If you're looking for a heroic fantasy that's just a bit different from your garden variety, run-of-the-mill sword and sorcery epic, Stardust may be worth your time.
We're of two minds. We enjoyed it, liked the fact that it has its own imagination, but felt that somehow there was something missing. We don't know what, and we argued about it between ourselves afterward, but the consensus was that this is quite enjoyable and engaging, but something doesn't quite work.
That said, the rest of it works better than most….
Our tale unfolds in the 19th-century English village of Wall, which sits right next to a wall. Wall looks like a typical English village of storybook ilk, except that it turns out the wall represents a barrier that no one may pass.
Well, nearly no one. Young Drustan Thorn's curiosity leads him to sneak through a hole in the wall and a short walk across the countryside there leads him to a marketplace in what's decidedly a fantasy world, with witches and princesses and the other stuff you (but not he) would expect.
He meets a captive princess there and, after a night of passion, returns home to what he expects will be his normal life. But nine months and a bit later he's given delivery of a son, Tristan, who was apparently left for him beside the wall.
Here the movie jumps forward 18 years, to when Tristan (Charlie Cox) is a strapping young geek who's madly in love with superficial bimbo Victoria (Sienna Miller). To win her heart, he embarks on his quest to recover a star that had fallen from the sky and landed somewhere beyond that wall.
And this is the point at which the movie really begins. Tristan sallies forth to the magical land of Stormhold, where the dying king (Peter O'Toole) has tasked his four surviving sons with finding the same star, kind of – and evil witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) is also off after the star for yet another purpose, one that (since she's very, very bad) would throw a royal monkey wrench into the plans of the other star suitors.
There's magic galore, good and evil, and memorable characters including a poufy ship captain (Robert De Niro), the star herself (Claire Danes), the daffy princes and more. There are also gorgeous locations, apparently in Scotland and Iceland, and enough great special effects to keep the fan of cinefantastique happy for the movie's two hours and a bit running time.
We aren't going to get more specific about the storyline, because it's best you let it unfold in front of you than have us spoil it – but rest assured you're in for, if nothing else, an interesting and imaginative time in your home theater.
Speaking of home theater, the DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen (a Pan&Scan version is also available, separately), and the picture quality is very good. We watched it up converted to 1080p and the picture was quite enjoyable. We hope Paramount rejoins the Blu-ray scene soon so we can enjoy the flick in its true glory (Paramount releases titles in high definition only in HD DVD currently).
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's also very good.
You even get some special features with the Stardust DVD, including "Good Omens: The Making of Stardust," a blooper reel, and some deleted scenes.
Stardust, from Paramount Home Entertainment
We love a sci-fi and/or horror film that's fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. And that's what we have here, with Tim Cox' Mammoth undertaking.
Made for TV on what appears to be a shoestring budget, Mammoth blends the ancient extinct critter of the title with a witty alien invasion yarn that isn't very scary let alone logical, but which is clever and enjoyable nonetheless.
Set in a small Louisiana town that's ripe for being all shook up, the movie opens with a meteor smashing into the local museum of natural history, where a 40,000 year old woolly mammoth is on display. The mammoth's icy prison melts, releasing the big beastie to wreak havoc on the good townsfolk in a manner reminiscent of movies like The Blob.
But thank goodness for the U.S. government, which sends in special agents Powers (Leila Arcieri) and Whitaker (Marcus Lyle Brown), who have to kill the alien-possessed critter before the aliens possessing it can destroy all the work that humanity has created in its millennia of history. Or something like that.
Fortunately, local paleontologis and museum curator Dr. Frank Abernathy (Vincent Ventresca) is on hand and he has more on the ball than the feds do - and his dad (Tom Skerritt) is one step ahead of everyone thanks to his penchant for things sci-fi. Unfortunately for Dr. Frank, they have to off the beast, destroying his life's work.
Such is the cross borne by the modern paleontologist.
Mammoth probably won't win many Hugos, but it's good fun and that's fine with us. It reminds us of movies like Eight Legged Freaks that exploit the genre in a gentle and self-mocking way. The actors' performances of the stereotyped characters match this attitude, as do the rather cheesy special effects.
The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compliant, and the picture quality of the screener we received was okay. This review was written before the real DVD release, so we hope the actual disc will be better but even if it ain't we can live with it because the quality fits in with the overall cheekiness of the movie.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's fine. Special features include cast/crew interviews and some behind the scenes footage, though these weren't available for preview on the screener.
Mammoth, from Union Station Media/Starz Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
We welcome your comments!