Monday, August 13, 2007

Stardust: On Being True to a Book

I am a very big fan of Neil Gaiman's work in general. He is one of this most consistently interesting writers in fantasy. So I was looking forward to the film adaption of his novel Stardust. The story deals with a young man named Tristran Thorn who lives in the town of Wall on the border between England and Faerie. Tristran attempts to woo the love of his life, Victoria, by promising her that he would bring her a fallen star. With that in mind, he crosses over the wall into Faerie. As with any decent work of fantasy though, things are not what they seem. The fallen star is a girl named Yvaine. To add to everything, Tristran is not the only person interested in Yvaine. There is a witch out to cut out Yvaine's heart in order to restore the youth and powers of her and her sisters. The witch has been given the last bits of her and her sister's youth, which makes her young again. As the story goes on and she has to do more and more magic she ages. In addition to the witches, there are the princes of Stormhold, who are after Yvaine for a jewel she carries which they need in order to gain the throne of Stormhold.
The film is a lot of fun. Maybe not at the level of Lord of the Rings, but it definitely matches up to Narnia or any of the Harry Potter films. What I would like to talk about here is not so much the films but how it was adapted.
When reading Stardust it occurred to me that it would be a very difficult story to do as a film since there are a number of different story lines to deal with. Any film version would have to take some extreme liberties with the story. In particular, I took it as a given that any film would change the ending, which is unfortunate because its a really powerful ending and not one that you would expect. (Spoiler Alert) In the book, the witch finally catches up to Yvaine and Tristran at the Faerie side of the border to England. The witch has at this point used up all of her magic and is now left old and powerless. The witch says to Yvaine: I see you and know that it is you but I can no longer sense your heart. Yvaine responds that the reason perhaps why she can no longer sense her heart is because she has given it to Tristran. Yvaine then kisses the witch on the forehead and walks on leaving the witch defeated and forced to face the wraith of her sisters but still very much alive. On reading this I thought no Hollywood film would leave an ending like this alone. They are going to have to stick in a final fight with the witch and have Tristran and Yvaine kill her. Guess what that is exactly what the film does. Instead of the book's final confrontation, the film has the witch finally capture Yvaine at the wall and takes her back to her sisters so they can cut out her heart. Tristran tracks them down and we have a very predictable special effects showdown in which the witch and her sisters are finally killed.
What is so wrong with an ending that has less special effects and more heart to it?

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