German director Wolfgang Petersen
, the man responsible for the harrowing WWII epic Das Boot
, may seem like an odd choice to direct a film adaptation of Michael Ende
's children's book, The NeverEnding Story
. However, his knowledge of technical filmmaking and his passion for adventure stories proved to be the perfect combination, as can be seen in this campy classic 1984 film.
The story concerns young Bastian, an imaginative boy who prefers to retreat into books rather than face the harsh truths of reality, as he borrows a magical book from a bookstore and reads it in the creepy attic of his school. All his life Bastian has been bullied by other kids at school and misunderstood by his overly practical widower of a father. But as Bastian's mind absorbs the details of the book, The NeverEnding Story, he finds both escapism and empowerment while reading of a heroic young hunter named Atreyu. Atreyu is a member of the Plainspeople and he was chosen to save his world, Fantasia (in the book the fantasy world is known as Fantastica), from the devastation of The Nothing, a living void which spreads across Fantasia devouring all in its path and leaving nothingness in its wake. As Bastian follows Atreyu's daring exploits, he becomes astonished to discover that Fantasia really exists and that he may be the only one who can save it from oblivion, so long as he finds the courage in himself to do as he dreams.
Since the film's release, it has become something of a family classic, but after almost twenty-five years it's hard to imagine this film having the longevity of the fantasy classics that preceded it. The film is charming and entertaining, but it lacks the heart of films like The Wizard of Oz
and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
, and lacks the sophistication of a film like The Dark Crystal
. The film does, however, have some ingenious special effects and some truly bizarre costumes and make-ups, which are at time reminiscent of the first Star Wars
The plot itself deviates from that of the book, but does so in order to make the film accessible to the average viewer.
With a wondrous array of characters and creatures including a Rock Biter, a racing snail, a fearsome wolf-like creature known as the Gmork, a Luck Dragon named Falkor, and the fragile and beautiful Childlike Empress, it's not hard to see why the film has such great appeal.