Among so many other casualties of growing up, the experience of casting a mature eye over a childhood favorite film can be a disillusioning experience.
My Childhood Film, more than any other, was ‘The NeverEnding Story’. It was the film I could finish, rewind and watch again. It taught me the lucid, mellifluous properties of fantasy, the power of reading, and, most fundamentally, to love film.
High praise from a 10 year old. But does it stand up now?
The NeverEnding Story is the story of Bastian Balthazar Bux who, to escape the thematically-required bullies ducks into a dusty old bookshop and ‘borrows’ a mysterious old tome- the titular story. Alone in the school attic, he settles in to read the story of Atreyu, a warrior in Fantasia who must engage in a quest against the onset of the ‘Nothing’, a mysterious vacancy in the construct of the entire realm.
In epic Tolkein-esque style, he encounters dozens of characters and landscapes, all the time pursued by both the growing, vacuous Nothing and the evil G’mork (“I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing”). (Ed: Mmmm, the never-ending Aero Bar.)
Utterly engaged as he reads, Bastian finds himself becoming involved literally (pun not intended), and discovers that from his position on a gym mat above the school, he not only impacts on the story, but plays a vital role in it.
Made in the era of fantasy films that brought us the recently DVDed Labirynth and The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story is charming, both in style and substance. The message is deep and told in a dreamy, melancholy tone. The palette is colourful but not bright, as Atreyu’s journey takes us through the darkest parts of fantasia.
Wolfgang Peterson’s direction, unlike Lucas or Henson, is frequently overshadowed by his use of technology. The realisation of fantastic concepts from the source novel by Michael Ende celebrates varying degrees of success, the low-lights featuring the animatronic puppetry of G’mork and animation of Falcor, and highlights including most of the set design and later space sequences.
Several stylistic and thematic issues come to mind when watching the film as a more cynical adult, but it could be argued that we older kids ‘aren’t meant to get it’.
Like The Dark Crystal, this film doesn’t feel the need to hurry through its story (being taken from only the first half of the novel) and, as mentioned earlier, sets up a slow, dream-like atmosphere. Action sequences are few and brief, usually abandoned with some quick editing. As such, it is doubtful this film would hold up against the ADD-inducing films being made for the younger people today, most of whom would likely find it a bit “boring”, despite its strong thematic links to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
As an adult revisiting an important part of his childhood, however, this was fortunately not a disappointing experience.
Given the attention this release seems to have received (see ‘Extras’), the transfer is surprisingly excellent. Colours are bright with dense blacks, and there is far less grain on the print than I had expected.
What the 5.1 mix lacks in its use of surround, it makes up for in its depth. The 80’s electronic score comes up loud and clear, as does the booming bass of the Rockbiter’s tricycle.
As for extras, a trailer. Interesting, sure. But wasn’t this a classic? Doesn’t it deserve, at the very least, the treatment Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal just received? No? Alright then. I’ll wait for the Special Edition. And, I guess, that will be another story altogether.