In an otherwise unremarkable office building in London’s trendy Soho, the clichés are out in force; magic is being made, fantasies are coming to life and dreams are being realised. It may be marketing agencies, new media designers and ad companies in the vicinity, but on the second floor of this particular building a small group of people are putting the finishing touches to "Stardust", one of Paramount’s late summer tent-pole releases, and perhaps the most ambitious film ever to be made in Britain.
Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, "Stardust" is a sweeping fantasy comedy with a cast list so impressive it’s impossible to resist – Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Claire Danes, Peter O’Toole and Rupert Everett to name a few – and production values that’ll give "Pirates of the Caribbean" a run for its money. And the film’s director, Matthew Vaughn, has brought Rotten Tomatoes UK into the edit suite for an exclusive look at how the film is shaping up.
Claire Danes, Robert De Niro and Charlie Cox in a scene from Matthew Vaughn’s "Stardust".
"The pitch is it’s Pirates of the Caribbean meets The Princess Bride," Vaughn tells us, as he opens up the first reel on the Avid and skips past the Paramount logo and onto the first shot of the film. It begins with Ian McKellen‘s powerful narration setting up the magical land beyond Wall, a town bordering the real world and home to our hero, Tristran, played by newcomer Charlie Cox. "It has the same sense of humour as The Princess Bride, but it also, hopefully, matches Pirates in terms of the swashbuckling action and effects."
Vaughn is best known for directing "Layer Cake" and for his collaboration with Guy Ritchie as the producer of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch", so when we see fantasy romance and comedy on the screen we can’t help but point out to him that it’s a big departure. "It is," he agrees, "but ultimately I don’t want to be the sort of director who does the same thing every time." With this only his second feature in the director’s chair we’re fairly certain, from what we’ve seen, that there’s little chance of that.
"So what would you like to see?" he asks. "Action? Adventure? Romance? Comedy?" We ask for a little of everything and he laughs, thinks for a minute – perhaps with a little hesitation at opening the film up to fresh eyes before it’s even finished – and finally turns to the computer.
Michelle Pfeiffer in a scene from Matthew Vaughn’s "Stardust".
*SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR TWO PARAGRAPHS*
On the screen Vaughn shows us some of the first effects shots in the movie as a star falls to Earth and sets events in motion that’ll shape the rest of the film. Back on terra-firma, as Tristran attempts to woo his sweetheart Victoria (Sienna Miller) by promising to bring the star back in exchange for her hand in marriage, we’re introduced to the film’s other interested parties. They are the haggard witch-queen, Lamia (Pfeiffer), who desires the youth trapped at the heart of the star, and the swiftly depleting sons of Stormhold; Primus, Secundus and Septimus (Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett and Mark Strong respectively) who will stop at nothing – including fratricide – to bring home the chain the star carries, a pendant that holds the power to succeed their father (O’Toole) as ruler of the land.
We’re later given a glimpse of Tristran’s first meeting with the star, who turns out to be an ethereal young woman played by Claire Danes, a slice of Robert De Niro as he barters with none other than Ricky Gervais on the cost of lightning bolts in the funniest scene of the day, and finally a few slices of the climactic battle. In the "Princess Bride" vein this is not "Lord of the Rings" warfare but rather a somewhat clumsy swordfight with plenty of magic thrown in. And it plays beautifully because there’s something inherently unexpected in the meeting of a village farmer, the queen of the witches and an ambitious future monarch fighting over a fallen star.
Sienna Miller in a scene from Matthew Vaughn’s "Stardust".
If anything is slightly worrying Vaughn and line producer Tarquin Pack, who joins us as we watch the footage, it’s not the juggernaught of third parts that precede the release of the film in August; "Spider-Man 3", "Shrek the Third" and "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" all beat "Stardust" into cinemas, not to mention any number of other franchise movies, while "Rush Hour 3" – directed by Brett Ratner who took the reins on "X-Men 3" when Vaughn stepped down – opens on the same day.
"I think people are going to be looking for something new after all of those sequels," Pack says, "and as far as Rush Hour 3 is concerned, unless they’ve had a change of heart they’re not going after the same audience we are. Paramount originally wanted to put Stardust out on the same day as The Simpsons; if that’d happened we’d have had trouble, but Rush Hour 3 doesn’t really concern us."
"The Princess Bride" does, though. It’s a small concern, but it’s there; Pack reminds us that as cherished as it’s come to be on DVD, "The Princess Bride" had a tough time in cinemas and he’s hoping "Stardust" doesn’t suffer the same fate.
With startling visual effects, a punchy script – Vaughn jokingly takes credit for a line we particularly like when we ask if it was in the book, "Neil will probably try to tell you he wrote it, but he’d be lying!" – and a tone not seen on the big screen for far too long, we don’t suppose this’ll be the case; "Stardust" has the potential to be the biggest surprise of the year, and from the looks of things it’s certainly well on its way.
Ricky Gervais in a scene from Matthew Vaughn’s "Stardust".
"Stardust" hits US cinemas on August 10th and arrives in the UK on 19th October. Check out more new images from the film in our image gallery.