March 28, 2010

The NeverEnding Story

Director Wolfgang Petersen was riding high on the success of Das Boot, the 1981 WWII film set on a submarine. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and I have to think that he had his choice of projects to do as his follow up. The one he chose was an adaptation of Michael Ende's novel The NeverEnding Story. Petersen not only took it on to direct, but he also co-wrote the screenplay with Herman Weigl. I have to say, even with the successful outcome, it seems an odd choice to jump from war drama to children's fantasy. I guess I should not question it considering the film really is a solid family film that, while not perfect, is a film that still holds up today.

This Blu-ray release has been a long time coming. I honestly do not remember the last time I saw it. It has been years, likely north of a decade. This despite my desire to revisit it. It is one of those films of my youth that still resonate with me. From the Rock Biter to the Swamp of Sadness, to Falkor, so many fond memories. Now the question turns to why it took so long to see a film I obviously like again. It is actually a pretty easy answer. As my love for movies began to grow and the DVD age began, The NeverEnding Story was one of those films on my list. The problem is that the DVD was only ever released in "full frame." I will not knowingly purchase a film not in its original aspect ratio (there have been a few accidents).

All right, enough with the preamble. I am sure there are a lot of you who have been looking forward to this just like me. I am also sure there are also those who have never seen the film.

Te NeverEnding Story is a film that bings a vibrant fantasy world to the screen and also shows the power of the printed word. I may not read nearly as much as I used to or as I should, but the heart of this story is the printed word and the way it can feed the imagination and stir up endless possibilities creating the perfect storm that creates the titular never ending story.

Bastian (Barret Oliver) has a less than ideal home life following the death of his mother, his father's work doesn't have a lot of time to send with him, not to mention constant bullying at school. It is enough to mess with any young one. Bastian finds escape in the pages of classic books where his imagination can run free. Granted, this is a little extrapolation on my part, but it is easy to see from what is presented.

Bastian's fate changes when he ducks into an old book store to hide from pursuing bullies. Here he finds a book with a strange symbol on the cover and a creepy old curator. He snags the book and goes up into the dust attic of his school where he lights a candle and begins to read. What he does not realize is just how wrapped up in the story he will get.  It must have been an exciting prospect for him, a mysterious book with who knows what adventures inside its pages just waiting to be unlocked.

Inside the book is the world of Fantasia. It is a world inhabited by strange racing snails. giant bats, Night Hobs, talking statues, and a child-like empress. This land is being threatened by a great Nothing which is consuming all in its path. To find a way to stop the all-consuming Nothing a young hero named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) is sent forth.

It is a grand adventure that has Atreyu meeting all manner of Fantasia's denizens as he desperately seeks a way to stop the Nothing from consuming his land. The further goes, the more Bastian reads, the more entwined their stories become. The nature of Fantasia is revealed, Bastian's role is revealed, but will there be enough time?

The NeverEnding Story is a delightful fantasy that is filled with hope and wonder but does not shy away from the darkness. The story moves along at a brisk pace and is just quite enjoyable. Director Wolfgang Petersen does a fine job of making the story an strong movie experience. I like how it really points to the powr of the printed word to unlock imagination and foster a sense of curiosity, to stir up emotions and involve the reader in the adventure while still being a solid visual experience.

Despite the films age, it holds up very well today. The effects may not look quite as good as those in a modern film, but there is something tangible and effective in the practical effects. You cannot tell me you don't like Falkor the Luck Dragon. The animatronics are pretty good and doubt I would like him more as a CG creation. I am so happy to find my experience to be just as enjoyable now as it was then, especially considering how much tme has passed and how much my viewing of movies has developed.

Audio/Video. The 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is quite striking. Yes, there is noticeable grain and some specks tobe found throughout, but it does not hold back what is really a good transfer. The colors are all rich and deep with a good amount of detail. Frankly, this is likely the best I have ever seen it. When you watch it, but sure to notice the detail in the creature creations like the Morla and Rock Biter, the swirling colors of the opening credits sequence, and the muddy landscape of the Swamp of Sadness. All look quite wonderful.

Audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 and is sounds pretty good, more than holding its own against the solid visual transfer. Dialogue is always crisp and clear, the bass rumbles during the coming of the Nothing and the destruction it brings gets a little distorted, but not terribly so. The score fills the soundfield and sounds really nice. Overall, it is a very good track that gets a nice upgrade from what I have heard before.

Extras. Unfortunately there is not a single piece of extra material included. No trailers, featurettes, interviews, nothing. Also, Petersen was not even informed of this release and obviously not given the opportunity to paricipate in it. That is a shame as I am sure there could have been some interesting interviews with cast and crew looking back on the production.

Bottomline. Despite the lack of bonus material, I find it very easy to recommend this film to fans and newcomers alike. It is a great adventure, a fun fantasy, and it is written with intelligence and heart. I am glad to have this Blu-ray in my collection, it brings back a piece of my childhood but is more than just a nostalgic piece, it still holds up.

Recommended.


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