BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE NEVERENDING STORY / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: WOLFGANG PETERSEN / SCREENPLAYL WOLFGANG PETERSEN, HERMAN WIEGEL / STARRING: BARRETT OLIVER, NOAH HATHAWAY, TAMI STRONACH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
When 10-year-old Bastian (Oliver) finds himself in a dusty old bookstore whilst hiding from bullies, he’s shown a leather-bound tome that promises to be ‘too dangerous’ for him to read. Immediately taking the bait, Bastian grabs the book and heads to school, where he decides to hide away and begin reading.
As promised, this is no ordinary book. As Bastian reads, he becomes more and more entrenched in the world of Fantasia and the impending ‘Nothing’ which threatens to devour the world and everything in it. Acting as a counterpoint to Bastian is Atreyu (Hathaway), a child warrior charged with stopping the Nothing and saving the world and the Childlike Empress (Stronach) who is dying as a result. At first, Atreyu is simply Bastian’s literary avatar of sorts, but as the tale continues Bastian begins to realise that he has unwittingly become part of the story he is reading and that he has the key to saving the world and the Princess, if only he can believe.
The tale of The NeverEnding Story is a timeless one. On paper it reads extremely well, capturing the hearts, minds and spirits of children at their most impressionable age. Its commentary on the generation’s ambivalence to books (in favour of video games) has never been more relevant than it is now, and the concept of granting a child’s every wish is incredibly powerful. But (and it is a big ‘but’) as this film celebrates its 30th birthday it suffers terribly in the visual effects department. And that’s an understatement.
Made at the cutting edge of processes like blue screen and puppetry, filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen threw every new effect at this in an effort to bring the fantastical world of Fantasia to life. As a 10-year-old boy myself at the time of release, it worked wonders. 30 years on, it’s incredibly hard to watch. As much as the idea of allowing a new generation to explore this film and its themes seems appealing, the unfortunate reality is that kids have been so spoilt by CGI that the comparatively terrible effects will cloud even the strongest narrative.
The extras are fairly good, featuring a commentary from Petersen and a nice featurette that brings the filmmakers and the Childlike Empress back together to discuss the trials and tribulations of the production. Two further featurettes (both in German with subtitles) cover similar ground albeit with some great behind the scenes raw footage, while a third goes into explicit detail (again, in German) about the restoration process used in bringing this film to Blu-ray.
The irony of this last featurette is that, if anything, seeing this film in such high definition only serves to make the visual effects issues worse. What would, instead, be ideal would be viewing this film on fuzzy VHS as was originally intended.
Special Features: Commentary by Wolfgang Petersen / Four featurettes / Trailer
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