One of the earliest movies I saw on TV as a kid was The NeverEnding Story on the Disney Channel (back when it was a premium pay cable channel with no commercial interruptions). Michael Ende’s fantasy novel seemed like an odd choice for German filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen, who was coming off his Oscar-nominated World War 2 submarine epic Das Boot, but it wound up being one of the better films to emerge from the fantasy film genre in the 1980s. I finally saw The NeverEnding Story on the big screen at a midnight showing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema seven years ago, and it was shown on an old 35mm print that had seen better days (it was still enjoyable nonetheless). I would get to see it on the big screen again at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema last summer (also a midnight screening) in DCP form, and it looked spectacular. This review of The NeverEnding Story is my entry in the Animals In Film Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
1984’s The NeverEnding Story follows a young boy who reads a magical book about a young warrior who embarks on a quest to save the world of Fantasia from a dark storm called the Nothing, which has been causing widespread destruction wherever it goes. Petersen brought together a fine cast that includes Barret Oliver (as Bastian Balthazar Bux), Noah Hathaway (as Atreyu), Tami Stronach (as the Childlike Empress), Alan Oppenheimer (as the voices of Falkor, the Rock Biter, and Gmork), Thomas Hill (as Mr. Coreander), Deep Roy (as Teeny Weeny), Tilo Pruckner (as Nighthob), Moses Gunn (as Cairon), Sydney Bromley (as Engywook), Patricia Hayes (as Urgl), and Gerald McRaney (as Mr. Bux). Oliver brings determination and curiosity as the bullied Bastian who seeks refuge in a magical book and Hathaway is courageous and resourceful as the young warrior Atreyu. Oppenheimer gives distinct personalities to the luck dragon Falkor, the giant Rock Biter, and the villainous wolf Gmork (a fascinating character whose intelligence is matched and/or surpassed by his own viciousness). Stronach is impressive as the innocent Childlike Empress, and Bromley is humorous as the gnome scientist Engywook.
The screenplay by Peterson and Herman Weigel loosely adapts the first half of Ende’s novel (something he was reportedly displeased with). It provides an emotional journey for a child who must learn to embrace his imagination and stand up for himself. Jost Vacano’s cinematography reflects the tone of the film, with gorgeous daytime scenes (except for the Swamps of Sadness sequence, which, like the night time scenes, is grim and filled with potential danger). Rolf Zehetbauer’s production design truly creates a fantastical world in Fantasia (my favorite design has always been the Southern Oracle). The costume designs by Count Ul De Rico and Diemut Remy are first-rate, as is Colin Arthur’s makeup design. The special effects by Brian Johnson are incredible, and Jane Seitz editing keeps the film moving at a good pace.
Klaus Doldinger delivers a sweeping and thrilling score with a memorable main theme, and the additional replacement music Giorgio Moroder contributed for the U.S. version is quite good (although I’m not sure why it was added in the first place). Petersen’s The NeverEnding Story is a terrific fantasy film that introduces audiences to a new world filled with fantastic creatures of all kinds (a giant luck dragon, a talking wolf, a racing snail, a narcoleptic bat, a humongous ancient turtle, etc.) and serves as a positive example of a film that actually encourages reading. Ignore the sequels (which managed to get worse and worse) and enjoy Petersen’s English language debut (I hope to see the German version of the film one day, which supposedly has some alternate takes of a few scenes, is a little longer, and has only the Doldinger score).