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The Neverending Story (1984)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/2/2010

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/1/2010

You can ask my wife about this (but please don't) -- I have a bad habit of claiming that movies that I saw as a pre-adolescent/adolescent were great, only to watch them today to find that they aren't anywhere as good as I'd remembered. This typically applies to slasher films from the early 80s (in my mind, they were awesome -- in reality, they're all talk and no action), however some other movies sneak through as well. I hadn't seen The Neverending Story in over twenty years, so when a review copy came, I decided to watch it with the whole family. Boy, were we in for a surprise.

The Neverending Story introduces us to a sad young boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver). His mother has recently died and his stern father (a pre-Major Dad Gerald McRaney) thinks that he should get on with his life. I would say that Bastian is bullied at school, but he can't even get to school before the bullies are chasing him. Bastian hides in an old book store, where he meets the store's owner (Thomas Hill). The man learns that Bastian loves to read and shows him a book entitled The Neverending Story -- but the man tells Bastian that the book is dangerous. When the man is distracted, Bastian swipes the book and runs. (He does leave a note stating that he'll return the book.) He then goes to school, but decides to hide in the attic. (What?) There, he begins to read the book.

The story of the book is set in Fantasia, a magical, far-away land. The kingdom is begin threatened by "The Nothing", a force which swallows up everything in site. A young warrior named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) is called upon to help save Fantasia. He begins a dangerous quest which takes him to the farthest corners of the country. All the while, Bastian is reading the story and finding it more and more lifelike.

I was never a huge fan of The Neverending Story, but I did remember liking the film when I watched it on HBO in the 80s. And on paper (no pun intended), the story sounds promising. We begin with a tale set in our world, which then segues into a fantasy story set in a mythical kingdom. While the latter is far more interesting than the former, when the two are linked, the story shows true imagination.

But, the movie has one overriding flaw which makes it difficult to watch today -- The Neverending Story is way too European. Now, some of you are going to read that statement and accuse me of being narrow-minded, or worse, ignorant. That aside, it's absolutely true. First of all, the pacing is incredibly slow here. And I don't mean that in a "I'm part of the MTV generation (which is true) and I need fast-pacing and quick cuts" way. I mean that in a "this movie is slow-paced" way. Let me provide some evidence to back my claim. As an experiment, I watched some of the movie at 1.5x speed, and I felt as if I was watching it at normal speed. Nothing went by so quickly that I had to stop and rewind to see what I missed. New ideas take too long to come into the story and there is a great deal of pausing in the dialogue. It doesn't help that some of the movie is dubbed. Having been shot in Germany, it's all too clear when an actor's voice has been replaced and we're treated to some Speed Racer-esque "oohs" and "ahs".

The story is disjointed and really feels cohesive. Again, we open in the real world and then go into the book. For a long time, I wondered why the segments with Bastian were even necessary. Why do we have to keep cutting away from Atreyu's story to watch a kid overreacting to a book? In the finale, the reason for this becomes evident, but the cutting back and forth never feels organic. Atreyu's story is episodic by nature, but it never gels either. For example, when we first enter Fantasia, we are introduced to a group of odd creatures (one of whom is played by a pre-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Deep Roy), and it's doesn't seem odd to assume that these will be important characters. However, they ultimately have little to do with the story. Atreyu's quest does have some interesting moments (the Southern Oracle gate scene is admittedly a classic), but the conclusion will come off as a "groaner" to many.

There is one thing which works in The Neverending Story's favor: the movie was made about a decade before CGI became common-place, so most of the sets and effects are real. The sets are huge and very impressive, especially the Ivory Tower rooftop. Falkor is probably one of the biggest Muppets (you know what I mean by that) ever built and it's mind-blowing to think that people actually constructed this thing when today, it would be rendered in a computer. On the downside, the blue-screen effects are quite crude-looking. In its defense, The Neverending Story has some great fantasy ideas and it has a nice moral about the importance of reading, but the movie simply hasn't held up well over the years.

The Neverending Story gets thrown in a dumpster on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing some slight grain at times. There are no overt defects from the source material. The colors look good, but the image is somewhat dark at times. The picture shows off nice detail (just look at Falkor's hair and scales), but the image is also a bit soft at times. The depth isn't what we've come to expect from Blu-rays, as the picture comes off as flat. The HD transfer really shows some seams in the effects. The Disc houses a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an odd track, as the effects arrive intermittently. There are stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects present here, but they are never consistent. For example, there is basically no subwoofer until the Rockbiter arrives and suddenly the floor is shaking. Likewise for stereo and surround effects in certain scenes.

There are no special features on this Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long