first season) is handled very well (though history is always fudged a bit in this show), and as always religion is everywhere in the series.

“If the past is a foreign country, then ancient religion may be its most exotic locale. The HBO series “Rome,” which returns for its second season on Sunday, is hardly “Fodor’s Guide to Paganism,” but by venturing off some well-worn cinematic paths, the show has given the worship of the gods a generous treatment in a genre dominated by stories of gladiators and the advent of Christ. The creators of the serial drama, which focuses on the power struggles during the last days of the Roman Republic in the first century B.C.E., wanted to portray Roman religion not as a doomed prologue to Christianity but as a vibrant and meaningful part of everyday life.”

Religion is taken so seriously that when a character commits a major act of blasphemy in the second episode, you feel truly shocked by the action. It is a shame that “Rome” will not see a third season (due to the staggeringly large budget), but we can at least enjoy the two soap-operatic seasons of the Roman Empire’s rise.