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The NeverEnding Story....Trilogy.
(Because the Pain will Never End)
(Warning: All that you are about to read is simply me trying to deal with the corruption of something from my childhood. Humor me, please.)
There are few films that I really think are above reproach when it comes to making fun of movies. These films are, of course, things that I treasured when I was a small child. If you too were a small kid during the 1980's, you're probably like me and got a huge dose of amazing cinematic fantasy the likes of which haven't been seen since. (And yes, I am discounting Harry Potter...any fantasy kingdom that's about as corporate as Coca-Cola need not be mentioned.) There are a slew of puppet-based fantasy films that were ingrained deeply into my brain at a tender age: Labyrinth, Legend, The Dark Crystal, and, of course, The NeverEnding Story. From David Bowie smuggling things in his tight, tight pants to Jim Henson Puppets to Tim Curry as the Devil, these fantastic four of fantasy (as opposed to a stupid comic book) were really the highlights of my early days. So when I found out that they had made not one but TWO sequels to The NeverEnding Story, I was nervous. In fact, I was terrified. We ALL know sequels and sequels to sequels are rarely as good as the original if they don't automatically qualify as absolute pieces of donkey crap. So, being the entertainment masochist that I am, I rented all three and sat down for a Fantasia-based marathon.
This article is dedicated to all the fans of The NeverEnding Story. May you never have to experience what I went through. It's one thing to find out someone's tore down the playground you used to visit when you were in kindergarten. It's another thing to find out that same playground is now a toxic waste dump filled with diseased hookers. That doesn't make much sense but as I walk you through the NeverEnding Trilogy, you'll understand how some very bad people did something very bad to something that I (and a few of you) loved very much.
(Trivia Time: What's your favorite German Film? Mine may well be The NeverEnding Story. Filmed mostly in Germany with English-speaking actors, this Bavarian film was based off the German book of the same name (written by Michael Ende). This sort of explains how this "classic" film never walked away with any Academy Awards (c'mon...those are for Americans), despite being one of the most memorable fantasy films to come out in the past twenty years. That's a hint by the way. If you haven't seen this movie, you really should. The sequels...I'll let you decide if that's something you want to do.)
So, all stories begin in the...er...beginning. So lets...begin. (Damn. I need a thesaurus.) This review of The NeverEnding Story is severely abridged, but you need to know what kind of film this was to truly appreciate (or be frozen in horror at the sight of) the sequels.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Let's be frank. If you've read this far, you already know that the chances of me making fun of The NeverEnding Story are pretty slim. And you're right. Since this article is really about why the sequels make me want to murder someone something fierce, let me simply show you why a lot of people totally dig this movie. You know, because me just saying "It's awesome" doesn't really sound that great when you step back and look at it.
Here's the plot for those of you that haven't seen the movie. Basically there's a magic book called The NeverEnding Story that is somehow linked to our world and a fantasy kingdom known as Fantasia. The book is being read by Bastian, a kid who has some problems with bullies and his father. Something called "The Nothing" is destroying Fantasia. The Nothing is pretty much that. Nothing. Fantasia is vanishing and one young hero (Atreyu, pronounce Ah-tray-yoo) is the only one who can save the kingdom. Looking at it this simply, it's a pretty classic fantasy formula. So why does this film stand out?
Reason this is a good movie #1: The Monsters.
Now everyone loves monsters. No fantasy film is really complete without something inhuman and horrible. The thing is, The NeverEnding Story presents all sorts of almost scary monsters as human. While a lesser movie would make everything that's not human (or close to human i.e. Elves) inherently evil, this movie actually has all sorts of monstrous creatures that are just like you and me. Oh, and they're freaking awesome as hell. Check out these characters:
Say hello to the Rockbiter. He's a giant man-mountain who rides a giant steamroller-bicycle that crushes all in his path. Not only that, he's a really sweet guy. Who bites rocks.
How many films have a gentleman who rides a racing snail? There's a British dandy who rides a giant snail. I don't know why that pushes my buttons.
