Wednesday, May 15, 2013

# 80: The Neverending Story (1984)

Code-name: Artax

Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Type: Fantasy/Nostalgia

Bastian Bucks-Barret Oliver
Atreyu- Noah Hathaway
Childlike Empress- Tami Stronach
Mr. Koreander- Thomas Hill
Mr. Bucks- Gerald McRaney
(voice) Rock-Biter/Falcor- Alan Oppenheimer


WARNING: be wary of ample spoilers of this movie and other nostalgia classics

I actually wrote this a day before I posted it, but with me feeling kinda down as of late, I thought it'd be best if I got this one out of the way...

Don't get me wrong, a part of me would be missing from this list if I didn't include this classic.
And it isn't often that I refer to an 80's film as a classic because, given that it's my favorite decade and I often live and breathe its nostalgia, I loathe the notion because it makes me feel old :-P

I also started writing a few things down before I started counting down my movies for a number of reasons.
a) because it was right after I saw it for the first time in YEARS (despite having gotten the combo DVD with parts I & II a couple years before)
and b) because I wanted to get some emotionality out of the way.

For me personally, and I'm sure some people from my generation would agree, there is nothing worse in a kid's movie than a tragic death. Internet personality Nostalgia Critic even counted down 11 of these "saddest nostalgia" moments to prove a point.
To which, I must reciprocate: "how did we survive our childhoods?"

The loss of Artax is marked around #5, I believe, and for good reason.
And not surprisingly, an exception was made with the top spot included ALL Disney movies. It's for this reason I refuse to see "Old Yeller"... why bother when you know it's going to end badly? 
Never mind dying in general, but the death of an animal is one of those things that potentially scars one for life... or so they believe because one's emotions are kinda amplified at that age.
Or maybe that's just me.

In attempt to get things back on track, here's the introduction I intended to start this entry with:

When you're a kid, an imagination is an invaluable asset. This movie not only goes into that, but also the importance of reading. I think that was why we saw this in my first grade class, to instill in us the importance of reading. It would be several years before I became that voracious bookworm I am now. If anything, The Neverending Story opened my mind to the possibilities an imagination can bring you. Instead of reading, I would write my own material as my way of escaping the doldrums of my less than stellar social life in school.

Now onto the movie itself,
the movie is a kid named Bastian who escapes into an old bookstore to get away from a couple bullies. There he meets the owner Mr. Koleander who seems like a cynic at first, a curmudgeonly old man, but deep down, he has a great heart.
Bastian, who has read all the classics from Treasure Island to Robinson Crusoe, spots a book called "The Neverending Story." Mr. Koreander tries to talk him out of it, saying that his books are "safe" by comparison.

Bastian ends up stealing the book and spends his entire school day reading it... because he missed the bell, he hides away in the attic space and reads it by candlelight.

The 80's incorporated so many new and different things into their ones and one of the biggest markets they cornered was puppetry. You'd think Jim Henson was involved with this somewhere because on that scale alone, it is pretty amazing.
And all the characters are so memorable because of their vast personalities.

In the story Bastian is reading, you meet a couple of creatures who say their homes were taken by a force called "The Nothing"... not so much that trees and ponds disappeared, but it was as if their homes were just not there anymore.
As it turns out, "The Nothing" has been everywhere and all matters of creatures made their way to the Ivory Tower where the ruler of Fantasia, the childlike empress resides.
According to her chancellor, she is dying and there is a mystery connection between her terminal illness and "The Nothing."

Enter Atreyu, a young boy who is the greatest warrior among the Plains people, who is commissioned with the task of finding a cure of the empress's illness. He is also given a necklace known as "Orin"...

it's also on the cover of Bastian's book.

Quickly, I just have to take a moment to give a shout-out to Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder who composed the amazing music in this movie.
The theme song was sang by the lead singer of the Brit pop band Kajagoogoo (right now the only song of theirs I can name is "Too Shy").

The music is nothing short of magical and it has such range, both in genre and emotion.
You get everything from the empowering movie theme, the regal theme of the Ivory Tower, the exhilarating riding scenes to the depths of sadness to the music alone makes you tear up.

