There’s a lot of seductive qualities in this knowing, pomo, digitally assisted, widescreen, family oriented fairy tale.
It’s adapted with roistering glee by Matthew ‘Layer Cake’ Vaughn from Neil Gaiman’s cult comic-strip, a time-travelling fantasia with princely rivalry, piratical villains, chivalric romances, marvels, magical spells, mythical struggles and Hovis-ad English villages. It plays like a live-action riposte to ‘Shrek’. As if to compensate for carrying human baggage – sorry, actors – Vaughn throws everything at the screen he can. Castles in the sky and hovels on the ground come hurtling towards you courtesy of combined computer and visual effects. Before you settle into its amusingly generic ‘Victorian’ England setting (and the comforts of Ian McKellen’s velvety voice-over), you’re rocketed off on Google Earth-style journeys to the magical, mock-medieval, manically overdesigned virtual world of ‘Stormhold’, then back again to its teeming, independent microcosmics satellite hidden behind the olde village’s guarded stone wall. Like Gulliver’s puny captors or the ropes on Munchausen’s balloon-ship (which is quoted here), the film’s cast has the task of tethering its chaotic flights of fancy.
Charlie Cox, in naturalist register, makes a fist of the young, cambric-shirted hero – Tristan , charged with bringing back a fallen ‘star’ (which turns into an annoying Claire Danes) by his hiss-ably haughty love (tressed-to-kill Sienna Miller). But the rest – O’Toole, Pfeiffer, Gervais et al – wisely camp it up, with Robert De Niro out-camping everyone in a film-stealing turn as buckleswashing Captain Shakespeare. You could call it a cousin of ‘Time Bandits’ or ‘The Princess Bride’, but it lacks the former’s originality and the latter’s heart. No matter, little kids will like the miniature elephants herding in specimen bottles; this writer liked the futuristic gifts – plastic flowers!