The Neverending Story
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When young Bastian borrows a mysterious, ornately-bound book, he never dreamed turning a page would draw him into a shimmering fantasy world of racing snails, hang-glider bats, soaring luckdragons, puckish elves, a Childlike Empress, the brave warrior Atreyu and a slab-faced walking quarry called a Rock Biter.
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So I've grown up, and decided to buy this for my own children, as part of an initiative to expand their exposure of live-action animatronic movies from Jim Henson. These days everything is animated with computers, and it's just not the same. Anyways.... my family loved it, and it's become one of my daughter's most favorite movies right now. I had a good bit of nostalgia that was great. Will probably be watching this over and over again, because that is how children are with movies they like. The movie does have some mildly spooky parts, nothing that would IMHO cause nightmares, but your miles may vary depending on the child and age. Finally, the theme music for this movie was great, and the entire musical score was 1980's new-wave synth pop! Actually we started playing the theme music via internet streaming audio because the kids just like it that much..
This was one of my favorite movies growing up and it had a lot to do with planting the seeds of my lifelong obsession with the fantasy (and later scifi) genres of fiction.
The characters are classic and the monsters/creatures are old school animatronics/puppets so there's no odd out of place CGI.
It's a great watch for a family or anyone interested in how imagination applied to fantasy movies before the rampant reliance on computer imagery that is abused (imo) a little too much in these modern times.
In my opinion, The Neverending Story is the greatest fantasy movie ever made. When it was made it was the most expensive movie ever made outside of the United States. It was also a box office flop. But like The Wizard of Oz, It's a Wonderful Life, and several modern films I could name, real genius is just a bit much for some people to take ahead of its time and all at once. There has been a lot of discussion about the book vs. the movie, and while I'm not usually a fan of modifying books heavily for the big-screen adaptation, in this case I absolutely have to make an exception. You see the thing is, while I love the movie, I don't really like the book. Michael Ende may have been right about one thing when he tried to sue the film-makers for deviating from his book: this movie is not the book in film form, it's something else entirely. There are concepts that work in books, but just don't translate to an audio/visual medium very well. I LIKE the Nothing as storm rather than as a silent consuming force. I LIKE the gate to the Southern Oracle being lethal rather than paralyzing. The simplification and streamlining/reworking of the story to what the movie became was the RIGHT decision to make, much as it may irk purists and fans of the book. The only other movie I can think of where I approve so much of slaughtering a book's vision is The Secret of NIMH (it was actually Don Bluth's comments about what works and doesn't work in a film vs. a book in the commentary of that film that made me realize I feel The Neverending Story is SUPERIOR to the book because of the changes made). For better or worse, whether you like the deviations of the story from the book or not, the film was made the way it was. Personally I absolutely love it.
"Not Atreyu the child, Atreyu the Warrior!"
The emotional core of the film, the protagonist inside of the book, Atreyu, is the stuff of legend. Here we have a British actor playing a Native American archetype, a child actor playing a child warrior. When you're a kid watching this movie for the first time you never question or think about such things even for a second, and as an adult, you might like me feel amazed by the alternating extreme vulnerability and confident strength brought to the character. You have to empathize with the character, even see yourself in him as a child, while at the same time seeing that good old-fashioned hero pluck that makes you love Luke Skywalker. I really do think it's one of the great child-actor performances of all time, simply because he's not some muscle-bound action hero. He's a kid. And he's got to save the world. And you never question it for a moment. You believe it. Awesome. In an old interview I found on the net the child-actor said of the character he played "I AM Atreyu." I agree.
"Bastian, please! Save us!"
The child who plays Bastian, and the child who plays the Empress both similarly surpass themselves in playing very serious demanding roles with incredibly sincerity and believability. While Bastian plays his character the most like a normal, shy, introverted child (you can really feel his childishness and immaturity at the end of the movie when he has to choose between trying to act and live the way everyone else insists that he should (like an adult!), and doing what he really wants to in order to save an entire world). The Empress impresses despite her very short screen time by managing quite quickly to convince you despite a very young age, that she at once gravely ill, very old, and (as my dear sister Codemaster Talon put it) actually Empress of something! That super-calm serenity, deep sadness, and knowing smile (I absolutely love the look she gives Atreyu when he says he's failed [but she knows better], and the smile she starts to show when Atreyu asks why Bastian doesn't do something if he knows how to save them). Codemaster Talon also said that "Never before was so much heavy lifting required by so many child actors." And I'll add that never before was it been lifted so far and so well.