What really depressed the hell out of me, aside from the obvious death scene, was my further examination of the early parts of the movie.
Artax is only alive for three scenes... not even 10 minutes of the film and the majority of that is his slow, painful death at the "hands" of the Swamps of Sadness.

However much the following scene with Morla the Ancient One brought comic relief, this past time around was BRUTAL. I guess this makes me a complete wimp, but I was tearing up even before we got to the swamp because I knew it was coming.
Inconsolable crying is the worst because the trough of that sadness can last for what feels like forever... I think it took me 15 minutes to fully recover from this one.

Bastian took it pretty hard too. In the beginning of the movie, he and his father are talking about trouble he'd been having at school and discussed how he loved horses but was afraid to get on one to ride.
Yes, we're all a bunch of horse lovers, aren't we?

Nostalgia Critic did his best to make humor out of the situation, suggesting reasons why Artax was depressed with his "best" Mr. Ed impression.
My mother never loved me, my wife left me... stupid stuff like that...

To this end, I end the depressing discussion with the following comment:
Despite how much the movie influenced me as a writer and lover of the fantasy genre, it ranks very low on my list simply on the grounds of its emotional impact. The rewatchability factor just isn't good, and my absolute favorite movies are the ones I can easily watch and enjoy repeatedly... preferably without getting sick of them, lol

Arteyu finds Morla, who looks like the biggest tortoise anyone ever saw, and asks her to help him. Not only does she refers to herself via the royal "we," but to each urgent question, she replies starting with: "not that it matters..."
Finally, he says that if he doesn't stop "The Nothing," she will die too... to which she replies: "Die? That would at least be something."

Come to think of it, I don't remember if she even gave him any helpful advice... other than seek out the Southern Oracle some 10,000 miles away.

Again, giving further examination of the movie, I got to wondering... how did Atreyu NOT sink into the swamp? I mean, wouldn't have Artax's death alone been enough to take him down as well?
The only logical explanation is that his mission is the force that keeps him going forward and we wouldn't have a movie if not for his strength.

Then again, it does appear he won't make it, whether the swamp overtakes him or "The Nothing" itself... but he is rescued at the last minute, much to the relief of us and Bastian.

When Atreyu comes to, he finds himself in the company of some new friends. The most notable of them all: Falcor the luck-dragon
Probably one of the greatest, most memorable characters in all of Nostalgia.
He is such a kind, optimistic, gentle spirit and when he's around, you feel like everything is going to work out just fine.

At the Southern Oracle, Atreyu learns that he must find a human child who can give the empress a new name.
And we see a breaking of the 4th wall at one of those gates... Atreyu looks into some kind of mirror and he and Bastian see one another... and promptly freak out.

The exhilarating adventure theme returns as Falcor flies Atreyu to find the border of Fantasia.... easier said than done, obviously.
Hmm... I take back part of what I said above about Falcor because in a storm that comes out of nowhere, the two of them lose track of one another.

Atreyu meets up the rock-biter and we learn that tragedy has taken a couple more lives... the two critters you saw at the beginning of the movie... one guy with the racing snail and the night-hog with his dimwitted bat...
More sad music plays as he laments "they look like big strong hands, don't they?"

There's also this dark wolf-like creature called G'Mork, who is the servant of "The Nothing"... he comes very cynical in telling him there is no border to Fantasia, a land that is made up of the imagination of children, and his task will prove impossible.
"The Nothing" is also explained as an emptiness left behind in the worlds that had been consumed by lack of hope and so on.

Another storm comes, Falcor and Atreyu find one another, and we're left with almost nothing left in the world...
the last thing that remained of Fantasia was the Ivory Tower... and the regal music returns...

The Childlike Empress explains to Atreyu that he actually did accomplish what he set out to do... through his adventures, Bastian had been with him, going through everything he had gone through... and all he has to do is call out the name he chose.

Something that seems to take forever because Bastian is trying to heed his father's advice and keep his feet on the ground...
Anyone who'd seen the film gawks at and makes fun of this scene where Bastian screams the name into the storm brewing outside his quarters... because nobody knew what the hell he said. :-P
Years later, thanks to something called the Internet, we know that the name was "Moonchild"... supposedly his late mother's (whom he had been mourning for quite some time before the movie actually began) name...

