a critiQal film review The NeverEnding Story (1984)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: A sensitive little boy (Oliver), still grieving for his mother, finds respite in a book which chronicles the plight of Fantasia, a magical land created by the dreams and imagination of humankind, now threatened with destruction by The Nothing, a shapeless, ominous force created by human despair.

639 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 11s)

While perusing through the “watch instantly” queue on NetFlix®, I stumbled across a couple of 80’s flicks I hadn’t seen in years – among them, the classic fable The NeverEnding Story. Since I barely remembered anything about the film except it involved some sort of dog-faced dragon, I decided to re-watch it. Has time passed this classic by, or is The NeverEnding Story still as magical today?

The kids, despite the long span of time since the film came out, are unrecognizable for the most part. For 80’s fans, Barret Oliver (“Bastian”) went on to star in other 80’s classics including D.A.R.Y.L. and Cocoon, so may jog a familiarity vibe or two. Also, “Major Dad” (TV) himself, Gerald McRaney, appears briefly as Bastian’s father, and is easily recognizable.

Unfamiliar faces work for this film, as the characters go on such an outlandish adventure it would have been more difficult for the audience to associate with them if the faces were recognizable as another character – and these kids need all the help they can get in that area. Viewers will be able to tell right off these kids haven’t had much training in acting, as their reactions to even minor situations are so over the top as to be just plain silly. Thankfully, it’s kind of that sort of movie, so their reactions are a bit more justified, but still, their uneven acting need not be taken so seriously.

Tami Stronach (“Empress”), while over-emphasizing herself, doesn’t over-reach as much as Hathaway (“Atreyu”) and Oliver do, but that may be only due to her more limited screen time. Still, with such a fantastical journey laid out, a little over-acting is expected, isn’t it?

Thankfully, the storyline is solid. Based on a novel by Michael Ende, the film deftly mixes real world with fantasy and ties the two together much more tightly than other escapism stories like Alice in Wonderland (1951), for example. While that film was able to pull the viewers more solidly into a more fully-realized fantasy realm, The NeverEnding Story does a better job of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.

Unfortunately, blurring fantasy and reality together may help the storyline, but it seems the filmmakers didn’t have enough time left over to really flesh out the fantasy world itself. Instead, viewers are treated with snippets of a world that doesn’t seem to really tie together very well, and feel as if they’ve been given more of a quick peek at this world, rather than being able to explore.

This may have been limited by the special effects of the time, however, and a new version may be better able to fully realize the fantastical part of the film. As it is, the viewer spends a lot of the time in the fantasy world facing obvious muppets and some odd-looking 80’s light shows (or what passed for them back in those days), and neither fits very well in the world that has been created. Unlike The Dark Crystal, where muppet-like creatures were used to great effect, The NeverEnding Story tries to introduce normal humans into the mix – and the muppet-creatures looking the worse because of it.

All in all, The NeverEnding Story, while doing a good job of blurring the line between fantasy and reality, just isn’t as fully realized in this 80’s version as it could have been, thanks to the limitations of the time. While I’m usually not up for film remakes, the hinted-at remake of this film would be welcome, as an updated version may fully realize this fantastical storyline.

Until then, this version of The NeverEnding Story has plenty of faults, and ranges towards the cheesy from time to time – but still manages to hold on to a bit of that magic you remember from childhood despite it all.

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