March 26, 2010

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I carry a soft spot for movies that advocate the magic of reading. Labyrinth (1986) and The Neverending Story (1984) are films that I totally identified with as a kid, as well as the Roald Dahl children’s story Matilda, released in 1996, which I loved as an adult. The Neverending Story feels a lot like Legend (1985) and Labyrinth, as a matter of fact. Though it can be assumed that these films are set in the United States, they “feel” very foreign. They give the impression that the fairy tales that are told where these films were made are darker, harsher, and created in a land far, far away from Anaheim and Disney’s friendly Magic Kingdom. The Neverending Story was originally written for children in German, and the film was made mostly in Germany too, which explains the harsh, non candy-coated story we see here.  More after the jump:

The Neverending Story movie image (1).jpgOur key to the magical world, the reader of The Neverending Story book is a boy named Bastian, whose mother has recently died. He is deeply depressed, and locks himself in his school’s attic to read this magical storybook. Through Bastian’s eyes we discover the dying world of Fantasia, which is being consumed by a force called “The Nothing.”  A boy warrior named Atreyu is charged to save it, and a million seemingly impossible tasks are set in his path. The catch is, as Atreyu suffers, so does Bastian to a small degree in the real world as he reads along. The two boys, though one is reading and one active in the book are linked, and the reader Bastian becomes crucial in the saving of Atreyu’s world.

On Blu-Ray, the film looks spectacular. Yet, though this is meant to be a children’s fantasy film, I wouldn’t exactly say that it is appropriate for all ages. For instance, in one scene, a horse sinks in a swamp. He drowns horribly, devastating his boy owner Atreyu who watches it all, screaming the whole time. Also, there is a giant killer wolf who is also a philosopher and a nihilist, who wishes our boy hero dead. This is not to say that there aren’t great moments in the film as well, like the great friendship between Atreyu and a giant pink luck dragon named Falcor. There is also a great and memorable scene where Atreyu must pass through a mystical gate that is guarded by a pair of golden Sphinx who kill all who attempt to go by. The art direction is so beautiful, so haunting, that the image of a boy versus two giant Sphinx sticks in your head like glue.

The Neverending Story movie image (2).jpgWhen I received this movie, I thought: “finally, there will be some extras on this disc that will explain some of the thinking behind this extremely bizarre movie, or perhaps even an interview with Battlestar Galactica (1978) veteran Noah “Atreyu” Hathaway about the filming, or with Producers about making a German children’s book into a movie for American audiences.” Upon examining the Blu-Ray box and the menu screen, I realized that there are no bonus features on this Blu-Ray at all. Yes, the film has 5.1 sound for the first time and is in 1080p high definition 16X9. But still, not even the original trailer is offered here, the most meager and miserly feature of even the cheapest of today’s film releases.  I felt absolutely ripped off. After all these years, no new information? Nothing? Perhaps the “Nothing” creature that lives in Fantasia ate the bonus features, but left just The Neverending Story, a strange but memorable blast from the past.

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