The Neverending Story
Wolfgang Petersen (Director). Deep Roy, a bunch of dubbed
kids and a flying dog dragon. Also a raw egg drinking Major Dad.
Premise: This prissy kid steals a book from an old man and skips school to read it. The book, The Neverending Story, tells the tale of Atreyu, a whiny kid with fabulous hair who has to stop The Nothing from destroying the fantasy land of Fantasia. Pretty soon the kid reading the book becomes aware that he’s part of the story.
Is It Good: No. And if you think it is, it’s likely because you grew up with it. The Neverending Story is all production design and nothing else – shamelessly riffing off the creations of other filmmakers, writers and visual artists, Petersen creates a sort of generic melting pot stage-bound fantasy world. But what he doesn’t manage to lift is any other book or movie’s sense of adventure, fun or pacing (note: the film is based on a German book by Michael Ende. The film takes the first half of the book as its source, but I don’t know how faithful to the spirit of the text it is). Watching the new Blu-Ray of The Neverending Story I was amazed at what a fucking slog the film is – while you expect the opening ‘real world’ scenes to be kind of dull, you assume things will perk up once you get to Fantasia, but they never do. In fact, the opening Fantasia scene is with a bunch of characters who mostly disappear from the movie in a couple of minutes.
The film leaves that motley assemblage of Tolkien and Carroll and Henson rip-offs to follow Atreyu, the whiniest boy warrior hero in history. How do we know Atreyu is a great warrior? We’re told he is, and we have to take everybody’s word on it as Atreyu never does anything heroic, warrior-like or even all that interesting in the course of the film. The one monster he bests essentially kills itself by jumping on the big piece of shale Atreyu holds as a weapon.
Atreyu doesn’t have adventures so much as he has encounters, and poorly paced encounters at that. It’s obvious that Petersen is looking to give the film – an homage to the very concept of the imagination – the feeling of that moment between being awake and falling asleep; ‘dreamy’ is the quality he’s pursuing here. But the only dream the film evokes is a fever dream – an ugly and muddy disjointed trip through the part of your mind that’s processing all those fantasy novels you used to read as a kid. The Fantasia segments feel like they could be placed in almost any order and the end result would be the same – a feeling of extreme sleepiness on the part of the viewer.
Eventually Atreyu meets Falcor, a big flying dragon/dog thing, which is pretty much the image that everybody has of this tedious piece of crap. I hadn’t seen The Neverending Story since the 80s, and I thought I had forgotten most of the film except for a few key images. But it turned out I remembered the whole film – the movie is nothing but a few key images with long stretches of tedium in between them.
No, unless it’s a viewing intended to disabuse you of the concept that this is a good movie. Thirty minutes in and you’ll be thinking the title is very, very literal.
Anecdotes: The movie was shot in Munich with I’m assuming a bunch of Germans. While some of the actors are definitely American, it seems as though everybody is dubbed the entire film. The Neverending ADR Session could have been an alternate title. Also, the death of Atreyu’s horse, Artax, was surely the first time many young people were introduced to the concept of nihilism
It’s a member of the ‘Not as good as you remember’ fraternity, alongside films like Krull and The Monster Squad.
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