Blu-Ray Review: The Neverending Story – 30th Anniversary Release
Back in June, I included a post in my Films that deserve a more dignified home video release sub-section, mentioning a childhood favorite for many of us who grew up in the 1980’s. The Neverending Story has often been a fascinating film that I definitely recall seeing in little corners of my life. A girl in middle school always carried a copy of the original Michael Ende book around with her, and in an animation-acting class in college, I re-enacted the scene from the film where Bastian meets bookstore owner, Mr Coreander.
Though while films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and even The Goonies had been given some special treatment with the advent of the DVD-age, Story languished as little more than a film-only release in bargain bins at discount stores. It was this treatment that kept me from purchasing the film for many years…until word came that Warner Brothers was going to release a Special Edition!
In regards to film releases on home video, Warner Brothers has had a spotty track-record. While they did release the film adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors with the original cut included (in color!), they also pretty much just threw out the last seasons of Tiny Toon Adventures, just to to get them out on the market.
The film focuses on Bastian Balthazar Bux (Barrett Oliver), a young boy who is still trying to get over the death of his mother. One day while running away from a group of bullying boys, he finds himself in a bookstore, wherein its owner entices him to take a certain book, claiming the others that Bastian likes to read, “are safe.”
Plunging into reading The Neverending Story, Bastian soon finds himself caught up in the hero’s quest of Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), a young warrior tasked with finding a cure for The Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach), while attempting to save her and their world from a destructive force known only as “The Nothing.”
On its own, the film acts as a truncated version of the first half of Ende’s novel. However, one can definitely sense care in the material. The filmmakers definitely get down the task of creating a believable world, let alone a character that you can truly root for. The fact that the task of saving the world falls to a weaponless boy, is definitely a perplexing quest to make one like Bastian intrigued.
Speaking of perplexing, it does feel that given the limitations of the time, much of the story almost seems cobbled together as it goes from setting to setting in the world of Fantasia. 3/4 of the way through, the film almost feels like it gets stuck in a corner, and has to resolve several different plot points in a very small amount of time.
There were mixed reactions regarding the last Blu-Ray release, which many online have claimed to have just been thrown onto the market. As I don’t have the capabilities to properly analyze the film with a fine-tooth-comb, I can say that the colors on this piece definitely feels like an improvement over the previous copies I’ve seen many years ago (though those were VHS and DVD). I even noticed features in the film I hadn’t seen previously, such as twinkling lights at the base of The Ivory Tower!
For years, there has been word that the version of the film we in America saw, was a cut version. There is talk that the original German cut, there’s some 8 additional minutes, though they don’t really add any major scenes, but tend to stretch out the mood in some areas. Sadly, we still can’t see what audiences over in Europe saw.
The Special Features
Of all the incentives to purchase this release, the inclusion of most of these special features was what led to my immediate purchase of the film.
Audio Commentary – Christina Hacopian conducts a small Q&A with director Wolfgang Petersen over the course of the film. Christina immediately gushes regarding her fandom of the film, though it soon becomes apparent that while a fan of the film, she hasn’t read Ende’s book. Her questions are mainly in regards to the film, asking Petersen about certain scenes, and about making the film in general. Sadly, nothing really mind-blowing is given…well, except that a certain bearded director did help Petersen when cutting the film down for the American release. Oh, and in case you were wondering what name Bastian gives the Empress, you’ll also find it here too.
Reimagining The Neverending Story – This reminiscence is a rather remarkable goulash of information. Though there are newly-filmed clips and interviews, it also weaves together bits from the specials, The Making of The Neverending Story, and 60 Million for Fantasies. Of the interview pieces, many of them are from members of the crew, telling of their experiences. One interesting moment, comes when they discuss the dilemma of ending the film (which did not please Michael Ende when he found out!).
The special is notable in that you may find yourself pausing it quite a bit, as numerous still images go by, showcasing production stills, and plenty of video clips regarding the production of the film. I dare say there’s more than enough material to make a really nice coffee-table book (anyone up to help me with a Kickstarter to make that?).
For the original cast, the only appearances in the piece are Tami Stronach (the Childlike Empress), and Gerald McRaney (Bastian’s father?). Of the two, Tami gets the most screen-time, telling a few small stories of her experiences on set. Sadly, among all the pieces, this is the only one-on-one we get with a member of the main cast.
The Making of The Neverending Story – Something tells me this special was probably made some time in the last 5-10 years, given that interspersed among the dated making-of material, there are some more modern pieces. It also was most likely a German-only release, as Wolfgang Petersen offers some words, speaking in German.
One fun little bit is watching how they made up Tilo Prickner as the bat-flying Night Hob in the film. It’s a short-yet-sweet bit showing his preparations, let alone his frustrations one day when wanting to get out of his confining makeup.
