You think this story’s like the rest,
Like all the books you’ve read before?
It holds a secret none have guessed,
Real quests and dangers to explore.
Can any book draw you inside,
Where wonders wait on every page?
Can characters that there reside
Become dear friends at any age?
Perhaps, yes, any good book can,
But this is no mere written tale.
Just read wherever it began
And lift the word-begotten veil.
Anyone who’s looked closely at my Gravatar might have noticed that I’m holding Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, one of my favorite books. I’ve loved this German-to-English fantasy since the first time I read it. I love how each of the twenty-six chapters begins with a different letter of the alphabet, how Uyulala the Oracle speaks only in rhyme, how the lines of fantasy and reality are blurred to draw Bastian and the reader into the land of Fantastica, how it questions the little things of adventure epics like why bathroom breaks are never mentioned, how extraordinary creatures and characters come and go, friends and foes. And of course, I adore how every minor character is given his own untold tale and dismissed with one of my favorite lines of this or any book: “But that is another story and shall be told another time.” No doubt, you’ll be seeing that line elsewhere on this blog.
So then, if I love the book so much, why has it taken me so long to write about the film adaptation from 1984? It’s hard to say; I grew up watching the movie version long before I had read the book, but once I’d been introduced to the novel, the film simply paled by comparison and dropped off my favorites list. It’s not that I dislike it; it captures some of the magic of the book and generally follows the book’s plot, though only the first half of it. Bastian (Barrett Oliver) is a dreamer, a lover of books who is compelled to steal a very special book and follow the adventures of Atreyu the warrior (Noah Hathaway) and Falkor the luckdragon and the Childlike Empress, even as he himself is drawn into the story to battle the Nothing. As a child’s film, it’s a bit darker than the usual fare, akin to Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. Like those films, it utilizes detailed puppetry to bring many of the book’s characters to life, such as Falkor and Gmork the fearsome wolf and Morla the Aged One. I also like to think the gnomes Engywook and Urgl might have influenced the characters of Miracle Max and his wife in 1987’s The Princess Bride.
Yet while the similarities to the source material are recognizable, there are so many details that are changed. Some are understandable due to the limits of special effects at the time, such as leaving out Ygramul the spider or not making Cairon (Moses Gunn) a centaur, but others just beg the question “Why?” Why did the filmmakers change the name of the magical land from Fantastica to Fantasia (and why did Disney allow it)? Why did they call Atreyu’s necklace the AURYN when the book specifically leaves out the the? Why did they not let the Southern Oracle speak in rhyme? Why did they throw in nudity with the Sphinx gate, knowing this is supposed to be a kid’s tale? Why did they so poorly dub Deep Roy’s voice in the early scene and call him Teeny Weeny as opposed to a “tiny”? They even left out part of that favorite line of mine! All these differences do add up, making for a very inconsistent adaptation, one which displeased the author and prompted him to file an unsuccessful lawsuit.
The visual effects, like the adaptation, are hit-and-miss; while I’m sure they were astounding for the time, some hold up better than others. The Rock Biter (rock chewer in the book), Morla, and the destruction at the end are incredibly well-realized, considering the lack of computer assistance, but many of the puppets and blue-screen shots are very obvious by today’s standards. Likewise, the acting is satisfactory, even though some of it carries a hefty amount of 1980s/child actor cheesiness.
All in all, The Neverending Story is a film I’d recommend to any child who loves books and anyone who loves fantasy. It’s a childhood darling that halfway holds up with its message of imagination and hope, and I do still admire the score for the American version by Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder. Even so, to anyone who likes this film, I recommend you read the book and see the full scope of The Neverending Story (and ignore the film sequels). The novel is a classic that may someday get a more faithful adaptation, though I ought to check out the HBO miniseries, “but that is another story and shall be told [hopefully] another time.”
Best line: (since my line wasn’t included in its entirety, this is a decent runner-up) (Falkor) “Never give up, and good luck will find you.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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