"A boy who needs a friend finds a world that needs a hero in a land beyond imagination"
When I saw the title Never Ending Story appear on the Tots 100 Film Club list, I jumped at the chance to review it. At first, I wasn't sure if it was a re-make or a re-release of the 1984 original. I was actually a little relieved to find out it was a re-release. Although I don't doubt that a remake could drastically improve the rather dated special effects, I seriously doubt if the performances from the child actors involved could be bettered. The film does have a special charm that makes the viewer more forgiving of the fact that the animatronic mouth movements of some creatures completely fail to match the dialogue they are delivering.
As soon as the music for the title sequence started playing (featuring the vocal talents of the unforgettable [!?!] Kajagoogoo's Limahl) I was instantly transported back to the first time I watched this movie. I was slightly embarrassed when I worked out that I would have been 20 years old when it came out - I imagined that I had been much younger. I loved this film and it inspired me to read the book by Michael Ende on which it was based. For me, the magic of the adventure was very much alive but I wondered what a new generation, brought up with sophisticated CGI effects rather than the Ray Harryhausen stop animation of my childhood, would think of it.
The film does have a slow start as we are introduced to the nerdy, bookish Bastion, struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother and trying to live up to the expectations of a father who places no value on the fantasy world of books that means so much to his son.
We witness the bullying that Bastion suffers at the hands of his peers and watch as he 'borrows' an unusual and possibly valuable book from the slightly mysterious proprietor of the old bookshop in which Bastion hides to escape his tormentors.
Bastion takes refuge in a dusty attic at school when he realises that he has arrived late for a maths test. Here he opens the "The Never Ending Story" book with great reverence. As the story contained within its pages unfolds, he becomes increasingly involved and has to make some important decisions that will change him forever.
The narrative switches between the story of a quest to save the land of Fantasia from the all consuming Nothing, and the reality of Bastion (and indeed the viewer) becoming ever more entwined in what we now understand is the never ending story. It is a device that works very well in keeping the plot moving at a fast pace.
Atreyu, the courageous boy warrior from the Plains People who is entrusted with the mission to save Fantasia from the Nothing is played by Noah Hathaway. His charismatic performance is key to the success of the film so I was intrigued to find out what he went on to do in the intervening years. He did have a few film appearances credited to him but is now tattooed and makes and sells customised motorcycles!
I was slightly concerned that 3 year old Addy would find Gmork, the evil wolf sent to make sure that Atreyu failed in his task, terrifying. She didn't! Her favourite character was Artax, Atreyu's horse and faithful friend. Have your hankies ready for the scene in the Swamp of Despair.
Seventeen year old Taylor commented on how good the soundtrack is and I agree with her.
For me, one of the great pleasures in this film is the rich cast of minor characters. There is a particularly wonderful scene in the Ivory Tower, home to the Childlike Empress of Fantasia. Representatives of many races have gathered to seek advice from the Empress about how to defeat the Nothing. It is a visual feast - look out for the giant fish people!
Charis joined us halfway through the movie, having just returned from seeing Hunger Games at the cinema. She couldn't help but compare this movie, somewhat unfavourably, to the current big budget box office hit. However, I think it is testament to the appeal of The Never Ending Story that she sat and watched it to the end with us.
Despite the special effects not living up to those that we have now become accustomed to, through the power of great storytelling, I believe that The Never Ending Story will find an appreciative new audience. We thoroughly enjoyed it and my eldest daughter has already asked to borrow it!
Addy's comment when the closing credits rolled was a puzzled "Why has it ended? It's the Never Ending Story." That took a bit of explaining.