I didn't fall asleep - perhaps that is because we got to the cinema early enough for me to kip through the ads, but perhaps it was because Stardust was genuinely a lovely, cuddly, sweet movie. There are minor liberties taken with the plot and characters' backstories, but they work to pare the movie down into a pacy 130 minutes, which given the flab of some blockbusters out there (spidey 3, 139 mins, Pirates 3 168 mins, King Kong 187 mins) is dealable. Anyway, Neil Gaiman must have approved since he is one of the producers of this baby (Neil Gaiman, who he? Well only the writer of the original graphic novel which he then turned into a novel. And genius writer of the Sandman series. Not to mention American Gods - about which more later).
The essential scenes are there - but the story has been somewhat kid-friendlied - the unicorn frex, does not die in the movie. That was a three-hankie moment for me in the book, but I was absolutely not looking forward to discussing it with distraught 10 and 4 year old. Luckily, 4 year old took one look at Tristran Thorne and fell asleep so he missed all the squicky bits with animal entrails. Actually, not that that would have upset him much as he is in a very dark place at the moment involving dreams of fanged flesh-eating baby kangaroos and the evisceration of Barbie, any Barbie). Victoria has quite a charming love-story in the book, but is punished for dithering between her movie suitors, in a way that I think enhances the movie, but the book is more interesting there ultimately. And poor old Dunstan Thorne loses Daisy and his numerous family - it's just him and Tris (why did he lose the second r? he becomes Tristan in the movie).
The performances: Charlie Cox is a serviceable Tris - he does a good job at changing from bit of a gangling boy to polished fencer and dapper man about Stormhold; I liked Claire Danes as Yvaine (I've heard some quibbles - how the NYTimes reviewer could ever imagine gooey Gwyneth as an alternative beggars belief); Michelle Pfeiffer was excellent as Lamia, but for me the standout witch was Sarah Alexander of Green Wing and Smack the Pony and the princes, dead and alive, were great, wish we could have seen even more of them. It was delightful to see Ricky Gervais (Ferdy the Fence) prevented from making anything but animal noises and then getting a shiv in the guts for his pains, and Mark Strong was on fine-foaming-at-the-mouth form. Robert de Niro's comic turn sort of worked, but only because Dexter Fletcher, that stalwart, was a great foil to him. And of course, Mark Williams, previously the stammering apothecary of Shakespeare in Love and Arthur Weasley, father of Ron, was terrific as the enchanted innkeeper Billy, from goat to man to late goat in a skip and hop. It was also interesting to see Ms John Simm, Kate Magowan as Tristan's mother, although I thought it was a thankless role for her.
Still, the real star of the movie for me was the locations-spotter. We had gorgeous shots of Scotland, Iceland and Wales. The landscapes and the camerawork were terrific - I felt that Wall and Stormhold were really plausible places, and that's a joy when seeing an adaptation of a book (ok comic) (sorry, graphic novel) you liked. Well, loved. I hate to get all fangurl squeeee but I really have enjoyed just about everything Gaiman has had a hand in, from Mirrormask to the Sandman sequence.
I'm now looking forward to Beowulf, which Gaiman scripted, and the animated version of his super-spooky kid's book Coraline. But but but. If only someone would make a movie of his greatest novel, American Gods - now that would be something (18+ as a rating, but hey ho). If you haven't read American Gods yet, go, get thee to a bookshop. It's really dark, really nasty and really fantastic in all senses of the word. I think my favourite novel of 2005. I'll never let my copy go. I'm not sure I'll re-read it particularly soon, it is a work so epic and harrowing that I won't be going back to it in a hurry. But it is very memorable, very rich and very readable. Can't wait to see what Gaiman comes up with next. Let's hope he's not too lost to the movie-madness that he fails to write any more fiction.