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Evil Witches, Fallen Star Light Up in 'Stardust'

Evil witches, a fallen star and a young man in search of his heart's desire: these are just some of the elements in the new fantasy-adventure film adapted from a novel by popular science fiction author Neil Gaiman. Alan Silverman has a look at Stardust.

Once upon a time, a young man named Tristran embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. "The Wall" separates the old English village of Wall from a magical kingdom named Stronghold. When, like his father did before him, Tristran leaps the Wall, he does, indeed, find the star ...but she is not what he expects.

"The star" is a beautiful, wide-eyed young woman named Yvaine. In this magical universe, the stars are actually all beautiful, wide-eyed young women who gaze down upon the antics of the humans and only rarely get to walk among them. However, Tristran is not the only one searching for Yvaine. A coven of wrinkled witches sends the strongest hag of their group, Lamia, to find the fallen star and bring her back so they can all share in her heart: the secret to restoring their youth.

As they try to escape Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil witch, Tristran and Yvaine team up with some even more unusual allies, including Robert DeNiro as pirate captain Shakespeare, whose sky vessel sails the clouds capturing bolts of lightning.

Claire Danes, who stars as the star Yvaine, asks "Who wouldn't want to have long blonde hair and ride a unicorn and be a princess from outer space? I think she's really bright and kind of plucky. Some might say she's difficult, but I think she is just discerning. She is strong."

Danes, who is about to make her Broadway debut in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, says her approach to "Stardust" was to make it seem real, not fantasy. "I wasn't thinking so much about how to play her as a celestial being. It just wasn't required. A lot of that work was done for me with the costumes and the hair and CGII (computer-generated images). What I really like about the script and the movie is that it walks a line between being fantastical and realistic in its tone," she says.

"It allows for more," says English actor Charlie Cox, who plays Tristran. He enjoys what he calls 'the freedom' fantasy can give an actor. "If you think of it logically, there is no realistic reaction to seeing a witch or a flying pirate, is there? So it allows for you to go a bit further with it if you wish. When you see someone in a movie react to having a gun pointed in their face, it is more likely to have happened to more people; whereas no one that I know has ever seen witch or a flying pirate. So, yes, it allows for for more."

"And that's the danger, because you do have that freedom," warns Michelle Pfeiffer, who says her challenge was to keep the witch she plays from seeming too unreal. "In the case of my character, Lamia, who is going to be there to tell you when you have to rein it in a little bit because there are a lot of pitfalls you can fall into. That's my big danger because I've never been really comfortable with being broad or slapstick humor. That's not where my comfort zone is, so I initially have to be really pushed and encouraged to go there."

The guidance from director Matthew Vaughn was simple and straightforward. "I just said 'this isn't a fantasy movie. We are playing this for real. If you do a period film, let's say in Tudor costume, it is wrong if you play the costume. Back then they weren't wearing costumes, they were wearing clothes. It was modern fashion. So I tried to ground it as much in reality as possible," he says.

Stardust, which was shot on location in Scotland and Iceland and sets in London's famed Pinewood studios, also features cameos by an array of British actors including comic Ricky Gervais, steamy Sienna Miller and veteran Peter O'Toole. Ian McKellen is the narrator. The musical score is by London-based composer Ilan Eshkeri.