The Neverending Story (1984) Review
The NeverEnding Story is an interesting early 80s children’s film that has a few flaws but still managed to be engrossing. It’s an ’empowerment’ fantasy, which is fine, but I’ve always preferred fantasy movies to have other underlying themes, which may be one of the reasons that I don’t entirely embrace this film. That and the fact this has always seemed more aimed at young girls, despite having a male protagonist. I did enjoy the grittier aspects of the film. It isn’t as dark as some of my favorite films of this ilk (The Dark Crystal, Dragonslayer, etc…), but it is far darker than I had remembered. Some of what the film also tries to say comes out sounding profoundly misguided in certain instances.
The story revolves around a young boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver) whose mother has recently died. His father isn’t the most understanding father in the world, telling him “Get over your mom’s death because it’s time to grow up (paraphrased)”. To me, that’s a little harsh and may be part of the reason that he’s not doing well at school.
He loves books and the store owner tells him about a special book called “The NeverEnding Story”. Bastion proceeds to ‘borrow’ when he thinks the owner isn’t paying attention. When he leaves the store he is again harassed by the other kids and is late for school because of it.
Instead of going to class, though, he dodges a math test and locks himself in an old storage room, reading the book to pass the time. He’s soon off into the land of Fantasia that is being threatened with utter destruction by a force called ‘The Nothing’.
It’s up to the child warrior Atreyu to save Fantasia and the Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach) who is the spirit of the land. On a side note Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who would be the first actor to play Harry Potter… In the movie Troll. Look it up.
Atreyu encounters (and is assisted by) a number of fantastical creatures along the way. There are elements in some fantasy stories that I don’t care for. One such element is that sometimes it seems that these are written as the writer goes along.
This film has an idea of where it’s going but doesn’t always know how to get there. For instance, Falkour the The Luck Dragon appears unannounced just in the nick of time to save Atreyu from…. Well, see for yourself.
The creepier designed characters were always my favorites of this. G’mork, a big black wolf-like creature pursues Atreyu across Fantasia in his quest. G’mork serves ‘The Nothing’ and is quite menacing for a kids’ movie. Voice actor Allen Oppenheimer gives speech to the evil wolf. He’s also who I hold responsible for the voice of Falkour. I still recoil whenever I hear Falkour’s laugh.
The sets are sometimes impressive. I say sometimes because there is a cheapness in a couple scenes that might indicate that the production was running short of cash. Segments like ‘The Swamps of Sadness’ on the other hand are very effective and have a foreboding atmosphere to them.
It’s here that Atreyu is at his most despairing in the film. There’s quite a lot of melodrama going on and the sets and creatures reflect that. Maybe a little too much for me. The movie dwells on the most desperate moments and when a character cries (like the Childlike Empress for example), their anguish is prolonged nearly in slow motion.
Using imagination as a way to overcome fear, intimidation and depression is the message that is trying to be gotten across. It has a strange, not completely concise way of expressing that. The story seems to be saying to run away from your problems and escape into fantasy, at times. It means well, though, so it’s still a success in my eyes.
It does try to do some twisty little things that you might not always see in fantasy films. It goes right in hand with the dimension of ’empowerment’ in the film, but attempts to compel the viewer to be less passive. You’ll know what I’m talking about towards the end. It’s not a perfect film, but was better than your average children’s entertainment.
4 of 5 whatevers.
It also made it onto my Top 100 films of the 1980s. It fell short on my 1984 list. There were quite a number of good films that year.