I've just watched this film four times in three days. It is, quite simply, the most breathtaking film I have seen for years.
Based on -- and improved upon -- Neil Gaiman's book of the same name, Stardust is the ultimate fantasy-adventure for the entire family.
There are three really great things about this film, two of which are extensions of what is in the book, and one was developed by Gaiman and his co-workers for the film after the book was finished.
The first great thing is the depth and originality of the magical world he creates. Gaiman's Faerie is as rich and detailed -- and exuberant -- as Hogwarts, though it's a darker place. The film brings to life the wealth of detail which was in the book. Despite being laced with special effects, this does not come across as a special effects movie, because every magical transformation is demanded by the plot and flows instinctively from what was there before: a wonderful example of Aristotle's 'likely impossible' being better than an 'unlikely possible'.
The second great thing is the depth of characterisation. It's unusual in a fantasy film to have the level of bickering and banter that we get in this film. It's unusual in any genre to have an exquisitely observed romance develop before our eyes, against the wishes of both main protagonists. The film builds new characters, such as Robert de Niro's gay pirate Captain Shakespeare and Ricky Gervais's wheeler-dealer fence, which add additional resonance (and humour). It also nicely develops the characters of all seven sons of Stormhold, and nicely polishes the ghosts.
The third great thing, which is not in the book, is that Stardust the film has a very, very exciting plotline. Gaiman wisely omitted a number of details, and simplified the rather complex relationships. This created the space to focus on the real action, to introduce the pirate interlude, and to replace the entire ending with the most gripping and thrilling magical battle I have ever seen in a film. The last twenty minutes is all new material, making the story infinitely stronger and more satisfying. This is neatly underlined by the reprise of all the surviving characters in the coronation scene at the end -- a very nice touch indeed.
Fairy tales need to be told and retold, and improved as they go. Gaiman has seized the rare opportunity of telling his tale better the second time around -- though the original novel was nothing to be sniffed at -- and he and his co-workers have created a masterpiece.
I loved this film, and would recommend it to anyone -- something helped by the removal of the sometimes explicit references which occasionally crop up in the book.
This is not a 'great' film, in the sense of Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia or The Great Escape. It does not attempt to solve the great questions of human existence, or to plumb the depths of tragedy. But it is the finest film of its kind I have ever seen.
One more thing: both in the film and the book, there are elements which have obviously been 'inspired' by other fantasy writers. With becoming modesty, Gaiman, in the epilogue to the book, acknowledges these. The references are not plagiarism, but tributes. The film is all the stronger for them.
Blu Ray update: We now have the Blu Ray version of this. The picture is sharper, more vivid, and much more detailed, especially in the market town scenes. The dynamic range of the soundtrack is also rather greater: the loud is very loud, and the quiet is really very quiet. This is great for a evening's home cinema, not so great for watching with the sound down when everyone else has gone to bed.