Films that deserve a more dignified home video release: The NeverEnding Story
*This column is one in which we look at different films that we feel should get better treatment regarding release to the public, based on their content and behind-the-scenes material*
With film-making emerging from the dark ages of the 1970’s, growing up in the 1980’s brought us several memorable fantasy pictures that had a dark tone that is missing from some films these days (most likely studios getting cold feet that scaring children will equal less box-office returns).
While some films like Labyrinth and Legend have gotten DVD/Blu-Ray releases with bonus features, there’s one film that I often see on the discount shelves, and sigh when I see that all it contains is just the feature film. That feature film, is The Neverending Story.
The story of a bullied young boy who comes across a book that captures his imagination is often talked of fondly by many adults who were children during the 80’s. The film was Wolfgang Petersen’s follow-up after his well-received U-Boat drama, Das Boot, and also one of the few films in which he contributed to the screenplay of a film he was directing. However, Petersen was hindered in numerous ways: special effects, story, and soon studio interference. Word was that he would have continued Bastian’s adventures in a sequel, helping to pay off the ending narrator’s words that “Bastian made many other wishes, and had many more exciting adventures.”
The DVD/Blu-Ray format helped to showcase plenty of special features that could not be displayed in the original VHS format. Sadly, the DVD/Blu-Ray releases of The Neverending Story seems no better off than the VHS copy (word was, Petersen didn’t even know the film was being released in Blu-Ray a few years ago!). When you think of the film, one has to think that there had to have been numerous concept images, matte paintings, and designs for a lot of the creatures. For all we know, there may have been concepts based on certain parts of Michael Ende’s original novel that were done, but never made real.
Beyond the first film, the story’s name sake has pretty much been trampled and tarnished upon over the last 3 decades when it comes to visual media.
A sequel in 1990 attempted to carry on into the rest of Ende’s story, but failed to do much but rehash Bastian’s negative traits. As well, a third direct-to-video sequel only references certain items from the series, and just further tarnishes the characters. An animated series and live-action TV series also were made, though their quality has not carried them over. Of all that has been made, it is only the 1984 film that seems to endure in the minds of many.
Over the years, I’ve had my own ideas of what a dream release for The Neverending Story would entail. Here is a list of special features that I feel a proper release should have:
1) Audio Commentary – A lot of people dismiss pointless talking over films, but when it’s the filmmakers discussing a technically-complex film like The Neverending Story, there have got to be plenty of stories to tell. While it would be nice to have writer/director Wolfgang Petersen involved, one would hope to also have some of the crew along for the ride. Or, imagine a secondary commentary track with Barrett Oliver (Bastian), Noah Hathaway (Atreyu), and Tami Stronach (The Childlike Empress). Even though Stronach is only in the film for about 5 minutes, I think it would be nice to hear her thoughts on the overall story.
In 2001, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment did an amazing audio commentary, putting the main cast of The Goonies and director Richard Donner in a room, recording them on video as they watched and commented on the film they made. It would be neat to see them attempt something like this for The Neverending Story.
2) Retrospective interview with cast and crew – almost every other Special Features section has one of these for a film that is usually 10+ years old. We could hear thoughts about how Wolfgang Petersen decided to make the film, as well as how the actors got chosen for their roles, and the rigors of using their imagination. One also has to wonder about Noah Hathaway’s words regarding the scene where Atreyu’s horse Artax is overtaken in the Swamps of Sadness.
3) Alternate/Extended Cut of the film – Much like what was done with Legend, The Neverending Story also was cut in several different ways. Word is that while the version we know in the United States contains electronic music by Giorgio Moroder and Kalus Doldinger, word is the cut released in Germany is much different. Though I have never seen it, word is it contains a longer cut of the film, and the electronic score has been replaced by something a little more classical.
4) 60 Million For Fantasies – Unknown to a lot of people, a documentary was made for German television, chronicling the making of The Neverending Story. The film’s 60 million dollar budget (a huge amount to make a film back then!) is the subject of the title, but the hour-long documentary is incredibly detailed. We see behind-the-scenes with the Special Effects crew, as well as setting up some major scenes, and in a rather amazing inclusion, video of author Michael Ende telling of his displeaure with the film being made. Yes, you heard that right: a making-of special with the source material’s creator criticizing it! You never would see that kind of thing in this day and age. (note: this documentary is on Youtube, though you may need to search to find it in English Subtitles)
5) Creating the world of Fantasia – A separate documentary with makeup artists, set decorators, costume designers, and other visual effects persons who helped make Rock-Biters look mountainous, made snails race, and much more.
6) A library of the different bits of concept art, matte paintings, and photos regarding the construction/creation of many of the film’s creatures. This could be a bit dicey, since most DVD/Blu-Ray releases have cut back on extra material like this on some Special Features discs.
