A young boy delves into a world of fantasy found within the pages a mysterious book, literally.
In the wake of E.T. the genre of child fantasy was sprawling. The most troublesome thing was the amount of repetition. Not a financial blockbuster or well received by the author of the source material; The NeverEnding Story earns praise in retrospect.
Our tale begins with young Bastian and boy whose mother recently passed away. He's having a difficult time coping. On top of that he is bullied. One morning after being confronted, Bastian hides in a bookstore. There he spots a mysterious book, which bares the title of the film. Borrowing it, Bastian heads to school only to take the book into the attic and distract himself from the troubles that plague him in this world.
From this point forward the narrative takes a turn. Bastian begins reading the book and becomes narrator of a tale within the fantasy world of Fantasia. There, individuals from across the land have gathered to solve a puzzle. In each of their lands, things are disappearing. We are then introduced to Atreyu, a young warrior from the plains and his task of ridding "The Nothing" is placed on his shoulders alone.
Fantasia, as painted by director Wolfgang Petersen, is a remarkable place. There are atmospheric clouds, giant crystals, open spaces, and differing ecosystems within close proximity. Much of it can be accredited to skilled miniature work and matte paintings. The actual sets contain decoration that is nothing short of brilliant. There is a living swamp, forests, caves, deserts, and even arctic locations. If produced today the film would be laden with computer generated backdrops which would have most assuredly been distracting. More on this later.
As Atreyu continues his quest he meets many memorable characters, but none as enduring as Falkor. Falkor is a luckdragon. About 40 feet in length, and covered with white scales and a face similar to my minute schnauzer's. Falkor is an awe-inspiring sight constructed out of robotic puppetry. Other characters have extravagant make-up that makes you wonder if there is even a person underneath.
Running in opposition of Atreyu is G'mork, a massive wolf sent by "The Nothing" to stop him. Both G'mork and "The Nothing" are compelling foes for a film made for children. They don't have the camp value one-liners or moments of contrived plotting orated for the sake of the audience. In fact much of the tale is below the surface, making it a viable option for adults. In fact the message of the film, that reading is actually good, isn't even boldly highlighted.
There really aren't many films willing to juxtapose a conflicting theatrical score against the given visuals. The world of Fantastia evokes a medieval world lacking in circuits and conduits, but the score composed by Giorgio Moroder is noticeably electronic. That is to say this is the case for the US release; many other territories received the classical orchestra complete with a horn section. The Moroder version is far more interesting, filled with memorable tunes that shape the emotions of the viewer. The Ivory Tower theme is a standout, and is just as breathtaking as the structure for which it is named.
When all is said and done, The NeverEnding Story is a benchmark film. Its artistic merits far exceed today's film-by-focus-group approach toward the youngest demographic. Has it aged well? I believe so. There are occasional moments where the composite work isn't up to today's standards. Still I'd take that over directors relying on computers far more than necessary; creating worlds devoid of emotion. Emotion is integral to The NeverEnding Story and every time I watch it I feel that I'm accompanying Bastian just as he is with Atreyu. The story itself remains relevant as long as children use their imagination, and on that end it's timeless.