Instead of me just showing off all the strange things you'll see in this film, here's a few images. The point is that only one monster in the movie is "evil" and even it only shows up once it is tired and waiting to die. There's a lot of drama to be found here but more on that in a second. Here's a quick look at the kind of characters lurking in this flick:
So it is a good movie, reason #2: Plot layers, Drama, and The Power of Imagination
Multi-faceted plots don't show up as often as they should these days. The story found here is actually that of a boy named Bastian who's mother died recently who loses himself in books. He reads the NeverEnding Story and, while he's technically the main character, the bulk of the movie shows the adventures of Atreyu as Bastian reads the book. But by the end of the film, the characters in "Fantasia" (that mythical land where all this takes place) know that Bastian is reading them in a book and are asking him to save them...by believing in them. The message of the NeverEnding Story is linked to never giving up that little part of you that believes in unicorns and dragons. In the end, Fantasia is saved by Bastian who rebuilds Fantasia by making wishes. It's much cooler than it sounds.
By the by, when I said there was drama, I meant it.
Here the Rockbiter, towards the end of the film, tells Atreyu how he couldn't save his friends and he watched them die as they slipped through his fingers. If this is a kid's movie...I don't know. You don't see too many kids movies where a giant monster sits there waiting to die because he couldn't save his friends. You also don't have too many kid's movies in the 80's where a character says "Oh Shit!" That gets dubbed over in most of the American versions, but if you're over here in Germany like me where bad language has been pretty kosher for a while, it's totally there. Fun trivia, that.
Oh and before I shift
topics, let me tell you about one more scene that just oozes drama.
It involves a boy's horse being sucked into a swamp where it drowns while
the boy watches. This is the scene that made little boys cry back in
the day. Hell, I'm fairly certain a few of you are a little
misty-eyed right now just remembering the boys desperate cries as the
swamp of despair swallowed his friend whole.
One important thing to note is that the first NeverEnding film was directed by Wolfgang Peterson. Despite the fact that this movie was a fantasy that kids could get into, he is not a "kids movie" director. Since this he's directed Outbreak, Air Force One, Troy, In the Line of Fire, and The Perfect Storm. The reason this is vital to understanding a major handicap all the following films had: They got crap directors. Part Two was directed by George Miller, a made-for-TV kid movie guy who brought us "Cybermutt" and a film about a little girl who adopts a seal as her best friend. And the third movie? Directed by Peter MacDonald, the man who brought us Rambo 3 and "The Extreme Adventures of Super Dave". So while the original film was directed by someone who told stories without worrying about making kids happy, the sequels were put into the hands of people who thought all fantasy stories had to be written for eight-year-olds. Considering how all the fans of the original film were teenagers by the time the first sequel came out, I'm going to say they made a mistake. It's like them targeting preschoolers in the next Harry Potter film and ignoring the fact that all the fans of the series are older than five. Bah. I'm done. Let me show you why I'm angry.
The NeverEnding Story 2: The Next Chapter (1990)
When the first thing you want to say about a movie is "at least they tried", it's not a good sign. While the first movie was made to be a "good" movie with fantasy elements treated in a dramatic and serious fashion, Part 2 of the trilogy turns out to be a quirky kids movie with horrible jokes aimed at people in elementary school. I guess you have to look at the audience when this came out. In the mid-1980's, I got hooked on this movie before I was seven. When it came to theaters, I was there (10 years old). The older woman I live with ALSO saw it when came out. So if it was too kiddy for a ten-year-old and WAY too childish for the teenage fans....who the hell was this film for? I still can't believe I asked my grandmother to take me to see this when it debuted. Then again, stuff like that might explain my love for bad movies.
The plot of this one involves Bastian being afraid of heights (thanks to the diving board and swim class) and having to come back to save Fantasia from destruction. He's given the Auryn (which is pretty much an ouroboros and is the magical talisman of Fantasia) which lets him wish for whatever he wants. The "wish" thing was FLEETINGLY mentioned (but still important) in the first movie, while in the sequels you literally get to watch the main character run around with a magic genie. It's pretty childish as we get to hear Bastian wish that "he could juggle" and the like. The bad guy in this film is "The Emptiness" as embodied by a porn actress (or so she looks) in a lot of sequins. She's got a machine that sucks out Bastian's memories when he makes a wish and.....
What the hell am I doing? The plot of this movie is embarrassing for everyone involved. The characters are supposed to save the princess and instead do retarded things like get a bunch of toy eggs to raid ANOTHER magical tower that they spontaneously decide would be a good place to attack. The film has the "made for the Disney Channel" vibe, which I think says everything that needs be said.
