The first recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Fellowship of the Ring is Wolfgang Petersen’s 1984 adaptation of only a small part of Micheal Ende’s fantasy novel, The NeverEnding Story.
It has been more than thirty years since I watched this one, so I was curious to see how the film would affect me as it explores the concepts of hope, imagination, and letting yourself get lost in a good book.
Young Bastian (Barrett Oliver) is having a tough time at school, he’s dealing with the death of his mother, a distant father (Gerald McRaney), and bullies. Happily he loves a good book, and can lose himself in the pages of one easily.
When he absconds from a book store with a very special book (with the promise to return it) he finds himself not only reading (in his school’s rather unsafe attic, filled with all manner or portents about what he is going to encounter) about an adventure, but becoming an integral part of it.
The Great Nothing is threatening the world of imagination known as Fantasia. The Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach), connected to the land in a mystical way is also dying, and a young warrior, Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) is sent out on a quest to save his world.
Bastian becomes more and more involved in the story, even as Atreyu is pursued by the terrifying Gamork, an evil wolf like being, until finally he learns he is the most important facet of the story. Learning the values of hope and confidence on the way, Bastian may be able to save all of Fantasia.
There are a few things I find surprising on this first watch in decades; some of the effects didn’t stand the test of time, the death of Artax the horse happens far earlier in the film than I recalled (and it still has a devastating effect on younger viewers), and Bastian despite being the hero of Fantasia does not get a satisfying character through line for the film.
As the movie comes to a conclusion he gets to scare his bullies, but there is no connection established with his father, nor any further discussion of his mother’s death. It’s a glaring omission that causes older viewers like me to judge the film a little more harshly than we did when we were young.
A lot of the rotoscope and blue screen effects are shoddy when compared to those available today, and the images of Falkor the luck dragon flying right towards screen only ever show his head.
The NeverEnding Story remains a solid entertaining tale for younger viewers. In fact I remember when I was growing up and my mom would look after kids for friends, this movie was on almost constantly – I hate to think how many of them grew up scarred by Artax’s death.