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Page to Screen: Stardust
Matthew Vaughn's Stardust movie poster.
What is Stardust?
Stardust is originally a fantasy novel written by Neil Gaiman and published in 1999. It follows the plot of a boy, Tristan Thorne, who ventures out after a fallen star to bring it back to his love, Victoria. The film is a little different than Gaiman's traditional prose, imitating the typical fantasy narrative that dates before J. R. R. Tolkien. Furthermore, the novel went on to win several awards such as the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. For more information, you can check out Wikipedia's page.
As for the film based on the novel, it was directed by Matthew Vaughn and released in 2007, featuring such actors such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole, Robert De Niro, Henry Cavill, and Ian McKellen, among many others. The plot is largely the same, with some character changes, scene omissions, and a slightly different ending to some effect. In addition, the film won awards such as Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form (Hugo), Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Empire Award), and so forth. You can find more information on imdb.
It's important to note that the original author, Neil Gaiman, fully supported the film and its changes. Interestingly enough, Gaiman confesses that he gets, "people who come to the book from having loved the movie who are really disappointed at some of the stuff that isn't there that Matthew (Vaughn) brought."
Neil Gaiman's Stardust book cover art.
The biggest change is the overall tone. In the novel, it's more describing how love is often misguided and unfair. While Tristan Thorne is so overly infatuated with Victoria in both works, it's in the novel where he seems so blockheaded that subtly eludes him. In the novel, it's almost like the characters suffers from not having enough depth to him. The book ends with a more depressing note as well. Tristan and Yvaine love one another, but they cannot interbreed and she's immortal, meaning Tristan dies in the end and Yvaine remains the immortal, heartbroken ruler of the kingdom without any children to speak of.
Switching over to the film, Tristan seems much happier and more puzzled with the world around him. He seems to try to understand the world around him and doesn't paint himself a love-sick puppy dog that's blindly following a single train of thought. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of Victoria-vision going on, but it's diluted in the grand scheme of things. Not only that, but Yvaine and Tristan manage to have children and due to having Yvaine's love (in a Love Conquers All trope), he is unable to die and they remain together in the heavens.
There is a complete omission of a character from the novel. Strangely enough, he is unnamed, only known as a small hairy man, who gives Tristan his Babylon candle and his silver chain. Even though the scene he's most heavily involved in is quite creepy (look below), everything the man does is easily attributed to the gift basket Tristan mom sends him near the beginning of the adventure.
There's also the case of the sky pirates, an element that seems almost integral to the film. Where the sky merchants in the book merely picked up Tristan and Yvaine and gave them a free ride, the sky pirates in the film are full of character, and their leader Captain Shakespeare (played by Robert De Niro) is incredibly hilarious and serves as a high point in the film. In the book, there was no flavor, nor ridiculous scenes that came from this crew, which serves to disappoint quite a few readers who watched the film first.
Then there's the Lilim, or Witches. In the novel, they are nameless but do follow the same path right up to the end, where the leader seems to just give up because Yvaine has 'given her heart to Tristan.' This serves to be very anti-climatic, especially when compared to the film where Tristan and Septimus battle against the Witches to the death. If one reads the book afterwards, this resolution feels and falls flat, causing the reader to feel unsatisfied.
Victoria also doesn't end up marrying Monday, Tristan's previous employer, in the film like she does in the book. This is kinda important since in the book, this is how Ulna gets free. Instead, Victoria marries Humphrey, some well of gentleman played by Superman's Henry Cavill. In the film, Victoria changes her tune when Tristan comes back with a piece of the star, becoming affectionate towards Tristan where the book she seems bothered to have to keep her promise towards Tristan.
Ulna, Tristan's mom, is significantly different, as in the film she merely seduces Tristan's father and doesn't gain much development otherwise. In the novel, she still seduces Dunstan Thorn but continues to demonstrate a far more dominant personality. When she is freed, she goes on ahead of Tristan and Yvaine to rule the kingdom, demonstrating much more of a Queen's attitude than a woman who's been a slave for most of her life. Also, Ulna is described as possessing 'cat's ears,' yet the film makes no attempt to imitate this. It is no great loss, however.
In the film, the ghosts of the princes seem only to provide off-stage humor, and while they do the same in the novel, characters take notice of them, even if they don't interact with them. Both film and novel handled them very well.
As mentioned before, the film does leave out a few scenes, and aside from the hilarious side plot with the sky pirates, adds nothing especially new. There's the scary tree copse scene where Tristan and the little hairy man (look in characters) attempt to get their way out of the lethal trap that would have been enjoyable in a cinematic viewing.
The Unicorn in the film simply appears it seems, while in the novel Tristan actually pacifies a lion its fighting. The Unicorn is a bit more of a character that the reader develops an emotional attachment towards, and its end is far more gruesome than simply disappearing in a haze of flames as it did in the movie.
There's also the entire climatic ending in the film that's completely absent within the book. The Witch-Queen merely kills Septimus when he attempts to revenge his brother's death, regrettably ending up like him.
Spoilers end here.
Trailer for Stardust
After watching the film first and becoming a fan before going to read the novel, I admit that I actually enjoyed the movie more than the book. Considering the audio book's length of ten and a half hours, the film did a terrific job of adapting the important information from the book while adding scenes that I personally felt would have benefited the novel, all within a two hour timespan.
While the book has a darker atmosphere, it cannot compare to the humor and memorable scenes that Matthew Vaughn was able to create. The book also seems to trail off at the end, giving a lackluster and depressing ending to an otherwise triumphant adventure. The ending in the film may be slightly cliché, but it's satisfying and seems to fulfill the promise of such a great story.
However, I do not claim that the novel is poor and would recommend it. However, this is a rare occasion where I would recommend reading the book before the film.
I'll be adding more material from book to movie adaptations and would be glad to take suggestions left in the comments below.
Book vs. Movie
For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?
You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.
© 2014 Travis Wood