THE NEVERENDING STORY
(Die Unendliche Geschichte)
The Neverending Story was clearly intended as a German entry in the wave of sf/fantasy films that began with Star Wars (1977). It tries hard to imitate its more expensive American cousins and does so successfully on most counts. There is an appealing menagerie of creations racing snails, giant wolves, mushroom creatures, giant talking turtles. Particularly original is the kindly tricycle-riding giant Rock Biter. The sole-exception is the Luckdragon, which is far too cute and only looks like a giant flying puppydog. Much of the effects work is also considerably underset by thick matte lines uncharacteristically poor work from Brian Johnson who supervised the sterling effects sequences on tvs Space: 1999 (1975-7) and headed Industrial Light and Magic for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Dragonslayer (1981).
The film comes with an interesting level of meta-fiction, wherein the book being read starts to interact with the reader. The journey within the story is clearly an allegorical one through the Swamps of Sadness; the world being swallowed up by The Nothing, which is metaphorically vague enough to represent everything from apathy to the death of the imagination. However it is a concept that is blunted somewhat by being seen on film rather than the written page where the meta-fictional nature of the idea would have had much more potent effect. Furthermore, the potential of the idea is played out in the blandest way possible.
In the novel, Michael Ende had the books story a mirroring of the heros growing up, with its close being his eventual returning to the real world ready to face it as an adult. The film seems to reverse these metaphors only half of the book is adapted for one and the film instead reaches an astonishingly banal ending where the hero materializes his luckdragon out of the book to deal with his tormenting bullies. Its an ending that doesnt arrive with the merging into adulthood, rather one that holds merely the transposition of a banal comeuppance fantasy over the real world. In fact its a surprise that parental groups never jumped on some of the films messages that it seems to support stealing, bunking school and retreat into escapist fantasy as a way of dealing with lifes problems.
The Neverending Story is a film that sits just between the imaginative and the mawkish, at worst exemplified by the ghastly disco score from Giorgio Moroder and the infuriatingly insipid pop song by 30-second wonder Limahl. The singlemost irritating aspect of the film is the casting of Noah Hathaway, who previously played the kid on tvs Battlestar Galactica (1978-9). Hathaway gives an awful and brattish performance that could charitably be called wooden. Faring far better is Barrett Oliver from Cocoon (1985) and D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) who has all the credibility and charm that Noah Hathaway lacks. It leaves one disappointed that Barrett Oliver did not end playing Atreyu as well there is no reason on the face of it why he couldnt have and he would have made a far more sympathetic, less wooden character than Noah Hathaway does.
There were two terrible sequels The Neverending Story II: The Second Chapter (1990) and The Neverending Story III (1994). There was a further animated tv series The Neverending Story (1996) and a live-action Canadian-made tv series Tales from the Neverending Story (2001). A remake has been announced for 2012.
Director Wolfgang Petersen later went onto a career as a director in the American mainstream with the high-profile likes of In the Line of Fire (1993), Air Force One (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000), Troy (2004) and Poseidon (2006). His other genre films have been the intergalactic buddy film Enemy Mine (1985) and the Ebola film Outbreak (1995). Petersen also produced the killer psychologist film Instinct (1999) and the cute android film Bicentennial Man (1999).