7) Abandoned Concepts/Deleted Scenes – This would be one area that I could imagine so much information to be found. Looking at the film now, there are some areas where certain scenes just seem to end, and others that feel like they ran out of time and had to force a compromise.
8) Bavaria Filmstudios – The film studio where much of the film was made, is also a treasure trove of animatronics and models from The Neverending Story. Though many of them are not as pristine as they once were, it would be nice to see a video tour of the studio, as well as what remains of the film’s numerous props. Such highlights include Falkor, and even a miniature of Morla, The Ancient One.
9) The Neverending Story 2: What Might Have Been – Originally, Wolfgang Peterson was to have continued the adventures that were hinted at in the closing narration. While The Neverending Story film covered the first half of Ende’s original story, the remainder dealt with Bastian rebuilding Fantastica with his imagination. However, Peterson did not return, and 6 years later, The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter was released. One has to wonder what Peterson’s original vision was for the two-part magnum-opus.
10) Retrospective on author Michael Ende – To many (like myself),The Neverending Story is the only book of Ende’s that comes to mind. The author of over 20+ stories, it would be nice to have someone give us some background on the man who created Luck Dragons, Fantastica (the original land’s name in his book), and much more.
11) Limahl, and the song film’s theme song – In case you were wondering, the singer of the film’s theme song is a dude (though the dude does sound like a lady). This would shed some light on Limahl’s creative process, and how he came to create the song that just won’t get out of our heads.
12) The Music Video to The Neverending Story – Of course, we couldn’t have the movie without Limahl’s music video, can we?
13) Promotional materials – this would include theatrical trailers, tv spots (if any exist), and movie poster artwork.
14) A Special DVD/Blu-Ray Case – Word was that a couple years ago, a foreign release actually came in a case resembling the book from the film. Given how many studios are releasing fancy boxsets with some of their films, I think this would be a great incentive, and conversation piece for any collector to have! Better yet, if it came with a wearable replica of the Auryn (the talisman given to Atreyu by the Childlike Empress), it’d truly be a thing of beauty!
One concept that Warner Brothers been doing recently for certain films, is the Digibook gimmick for several Blu-Ray titles. This book-like casing is a little larger than the standard Blu-Ray case, but also gives some behind-the-scenes information about the film it is representing. Seeing as it is based on a book, The Neverending Story would be a no-brainer for a Digibook release, in my opinion. In fact, I made a little mock-up on what this set could possibly look like (see below, and remember, this is just a mock-up):
Admit it…you’d buy this, wouldn’t you?
And that’s my ‘grown-up wish list’ for features that I would love to see for this film that is remembered fondly, but has been left in the dust. Even so, the fanbase for The Neverending Story seems to be more conservative than fandoms that have evolved over the years. I’ve never met any die-hard Neverending Story fans, but every other person I know remembers it in some way. The memorable scene of Atreyu riding on Falkor for example, has been parodied in cartoons like Family Guy, Robot Chicken, and a recent episode of Titans Go.
Recently, word was announced that there will be an upcoming, 30th Anniversary release of the film from Warner Brothers, coming this fall. However, I’m not holding my breath, as there has been no announcement that this will be anything more than a bare-bones rehash of the previous Blu-Ray release. After all, this is the same studio that when Beetlejuice turned 25 last year, did relatively nothing for one of Tim Burton’s most memorable films. (I also included that film in another dignified home video release posting).
With home video sales taking a beating from streaming media these days, studios have stopped giving us impressive special features, and these days seem more apt to just recycle previous releases, with as little heavy-lifting as possible. It’s sad to think we have a better chance of getting sucked up by The Nothing, than ever seeing a dignified release for this gem of Fantasy filmmaking.
Well, it looks like Warner Brothers may have given in and decided a little TLC towards The Neverending Story’s 30th Anniversary was in order! Amazon.com posted images of the front and rear covers of the upcoming release’s front and back covers, and on the back, this is what was found:
It’s not everything on my wishlist, but it’s got so much that I’m eager for this release. I can only assume Reimagining the Neverending Story is the much-hoped-for retrospective I would love to see.
I’m most intrigued by the audio commentary by Wolfgang Petersen. I’ve only ever heard Petersen’s commentary on the release of Air Force One, though I’m hoping with all these years that have gone by, there’s enough stuff in the film to keep him talking and reminiscing.
The additional making-of and documentary is hard to decipher what we’ll see. My assumption is that the World of Fantasies documentary may be the same as the 60 Million for Fantasies one that I mentioned earlier in the posting.
I am definitely planning to review this release once I get it into my hands. Despite my feelings about Warner Brothers on several of their releases, they have impressed me in the past, with the likes of their Little Shop of Horrors rekease, which included the long-lost original “Don’t Feed The Plants” ending.