1984 SWR Documentary, “A World of Fantasies” – For some time now, this documentary could be found on Youtube, under the translated title, 60 Million for Fantasies. The special almost serves as a major spoiler to the film, as the hour-long special follows the structure of the story from start-to-finish. It is also a time-capsule, in that it was made and released during the production of the film. It is nice when the special slows down, notably in the scene filming in the Swamps of Sadness, which was completely made inside a soundstage at Bavaria Film Studios. What’s mind-boggling is that just to film for a single day in the setting, cost $130,000 US (and they filmed on that stage for several weeks!). As well, the filmmakers focus on Petersen during the heart-wrenching scene in which Atreyu’s horse Artax is overtaken by the sadness of the swamp, and one can see when the emotion hits the director’s face.
What I liked about this is there was no steamrolling over one of the most interesting parts of this documentary: a few minutes where author Michael Ende gives his own views on how the film seems almost to be a “perversion” of his original work.
Restoration – Warners touted that this latest release would get an upgrade, and we are treated to a small featurette on it. Restored not far from where the film was originally filmed, we are shown a step-by-step process on what it takes to go from analog, to digital. It’s also worth noting that we see a few scenes that were cut out of the American release.
Trailer -What would a release be without a return to the coming attraction reels of yesteryear? It’s rather amazing to see how in the old days, there was little worry about dumbing things down for kids.
I will warn you, that you may need to dig a little to find copies of this release. The Target store I visited only had two copies in stock, and neither was put out on the floor in their New Releases or Children’s section. It was a little funny when the clerk who found it for me glanced at it and went, “I remember seeing this in theaters when I was a kid!”
Over the years, I will say I’m a realist when it comes to expecting more from things. I’ll always hold onto a dream of a truly incredible release of The Neverending Story, but the Blu-Ray release gets an “E for effort” in my book. I’m sure there are hundreds of people like me out there, who have been clamoring for a glimpse behind-the-scenes of this passed-over film, and most of the special features, will give them that glimpse. That to me is one of the highlights of the piece: seeing all these physical effects in mechanical and makeup form, that managed to make you believe what you were seeing on the screen. Sure, the matte lines around Falkor’s hair wasn’t perfect, but as a kid, you brushed those issues aside.
There’s also a fun game of listening to the different vocals across the various specials. Because this was a cross-cultural production, there’s quite a few different bits of dialogue one hears. Notable is how ‘young’ Hathaway sounds when filming some scenes, different from his final vocals as Atreyu. As well, it’s funny when in one scene, we hear some creatures speaking in different tones of voice (one doing a rather hokey American vocal).
I do feel a little sadness that though we did get to hear from Tami Stronach, there’s no trace of Barret Oliver or Noah Hathaway, other than praise for them here and there, and the clips of their time on set.
What’s also interesting is during several of the specials, it’s brought up of the importance of how the international market would make the expensive film a success..notably, America being key. It’s funny to think that America was the key to money-making success for films like this 30 years ago. In our world today, Hollywood is banking on countries like China to save its bottom-line for large-scale productions. While the filmmakers back in the 80’s supposedly cast American actors to make their film more ‘bankable,’ we’ve taken to adding special scenes in films like Iron Man 3 and Transformers: Age of Extinction, to please foreign markets.
Of course, I’ll still hold onto the dream that maybe some day, a release like the one I Photoshopped below, may come to pass for The Neverending Story:
I would also love it if maybe one day, we got a full score release of Klaus Doldinger’s music, let alone maybe alternate musical cues. Even with this Blu-Ray release, it still feels like there’s still plenty of stuff out there for us fans of The Neverending Story to dream about.
*UPDATE: ADDENDUM REGARDING THE FILM BEING “REMASTERED”
Wow, this is some serious ball-dropping here on Warner Brothers’ part. Those who had seen ads had seen the mention of The Neverending Story being remastered for this release, let alone the inclusion of that restoration special on this disc. However, On the Facebook page for The Neverending Story, WB admitted this a few hours ago:
Yes…The cake is a lie!!! My guess is someone in the back rooms of Warner probably didn’t think anyone really cared enough to notice…well, except for those online with a discernible eye for detail when it comes to High-Definition pictures.
As of now, there’s been no word of a re-pressing to give those who purchased this latest a remastered copy. As it stands now, that remaster talked of in the restoration special, may only be found on certain Region 2 Blu-Rays, in either the European or Japan marketplaces.
I hate to report on this information, but after seeing a number of forum talks on this subject, let alone many of us having read about getting an anniversary-level remaster over the past several months, I felt I should at least include my mention here. And here I thought there would at least be a little more TLC put into this release, but then again, I do go off into those daydreams.