Some of the original cast/voice actors return, thankfully. The downside to this is that the returning characters got "reinterpreted" so be more quirky and appealing. I think. I really don't know. Let's walk through some of the differences:
Atreyu is a Native American. In the first film, he was too. The problem is he spoke perfect English and generally looked like your standard hero. In this one? They make him speak "racist redman talkum" from time to time, to match his tomahawk and bow & arrow. Considering how Atreyu was the main character of the last film, this is pretty annoying. Speaking of annoying...
Do you remember the Rockbiter?
Meet his son...Junior. It's a giant baby. Made of rocks...who is clumsy and likes to fall down. I hate to say it but this is not the last you're going to see of this giant bit of slapstick humor. Junior is, indeed, one of the MAIN characters in Part 3 of the trilogy.
One of the few cool things might be the giant crab robots that pop up to chase after our characters from time to time. They're pretty nightmarish. However, whatever cool points the movie would have gotten are lost when we see how Bastian defeats them...
He wishes for a "spray can" because apparently if you spray paint in a robot crab's face he explodes. It makes so much sense my ears are gushing blood.
The film also tries to play introduce interesting new characters. The problem is they only introduce them for one second before they vanish for the rest of the film. You know, like the mud man who looks suspiciously like he's made of poo:
Oddly enough, this character is sitting next to a woman playing her own ass like a harp.
It's a shame one's brain can only implode so many times in one evening.
By the way, it's hard to not think of Star Wars when you watch this movie. Mostly because Bastian ends up going over to the Dark Side by making foolish wishes. When his Native-American sidekick tries to save him, he murders him. Maybe this isn't a kids movie. Maybe it's just a bad movie. But, yes. Our hero murders his best friend. Rather casually in fact. Luckily he has a magic amulet that lets him bring him back to life, but for a short while Bastian was the murderer of the only American Indian in all of Fantasia.
The "message" of this movie is about learning to be Brave or something as by saving Fantasia Bastian learns to jump off the diving board in swim class. I only wish I was joking. Heck. I wish that I was joking a lot.
Speaking of wishes, I wish it wasn't time to talk about part 3.
The Neverending Story 3: Escape from Fantasia (1994)
If you loved the NeverEnding story, run away. Run away right now. If you're still here, take a look at the above poster for part 3. They are actually using the star from "Free Willy" as the film's major selling point. Hell, they even wrote the name of the movie wrong. For the love of God, we're doomed. And you know what? We are. The evil in this film? In the first it was "The Nothing". In the sequel, it was "The Emptiness". In this one? Bastian has to defeat: The Nasty. That's right, the evil in this movie is another name for having sex. Oh my poor brain. Let's get the plot out of the way:
Bastian's (played by the Free Willy kid and joined by no one from the original cast) father has remarried and now he has a stepsister. He's having trouble fitting in at the new school and his sister thinks he's a dork. Then he gets in trouble with the local bullies, who are called The Nasties, but luckily the librarian at the school has a copy of The NeverEnding Story so he escapes to Fantasia. The Nasties get the book and Bastian and some goofy characters from Fantasia get sucked into our world. Yes, it's time for Fantasia creatures to go to the mall. That's not a joke. You actually get to see a giant Luck Dragon in the sporting goods department.
There is one surprisingly good thing in Part 3. It doesn't make the film worth it. In fact, it might be worse because of this. You know because after I tell you who stars in this film you'll probably be tempted to see it. Which is a terrible thing indeed.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, none other than a young Jack Black plays the main villain, complete with giant monobrow. He is known as Slip a.k.a. "The Nasty." And, if you can find any pleasure in this film, it will be from watching Jack steal every scene that he's in. In fact, when he takes control of Fantasia you actually get to hear Jack Black exclaim: "You cannot escape Bastian. I am your king and you are my SLAVE!" So it's JB playing a gothic punk gang leader who has the NeverEnding Story and is waging war against Bastian and Fantasia with it. Apparently this just means making people fight irrationally, but the less said about the methods the better.
So. That's the best thing you're going to see in this movie. What could be the worst?
The Rockbiter Family returns. Only...I'll let you see if you can notice the difference.
Dear Lord, I don't know what to complain about. The fact that he's got a wife beater on made out of stone? Or the fact that the kid is watching MTV/Cartoons in Fantasia? Or...God. She has a stone bra on. No more. Please.