"I never knew it was THAT beautiful."
It's fascinates me how the use of wide-screen, wide-angle camera-work results not in a kiddie-feeling movie, but in in adult, epic, emotionally powerful film. And more than that, the artwork results in mesmerizing landscapes that just have to be seen wide-screen to be believed (there is nothing like the feeling the first time you see the Ivory Tower). When Atreyu sets off on his quest and you see him ride past massive crystals and past screen-filling rainbows, over dunes and through grassy plains, you feel the distance and get swept up in the grandeur of the world that has been created.
Visually this film is stunning. The painted backgrounds and wide angle shots are some of the best in any film ever made, and they combine with the music to make this one of the most beautiful films in history. The special effects are obviously reference quality, on the level of Star Wars. They aren't CGI cartoons and digitally re-touched pictures. The effects in this movie come from great craftsmanship in the old-school tradition. Miniatures, puppetry, painted backgrounds, and brilliant set design combine with amazing voice-acting, and spectacular cinematography to create a wold that is more than just fantastic, it's believable, and makes you feel that it is all REAL.
The music of this movie has been debated for some time now. It seems to be very popular these days to equate "original cut" with "superior film", even if it is not necessarily the case. I don't speak German. I haven't seen the original theatrical version of this film, nor have I heard the complete original score. But I do know this: some of the most memorable music in the film came from the International version we've all seen. The theme for the Ivory Tower is one of the coolest pieces of music in film history, and it was NOT composed for the film by it's original composer. Say what you will, that's a cool piece of music that I for one am GLAD is in the movie. Regardless of re-edits and cuts and new music, the score to this film is one of the best and most memorable in movie history, and it's a sad thing indeed that the COMPLETE music for this film has never been, and possibly never will be made available. What music is playing on my computer speakers and on my MP3 players all the time. Not just good. Fantastic.
I really think that this is Wolfgang Peterson's best film. I've seen a few in my time, and while some of them were pretty good, none of the ones I saw ever came close to the magic of this film. I think it was made at the zenith of his talent and ability, as was Miyazaki's Nausicaa and George Lucas' Star Wars. You can feel the idealism and courage in this film, it permeates everything.
"Never give up, and good luck will find you."
Throughout my life I've seen this film as a metaphor for my own life experiences, and that's because it perfectly captures the hero's quest mythology that I love so much. I can't imagine a more frightening test than the Sphinx Gate to the Southern Oracle (whose burning eyes can see straight into your heart and fry you to a crisp in an instant from a hundred feet in the air). I can't imagine a more perfect metaphor for losing your faith in life and having it restored than drowning in the swamps of sadness only to have your life saved by a light in the sky that heralds your rescue by a Luck Dragon. And just when you think it's all over and you've completely failed, you may be surprised to know that making the journey was a victory in itself, and you always had the ability to save what's most important to you, you just had to believe it with all your heart and do something about it.
With the world so full of cynicism and practicality rubbish, it feels so good to put this movie in and be reminded just for a little while that stories and dreams are, after all, far more important than silly things like reality and a world filled with hatred and despair.
If you think this movie is over-rated, you may need to see it properly. It's a three star movie on a tiny TV, a four star movie wide-screen, and a five star movie on a projector with the volume cranked way up (especially since the volume on the disc is a little low). There are a few movies that I really wish I could see in a movie theater just once. I would pay $50.00 to see this film in a theater. No joke. I hope and pray that this film will one day get the remastered in high-definition, DTS, full-making of documentary, and feature length commentary with all the actors and director on a super-special edition DVD (I doubt the German version will ever be available but it sure would be nice to include it). Until then the U.S. release of this film on DVD has good sound and picture and allows everyone to enjoy a wide-screen clear transfer of this, the best fantasy film I've ever seen, and my personal favorite movie ever.