IN LIMITED RE-RELEASE September 4th and September 7th – Wolfgang Peterson’s fantasy epic is a tribute to the thrill of reading and a pretty excellent meta trip in to the human psyche that can often help build the worlds we read on the page. “The Neverending Story” takes great strides in delivering a unique fantasy experience, and it’s nice to see Peterson aiming for something different in a decade where every studio wanted their own “Star Wars.” Despite being adapted from the novel and embracing its format, “The Neverending Story” feels a lot like an experience you can find with “The Princess Bride” in which we get to experience such a vast world that is brought to life with the thrill of storytelling.
Though not as comical or tongue in cheek as the former, “The Neverending Story” is a very well paced and emotional journey that never overstays its welcome. Bastian is a young boy who lives with his widowed father in the city and has no means of connecting with his dad, who is torn between work and his duties at home. The only friends that Bastian has are his library of books he loves to read. One day while traveling to school, he’s tormented by a trio of bullies that cause him to run in to a book shop. Being accosted by the shop’s grumpy owner who underestimates Bastian’s knowledge of literature, Bastian sneaks out with the owner’s mysterious book known as “The Neverending Story.”
Bastian then sneaks in to the school’s abandoned attic to read the journey of young Atreyu and his mission to save the land of Fantasia from the mysterious darkness known as “The Nothing.” Atreyu rides his horse Artex across the land of Fantasia to save it and the childlike empress, who has fallen ill. With his snake charm known as Auryn, Atreyu tries to beat the Nothing while meeting various allies and finds the mission to be one filled with heartache, death, and sadness. It also doesn’t help that a mythical beast known as The Gmork is on his trail and intent on murdering him. “The Neverending Story” acts well as a metaphor for grief and puberty, as Atreyu must overcome a lot of emotions that will decide his fate as an adult, all of which add up to difficult obstacles in Fantasia.
Never is it made more apparent than in the gut wrenching scene of Atreyu and Artex in the Swamp of Sadness. In order to pass it you have to press on despite your sadness and not give in to the darkness of depression, which is where Bastian and his dad are when we meet them. They’re stuck in place, still in a swamp of sadness from the loss they’ve experienced and the more Bastian ages the more they will sink. “The Neverending Story” carries with is a healthy amount of menace, and intensity, but it’s also a remarkable adventure. Surely it has its value in nostalgia (the theme song still inspires a tear from yours truly), but it’s also a damn good movie about growing up, facing the harshness of life, and appreciating the inherent power of the imagination.