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The NeverEnding Story (1984)

by on 2012/02/20

“We don’t even care whether or not we care.”

* *

Outraged, angry to my core . . . blinding, fighting, frothing, spitting, sputtering, incoherently mad: that’s how I felt by the conclusion of this Eighties chestnut, The NeverEnding Story.

In the past, once or twice, I’ve toyed with the notion of gaming our system; I longed to reward certain excellent movies which I could not in good conscience rate higher. Now, I’m in the rare position of wanting to punish a misfire, but the best I can do is an obvious joke about understanding the title all too well.

Surely the undeserving benefactor of nostalgia taken to its extreme, I cannot fathom it was ever any kind of success, financial or artistic.  Yet it is somehow well-known and, to some, respected. Were its strongest proponents infants in its day? Relatives of the filmmakers? Tragically confusing scarcity with quality?

It is the worst sort of fantasy film, one which squanders the investment of its starry-eyed optimist supporters, and sets the entire genre back by suggesting it cannot be done well. If not for nonsense like this, we might have had The Lord of the Rings decades sooner.

I cannot be alone in my rancor. In fact, my fellow victim Grushenka tells me the original author detested the adaptation and, sadly, unsuccessfully sued for its abortion. I believe he deserved to win, without a doubt. Even knowing he was disenchanted, this movie has poisoned any impulse to read the book.

Gru further noted the experience was like a really good public school play. Maybe so, but this was a big budget affair, written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen! What is the possible excuse for the helmer behind Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, and Air Force One having birthed this wretched mess?

The makeup is ambitious, but awful. The puppets are elaborate, but clumsy. The dragon is a glittering pink hybrid of a crocodile and dog, for pity’s sake. Did the effects team just grab a bunch of random toys and craft materials, and set aside an hour to combine them? Weird random surreality is not necessarily art.

Of course, it would help to have a hero with whom we could relate. Shrill “warrior” Atreyu is not that type of hero. Swinging suddenly and wildly between bravado, depression, anger, despair, and elation, I struggled to understand his motivation, not for lack of his explaining it (poorly) at length, in detail, and repeatedly.

We aren’t shown why we should care, we’re never given an emotional hook . . . just a leaden slog from one lackluster set to another, separated by roughly composited backdrops, and goosed by a faux-rousing score. As much as the transparent dialogue does with our intelligence, the music insults our emotions by clubbing us over the head with what it wants us to feel. Neither the tale nor its telling ever earns that right.

Instead, I knew I’d been cheated out of a valuable hour and a half. I imagine it was little different from watching a troupe of emotionally precarious children, each given some puppets and a dose of LSD, and thrown from a mountain top.

I’m still furious. Not only because I wasted that time, and the time I’ve spent on this write-up, but because I’ve had to explain the failings of a piece of self-evident crap. There are far better ways to use your money, time, and sanity.

To claim this effort is intended for children belies one’s toxic view of them. Having seen it through to its merciful end, I know its likeliest function is as punishment. Perhaps it serves as plausible deniability for misopedic sadists, but you’ll likely find kids will not suffer it long. The NeverEnding Story is best for keeping young people at bay, like smooth jazz, clowns in microkinis, and hearing their parents pitch woo.

* *

Rated PG

92 minutes

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