This adaptation of the fantasy graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess invites comparison with The Princess Bride and Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen for its fantastical imagination, scale, humour and cross-generational appeal. Charlie Cox plays Tristan, a young shop assistant in rural Victorian England, who enters a magical parallel world in pursuit of a fallen star in order to prove his worth to indifferent sweetheart Victoria (Sienna Miller). The star has taken on the earthly shape of Yvaine (Claire Danes) and the two find themselves pursued by Lamia the witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a motley crew of murderous princes, several of whom are dead. Salvation comes in the unlikely form of Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro), the transvestite captain of a flying pirate ship, and the initial animosity between Tristan and Yvaine slowly gives way to affection. The pace is brisk throughout and the story (co-written by Mrs Jonathan Ross, Jane Goldman) delightfully picaresque, while director Matthew Vaughn makes the most of some awesome Scottish and Icelandic backdrops and impressive studio sets.
This revolutionary “haunted house in space” thrill-ride is the classic business, stunning you with shock after shock, even when the fascinating monster is exposed in all its hideous glory. The creature discomfort begins when the crew of an Earth-bound spacecraft answers a distress beacon coming from a barren planet and curious crewman John Hurt picks up an unwanted guest. The top-notch acting (super-astronaut Sigourney Weaver) and imaginative bio-mechanical production design (with the alien created by Swiss artist HR Giger) succeed in flattering a script culled from many cult sci-fi movies, including It! The Terror from beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires. There’s also director Ridley Scott’s eye for detail and brilliant way of alternating false scares with genuine jolts, which help to create a seamless blend of gothic horror and harrowing science fiction.
It would have been easy to rework Janet Fitch’s bestseller – a teenager is fostered out after her artist mother is jailed for murdering her lover – as a stellar TV movie, particularly as director Peter Kosminsky has some pedigree on the small screen with such recent offerings as The Project and The Government Inspector. But he rejects the melodrama-by-numbers option and uses attention-grabbing imagery to convey much of the confusion Alison Lohman feels after Michelle Pfeiffer’s arrest. Moreover, his assured grasp of structure and pacing, and some accomplished acting, ensure that we only gradually come to appreciate the shifting nature of their relationship, as Lohman learns to think for herself while living with Robin Wright Penn’s trailer-park Christian, Renée Zellweger’s touchingly tragic actress and Svetlana Efremova’s wily hustler.