I was maybe eight years old when The NeverEnding Story came to movie theaters. It immediately became my favorite movie ever. I developed my first crush, screen or otherwise, on Tami Stronach and her portrayal of The Childlike Empress. I thought she was so beautiful and exotic that she lingered in my prepubescent mind for months after seeing her. I thought she was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.
Watching it now, I realize that part of this love I felt for her comes from the character. At the end of the film, she speaks to Bastian (Barret Oliver), one of the heroes of the movie and the audience's surrogate, and tells him he has the power to make the world whatever he desires. That’s a powerful message for an eight-year-old to hear. Put it in the lips of a pretty girl and I was over the moon.
I’m sure I’ve seen the film since its first release, but not for a long while. Not for a couple of decades at least. My memory of the film coming into its showing today was very vague. I remembered the girl, and the rock monster, and probably the flying dragon if I thought about it but it was all painted in hazy sketches. I knew that I’d loved it as a kid and I was pretty sure my daughter would enjoy seeing it as well.
That’s one of the greatest things about all of these Fathom Events bringing old movies to the big screen again - I get to experience things I loved as a child with my daughter in the same sort of theaters I first saw them in (albeit with more expensive popcorn and much cushier seats).
Watching it now, the thing that most impresses is the effects. Made in a pre-CGI world, director Wolfgang Peterson and his crew created a living, breathing, wonderful fantasy world made out of real stuff. The creatures were not thousands of zeros and ones punched into life on a computer screen but giant puppets lovingly handmade by artists (the dragon Falkor was over 40 foot long and had to be operated by dozens of puppeteers.) While I’m not one to abjectly dismiss computer effects over practical ones, it really is quite stunning to look at what they were able to do here.
This world that they’ve created, Fantasia, sprung from the mind of novelist Michael Ende (who ultimately had his name removed from the film and tried to keep it from being made after feeling too many changes had been done) is one of deep fantasy filled with exotic creatures, such as a giant made of stone and a troll-like creature who travels by bat. It's just the sort of thing an eight-year-old boy wishes he could dream up.
In the film, this fantasy world exists inside a book that is read by Bastian, a young boy who is dealing with a recently deceased mother, a distant father, and constant torments from his classmates. One day while fleeing the bullies, he slips inside a bookshop and runs away with The NeverEnding Story. Sneaking into a locked room at school, he begins to read the story but eventually finds that the characters inside the book can hear him and ultimately rely on him to save them.
Inside the book, we find that the magical world of Fantasia is being destroyed by an endless void called The Nothing. An envoy asks the Childlike Empress to save them but she is ill and in her stead asks for Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) to seek a way to both heal her and destroy The Nothing. A grand adventure ensues.
As a child, I was enthralled by the fascinating characters, the exciting action, and the adventure of it all. As a 40-year-old adult, I kept stumbling on its numerous flaws. The film feels very disjointed. They say there were several scenes they simply could not film from a technical standpoint. My understanding of the book is that it is much longer than a film could allow and spends a great more time delving into the connecting nature of the boy reading the book and the characters he’s reading about. As such, there are several moments in the film that work well as individual scenes but don’t make a lot of sense in the overall movie.
For example, the rock biter, the tiny man riding a snail, and the bat-riding troll all have a wonderful introductory scene but ultimately only serve to set up Atreyu’s adventure and hardly interact with him at all. Likewise the main villain, the wolf Gmork, is introduced early on then disappears until nearly the end.
But these flaws, are easily overlooked as The NeverEnding Story remains a wonderfully entertaining fantasy. As a middle-aged adult, I was still enchanted by the story and the effects and the site of my five-year-old daughter being just as captivated as I was so many years ago.
Normally at these Fathom Event showings, there is a short introduction by someone, and maybe a bit of trivia flashed on screen before the film starts. This time we were treated to a half-hour documentary on the making of the movie. It was very informative and interesting, but I do wish they had showed it after the film. Besides the fact that the documentary spoiled a large chunk of the film for those who hadn’t seen it, my screening at least was filled with a lot of children who grew very impatient waiting for the actual film to start. Putting that feature at the end would have allowed interested parties to remain and enjoy while letting those little ones slip out while still enjoying the movie.
But otherwise it was a magical day at the movies.
Fathom Events will be showing The NeverEnding Story once again in theaters this Wednesday, September 7. For tickets and information regarding other events, please visit their website.