I hope you like retarded giant Infants, because Junior is going to be in this film for most of it. He's gotten even more annoying as he wants "kissies" and hugs about every five seconds. This film is so far from what the original was its not even funny. Still think I'm over exaggerating?
I know I can't capture an image of sound, but you're looking at a screen grab of a music video found in the middle of NeverEnding Story 3. The Rockbiter rides his steamroller motorcycle while singing "Born to Be Wild." Yes, there's a musical number in the middle of the movie where a creature from Fantasia sings classic rock.
A new character also plays a major role in Part 3. His name is "Barky", he's a tree, and they made him a cheesy Las Vegas stand-up comedian. In every scene he's in he won't shut up, spitting out jokes you would find in a Garfield Joke book. Since I got one of these as a gift from a terrible Aunt when I was 9, I'll recite one that I still remember:
What do you get when you cross Garfield with Ancient Egypt?
Now imagine having to listen to an hour and half of jokes like that.
This is the first film in the series that has a bit of overt product placement. Maybe that's how they got the funding to get this abortion off the ground, but it's pretty overt. When a flying dragon tries to get directions from an airline and gnomes ship themselves FedEx...I just don't know what to say anymore. But I had to share this because I'm sure all you NeverEnding Story purists are dying inside right now.
I'm so tired of saying how much this film hurt me. I don't even want to mention the extended scene where Bastian's bratty stepsister uses the magic talisman to go shopping nor do I want to talk about how Bastian uses kung fu to beat up Jack Black at the end of the movie. Seriously. Kung freaking fu.
Here, Jack Black takes a ninja kick to the groin. Thank you, NeverEnding Story.
I'm done. Want to see the last shot in the NeverEnding Story Trilogy?
Brother and sister give each other a high five as pop music plays in the background. Truly an epic ending to a classic trilogy.
Of course, the Trilogy I've discussed today does not cover all the material that's NeverEnding out there. Here are a few things I refuse to talk about:
From the writer who brought us both sequels (her name is Karin Howard blame her for all this because she is a walking crime against God), the NeverEnding Television series luckily only lasted one season in 2001. Check it out at your own peril. Part 3 of this trilogy told me I had had enough. It takes a lot to break my spirit, but man, they succeeded. No more Fantasia for me for a while.
Also pay no attention to the NeverEnding videogame from 1985.
And even more things to avoid:
While I've yet to see the ANIMATED NeverEnding story, something tells me that no joy will be found there. Mostly because the cover stars "Part 3" Falkor and the retarded stand-up comedian tree. I might be wrong, but something tells me that's not the case. You can find this for sale on Amazon...and while I'm tempted, I think I love life too much to watch one of my favorite films bastardized into a Saturday Morning cartoon. A man can only take so much.
Though most "men" don't cry about the NeverEnding Story . But I digress.
You know what? I'm tired of all the negativity. Besides needing a hug, I need something to cheer me up. I wonder if I read the original NeverEnding Story novel I'll get over this Trilogy funk? The answer is probably not because while the book is really good, it's also fairly different from all of the movies. But if you haven't read it I suggest that you do. You know. When there's nothing good to watch on television.
The NeverEnding Story was and still is one of my favorite films. I just can't believe something I loved so much could stray so far from all that is good and decent. I'll get over it, but thanks for humoring me.
And if you're a NeverEnding Story fanatic who just found out about the abominations that are the sequels, I suggest writing your local congressman to ensure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. That's the worst thing about bad sequels to good movies. Even if the sequel is total crap...and you KNOW it will be crap...you still go because you loved the first movie and want to be sure you're not missing out.
Let me end with one bit of irony. The author, Michael Ende, hated the original film as it was far too different from his original book....he even asked to have his name removed from the credits as he didn't want to be associated with the film. Obviously it was successful but it always amuses me when the author of a great movie just doesn't get a good screen adaptation. Sort of how Stephen King hates "The Shining", even though it may well be the most memorable of all his stories brought to the silver screen. Go figure. Point is there's no accounting for taste. What you've just read was written after feeling totally violated after seeing what they've done to something I love. You might love these movies.
You know, if you're a retarded child who eats a lot of paint.
Copyright 2007 Jared von Hindman or maybe just Jared Hindman. It depends. Any images used that are not Jared's are used via Fair Use review purposes and belong to their respective owners....who are nice people that don't want to sue me.
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