RETRO REVIEW: THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984)

I had a great childhood, full of Disney movies and other kids films that I still remember fondly. Well… there was one that I missed out on. Since you’ve read the title of this review, you can obviously tell which movie that was.

Yeah, I don’t have a good answer for you. This just went way under my radar. Eh, kinda. I remember the trailer to NEVERENDING STORY III: ESCAPE FROM FANTASIA (which was hilariously reviewed by Nostalgia Critic). So I guess I was aware of the franchise, but I never saw any of the movies. My interest in the first one also didn’t spike until probably last year when Nostalgia Critic reviewed the NeverEnding sequels, giving high praise to the original, but bashing the rest.

I finally got my chance to see this film when the Arclight Cinemas was screening it, and I happened upon it purely by chance. I needed an excuse to go to work anyway, decided to make a movie-day out of it, ending on the classic childrens film. Now that I’ve seen it, here’s my honest opinion of THE NEVERENDING STORY.

(SUMMARY)

Bastian (Barret Oliver) is a twelve-year-old boy who lives a hard life. His mother recently passed away and he’s bullied at school. This affects his schoolwork in which he isn’t doing well in some subjects. One day on his way to school, Bastian has to escape his bullies and hides in a bookstore, where he meets the bookseller, Mr. Coreander (Thomas Hill). Curious about the book the old man is reading, he tells Bastian that the book isn’t meant for him. But taking a phone call, Bastian steals the book, intending to return it later, and heads to school. Not wanting to face his inevitable trouble, he hides in his school’s attic and starts reading the book, titled The NeverEnding Story. The is apparently about the land of Fantasia being torn apart by a mysterious force called the Nothing, and it’s had the land’s various denizens racing to The Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach) for help. But she has fallen ill, and cannot help. This has prompted the recruitment of the brave warrior, who happens to be a child himself, Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), who must go on a long quest and seek the answers to stop the Nothing. But the more Bastian reads the story, the more he begins to realize that the story is more than just a book and may be more magical in nature.

(REVIEW)

This review may come as a surprise to some because I said that I really liked the film, but the more I thought about it, the more problems I started to notice and hampered my liking of movie.

I think I’ll just knock out my problems with it as there are a lot of great stuff.

First of all, I was a kid once too. I may not have read a lot of books, but I did read from time to time. I don’t know the kid that ever got that into a book before that they needed to scream out loud when a scary thing happened. Your eyes widened, your heart raced, your blood pressure went up, but you never screamed.

Also, when Bastian does scream, his scream is apparently heard in the book. Atreyu and Morla the Ancient One acknowledge the scream that, as far as they know, came from no where. Um… just gonna carry on instead of talk about where the hell that scream came from? You can bet in reality, if we heard a body-less voice cry out for all to hear, religious communities all over the world would collectively freak out. As for the common man, yeah, we’d collectively freak out too. But in this world, nope, gotta talk about normal stuff. And it’s never referenced again. At least, not until Atreyu sees Bastian in the mirror, and then toward the end of the movie.

Finally, elements of the ending also bother me.

***SPOILERS***

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For one thing, it’s clear that Bastian can enter the world of Fantasia, but nothing indicates that the world of Fantasia can enter the real world. Why does this bother me? Coreander. While I accept that we don’t know where The NeverEnding Story came from, we can easily assume that he has intimate knowledge of the book and has been a part of the stories of Fantasia. So, how come nothing came through to our world when he partook in his own adventures? Fantasia is a personified world created by the collective imagination of the real world. Imagination is just that: imaginary. To see Falcor flying around in the real world felt really confused.

Finally, the cardinal sin of the film, the lesson. In the beginning, we learn that Bastian’s mother died from unknown means, and it profoundly affected him, as anything like that would. Then Bastian picks up this book and begins to read a story that, for the most part, reflects his personal life. But by the end of the story, The Childlike Empress tells Bastian that he can undo the damage wrought by The Nothing and make Fantasia like it was by wishing for it. Isn’t this kind of a bad message to kids who might actually have dead parents? The story is practically saying that if you wish hard enough, all the bad things that happen will be brought back. Even if you could argue that Bastian, through Atreyu’s hardship, learned that even through the hardest parts of life, you still have to press on, the ending almost supports nothing that Bastian was supposed to learn. I know that the story doesn’t exactly retcon Bastian’s life by bringing his mother back from the dead, but you’d think that for such a big, hard reveal of this boy’s life like losing a mother would be the centerpiece of his journey through this book: learning to accept that horrible, unfair things can happen in life, but you can still carry on. Certain parts of the story are forgotten and are therefore pointless.

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***END SPOILERS***

Other problems I had include G’mork amounting to a throwaway character despite his ominously narrated intro, and Falcor is kind of an uncomfortably written character at times.

But enough, I wanted to rant about the awesome stuff about this movie.

First off, it is undeniable how much practical sets should be missed nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, if done well, CGI backdrops can definitely be beautiful and unique, but it’s so hard to find genuine sets that look and feel this amazing. Or maybe it’s just the simple appreciation for it.

Also, there’s bountiful creativity in creating the denizens of the world of Fantasia. I remember these Siamese humanoid creatures, living stone-headed guys, it’s really fun to look at. And who doesn’t love the Rockbiter or want a racing snail? Also, I’m not sure who Tami Stronach is, but when she was on screen as The Childlike Empress, she was actually pretty damn good as an all-knowing person. I wonder why she never continued to act in film.

But what this movie did undeniably well was the build-up to The Nothing. The Rockbiter is this massive rock man, towering over the common person by stories. One would think there’d be nothing in the world that could make a creature so scared. But the way he describes the damage wrought by The Nothing, the audience is scared too. It leaves nothing in the wake of its destructive path. So you’d think, what, like a hole? The Rockbiter basically states that a hole would be something, but there was nothing there. How to you envision something like that? The Nothing is a seriously scary malevolent force that has no shape or form, leaving a brilliantly dark atmosphere. The stakes are high and you’re invested in Atreyu’s journey to find a way stop it.

What’s doubly incredible about The Nothing is that no modern movie would be able to come up with something like that. I take it back, they would, but “the Nothing” would indeed be given a physical form… and probably a CGI army behind the main character ready to stick swords into the creature, and that’s not what The Nothing should be. I feel like this film came out at the only time it could ever be made as modern movies would unfortunately ruin it. As I understand it, Leo DiCaprio’s production company and others were trying to get a true adaptation of the novel off the ground some years ago, but has since not seen the light of day. In this case, it’s probably for the best. While the movie is definitely imperfect, there’d be too much that the studio executives would want to change and those changes would involve elements that didn’t need changing. This movie needs to stay in the 80’s until Hollywood reaches a point where it’s not afraid to do better with its remakes than it’s been.

I do like this movie, despite the problems I have with it. I also may unfortunately say that, if I had kids, I wouldn’t show them this movie. Not because it’s not suited to them, but because better movies have been made with more powerful lessons to learn from that followed through with it’s own themes. I would, however, recommend it to anyone who loves the fantasy style of the 80’s and wants to see a world vast in creativity and a story built up in a unique way that I don’t think a lot of kids would catch on to. Not a great movie, but I see where everyone’s love comes from and would never think to disagree with it. I’m sure it’s leagues better than the sequels, but I can’t bring myself to love it as much as everyone else.

My honest rating: A strong 3/5

The next batch of movies will be coming soon.

  • MONEY MONSTER
  • THE DARKNESS
  • A BIGGER SPLASH
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