20. The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Starring: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Gerard McRaney, Moses Gunn

As children, our imagination is the driving force of our daily lives. Once we’ve grown, the hopes, dreams and general optimism of youth are oft overcome by ambition, greed, depression and bitterness. Something important has been lost. This is a theme explored by “Peter Pan,” and also by “The NeverEnding Story.” The latter takes a far darker approach, both figuratively and literally, as the great evil to be thwarted here is not a malevolent wizard or any other physical being, but rather an ever-expanding nothingness, or “The Nothing” as it is referred.

Bastian (Barret Oliver) is a child who has already seen sadness in his young life; his mother died of undisclosed circumstances. Unlike his peers, Bastian cares nothing for videogames. He’s an avid reader of some of the most famous works of fiction ever written. He’s also an easy target for bullies, and winds up hiding from a group of them inside of a bookstore. Bullies apparently have the same aversion to bookstores that vampires do with churches.

Bastian impresses the store’s owner with his knowledge of literature, and becomes very interested in the book the old man is reading. Being a child, his curiosity is piqued when the old man says that this book, unlike the ones Bastian is used to, is not “safe.” The old man seems surprised, but maybe not that much, when Bastian borrows the book without asking. As Bastian always has, he finds a character to relate to in the boy named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) who is assigned with saving the world of Fantasia from The Nothing. What Bastian doesn’t understand is that he has a bigger role to play in Fantasia’s fate than simply turning the pages.

Based in part on the novel written by German author Michael Ende, “The NeverEnding Story” really only covers the first half of the book. Ende was angered by changes he felt so drastically deviated from his original story to the point of demanding that the title of the movie be changed. When that didn’t work, he filed a law suit, which he lost.

One thing that really helps distinguish “The NeverEnding Story” is its way of blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. It starts small, by having Bastian become emotionally invested in the progression of Atreyu’s adventure, and builds by making him realize that he’s not just reading the words on the pages. If he screams in terror, the characters will hear him. I’ve seen plenty of fantasy adventures which have narrators or even take the approach of having characters reading the movie’s main story from a book, but this is the only one I can recall seeing where the characters in the story are actually aware of the person reading about them.

I don’t buy into the idea that this is one of those movies you can’t appreciate as much as an adult as you would at a younger age. Sure, it seems to send some strange messages: 1) It’s okay to steal as long as you return what you’ve taken, 2) Cutting class is fine if you’re going to use the time to do something constructive, 3) Don’t worry about what your father will think when you don’t come home from school. But, these nitpicks are of small consequence in relation to the story’s most significant message: the importance of picking up a good book once in a while.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Very, very nice! I now want to see this movie sometime in the near future!

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