All the walls are officially down where the empress tells Bastian his wishes will restore Fantasia to its former glory...
now HE is riding Falcor and overlooking the whole land and the assorted cast of characters all back from the dead, including Artax... the crowd goes wild!

Actually, the final wall is when Bastian returns with Falcor to the real world and scares off the bullies... it'd make next to no sense in any capacity other than a movie of this magnitude, but what the hell, take it there...

Supposedly, Michael Ende, the author of the book the movie was based on HATED this adaptation and there's a rumor a remake is in the works.
I have not read the book, although I might seek it out someday out of curiosity, but to the idea of a remake... I simply cannot scream HELL NO loud enough...

If my memory serves me, two additional parts were written & released of this film series... and part III might have been animated... I really don't remember...

I'd only seen part II and I more or less boycotted part III entirely because I was pissed at the fact they recasted Bastian... again... this time reprising the role is Jason James Richter... aka: the kid from the "Free Willy" moves... 
and I think they also took some liberties and changed Rock-Biter's name to Rock-Chewer...
to both things, I can only respond "WTF?!"

As anyone knows, sequels are a tricky business... not many people manage to do it just right...
Taking into account just how ground-breaking the original movie was, between the amazing score and the scenery, the magic in the story and whatnot, that's a tough act to follow. Most people would say it's a pointless endeavor to try bringing the magic back in a sequel.

Alongside 2 Disney sequels, I may very well be in the minority in my belief that I love Part II of "The Neverending Story"....

It doesn't entirely capture the magic of the original, but I didn't care...
I found the story equally compelling, it had some great songs (not the full theme, unfortunately, an omission Nostalgia Critic didn't hesitate to capitalize on), and I was really invested in Jonathan Brandis's performance as Bastian.

That was one part of the sequel that outdid the original... aside from Mr. Koreander (who returns in this one as well), none of the actors really stuck with me, the movie stood on the laurels of its storytelling, music and art direction... very rarely does that happen in my eyes as a very actor-motivated movie-fan.
This was the first time I saw him in anything and since then, I think I might have seen him in the kiddie soccor movie "Ladybugs" (not entirely sure if I had), and in an early "Full House" rerun where he's DJ's love interest who later dumps her because he was more interested in the "so pretty" Cathy Santoni.

It wasn't for several years after I saw "Part II" that I learned about his own tragedy when I looked him up on IMDB.
Being a child actor is one of the toughest things in show business, especially when movie roles are hard to come by. Supposedly he was cast in a minor role in a movie he thought would relaunch his career and later found out his scenes were not going to make it into the final cut.

This year will mark the 10th anniversery of his suicide... and as I go back to double-check myself, I'm shocked even more to find he's yet another member of the Forever 27 Club, other members including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and more recently, Amy Winehouse, all of whom lost their lives at the tender age of 27.

Anyone who's curious to know what "Part II" is about before I wrap things up:
A couple years after the first movie, Bastian returns to Koreander's bookstore looking for a book on courage to get over his fear of the high dive as part of the swim team.
He comes across The Neverending Story again, something Koreander tries again to talk him out of ("that book asks too much of you"), but nonetheless, he disappears into it and actually becomes part of the story.
Old favorites Atreyu (also recast), Artax and Falcor return and we're introduced by a new villianess named Xyeda who wants to destroy Fantasy and plans to use Bastian to do it. His power, as a human, comes from making wishes and with each wish he makes, he loses a memory of himself.

Meanwhile in the real world, Bastian's father (also recast) finds the book, starts reading it and finds that books are starting to disappear from the world... something that will continue until Bastian emerges victorious.

However much Nostalgia Critic makes fun of the plot, how precarious and somewhat nonsensical and inconsistent the storytelling might be, I personally enjoy it a lot and invest in it quite a bit.

So why didn't I rank it this on my list of favorites in place of the original?
I don't think a lot of people would take me seriously, supposing they do now :-P especially after spilling my guts about being a total wimp
It's more about the fact "The Neverending Story" had such an impact on me early on and without it, I might not have the interest in writing my favorite genre of fiction... or writing at all for that matter.

1 comment:

Arlee Bird said...

I've never seen this as I was "too old" to be interested when it came out and my kids were to young. And actually I wasn't aware of it until a few years later when a young employee of mine used to rave on about this film. She absolutely loved it!

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