Wolfgang Petersen’s The Neverending Story

Although admittedly not quite as dense or thoughtful as Michael Ende’s classic novel, Wolfgang Petersen’s The Neverending Story is a stunning film full of imagery that has stuck with me for years. Petersen usually guns for sprawling adult oriented fare (Troy, Air Force One, Das Boot, The Perfect Storm, Enemy Mine), so this stands out as the one children’s story he’s done that still has that same epic magic he puts elsewhere, on a more whimsical scale. In a land called Fantasia, a threatening dark force called The Nothing is swallowing up real estate faster than Chinese investors, and many peaceful creatures are losing their homes to it. It lives up to it’s name in the sense that it is quite literally nothing, replacing tangible vistas with eerie black void, a spooky enough antagonist for any fable. It’s up to young prince Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) to journey across Fantasia, find the princess who is the origin of the land’s life force and restore balance in the universe. This is all in a dusty old storybook of course, eagerly read by a lonely kid (Barrett Oliver) holed up in some attic. I’ll admit I haven’t seen the film in a while, so I’m not up to speed on every little twist and crook in the story, but this one is kind of more about images and impressions than analytical narrative anyways, especially once Atreyu finds the Princess (Tami Stronach) and things get beautifully, cosmically surreal, then fairly meta as the world of Fantasia leaks out of the book’s pages into our own realm, and Oliver is treated to a flying escapade over the Vancouver skyline atop adorable dragon-doggo Falkor, a lovingly creaky reminder of the wonders of animatronic effects. I’ll always remember the council meeting between the rock biting giants, pint sized Willy Wonka looking dude and a sentient snail, all debating what course of action to take against The Nothing. The one primal element that stands out in my subconscious is the ongoing chase Atreyu finds himself in with a terrifying, ghostly direwolf that just won’t quit. For pure eerie suspense you can’t beat the seat grabbing moment where it ruthlessly pursues him through a haunted looking forest towards an escape so narrowly made that breathing isn’t an option while viewing it. Dark, scary stuff for a kids movie, but that should be the idea anyway. A wee bit dated on today’s terms, but all is forgiven considering the lasting impact it’s had on my generation, and the imprint on our dreams. I’d be wary of the two sequels, as I remember not a thing from the second, and only recall that the third is an abysmal thing that should have been left to the Nothing. Stick with this beauty instead.

-Nate Hill

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