A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 200 – The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story – September 16th, 2010

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I have never read through the book this movie is based on. I hate admitting things like this because I pride myself on being a bookworm, even as a child. I don’t know how I missed it. I don’t know why. I loved the movie and I devoured books by the shelfload. We had a wonderful little independent children’s book store near us when I was a kid. How did no one ever hand this to me? How did I not find it myself? I know why I haven’t picked it up as an adult. It’s long. A fast reader I may be, but with as many new books as come into my workplace, I just don’t always have time to pick up something that I know the general gist of already. So I never have. I am duly ashamed and will rectify this forthwith.

Looking at this now, I believe this was my first experience with meta-storytelling. It’s a story about a boy reading a story which then refers back not only to the boy but to the audience watching the boy reading the story. No wonder I’ve got a thing for that sort of stuff now. Hurrah for non-comedic fourth wall breaking! The reader of the story is Bastian, a young boy whose mother has recently passed away and whose father wants him to buck up and get back to real life. Bastian’s a bookworm and daydreamer at heart and as such is a perfect target for bullies. While hiding from them he finds a book. A special book. The Neverending Story, a beautiful book just begging to be read. And so he grabs it and runs, hiding out in the attic of his school building and reading it.

One level in and you have the story Bastian reads. It’s about the world of Fantasia, and the many and varied creatures and people who live there and the lands that make it up. It’s about how Fantasia is being destroyed by the Nothing, a force that wipes out everything it touches. It’s about a quest given to the young warrior, Atreyu, to find a way to cure the mysterious illness that is killing Fantasia’s Empress. And as Atreyu struggles his way through the Swamps of Sadness and meets a Luck Dragon named Falkor, contends with the two magical gates before the Southern Oracle and meets the Nothing’s harbinger, Gmork, Bastian (and us, the audience) is drawn further into the story and thus, the world. Eventually we all become aware of each other as the movie comes to its climax, which is part of the whole draw of it to me as well as being part of the story’s conceit.

Fantasia as a fictional world is one of those concepts that made complete sense in my head. The idea that there was a world out there where everything you imagined came into being if you truly cared about it? That was a wonderful thing to me. I remember, after watching this movie, sitting in my room or the back yard by myself for hours, coming up with people and creatures and places to populate Fantasia with. I’ve always loved the first scene at the Ivory Tower, where many of the peoples of Fantasia have sent representatives to petition the Empress for help against the Nothing. There are some fabulous creature concepts on display there and I wanted to think of something worthy of a place like that. Of course I’d never actually set foot there, but in the movie that’s not the point. The point is that Fantasia isn’t a place to travel to on foot, it’s a place to explore in your mind.

As a child, this movie was to me what the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is to me as an adult. It is the visual representation of a world I wanted desperately to explore. I tried to watch this with a somewhat critical eye and I can see flaws, certainly. There are bits that show the movie’s age. Some of the conceits of Bastian talking to himself in the school attic come off as overdone. But I find I don’t give a crap. This movie is so heavily nostalgic for me and so full of wonder and the memory of being totally sucked into the world that I can’t bring myself to really critique it. I identify so strongly with this movie. Bastian staying at school after it closes, reading through the night because he just can’t put the book down? That was me. My mother was a teacher through my youth and I spent plenty of time in the school buildings she worked in, wandering the halls after hours, or in June after school was out for the summer. There’s something about an empty school that I can’t describe, but this movie has it and I knew it. And I spent many a night reading until the sun came up.

I often get frustrated with my job. I spend a lot of time doing things like teaching the same person how to do email attachments seven days in a row, or cleaning up after a family ignores the no food rule. But at least once a day someone will come in and want suggestions. Whether it’s a kid who hates to read but has to pick something for a book report, or a kid who loves to read but doesn’t know what to pick up next, it’s always a challenge I dive into. I love finding the perfect book to get a reluctant reader to come in looking for more, or a new favorite for a kid who thought he’d read everything worth reading. I love prompting my storytime kids to go wild, whether we’re making beach collages or writing comic books. I feel like I’ve done my job well when the kids I work with get excited about their imaginations. That, to me, is the core of this movie. That’s why I still love it, flaws and all. And that’s why we picked it for a milestone movie.

And also? Apparently I totally married Bastian. Go me!

September 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Neverending Story

September 16, 2010

The Neverending Story

For our two-hundredth daily review we wanted to watch something magical, wonderful and close to our hearts. I was twelve years old when this movie came out, and I WAS Bastian Balthazar Bux. I was a quite, bookish kid with a love for fantasy and a very seventies bowl-cut do.

Young Andy Bastian Balthazar Bux

Which one is me?

I didn’t draw unicorns in my math notebooks – but maybe if I had any facility with drawing I would have. I did live in the fantasy worlds inside my head, and this movie captured that isolation and loneliness quite well. It also presents a beautiful and intricate fantasy world, which I instantly fell in love with. I remember once that when I was arguing with my sister she taunted me by saying that this was just a movie and there was nothing real about it. I was so enraged that I kicked a hole in the bathroom wall. Because this was and is so much more than a movie to me.

Bastian is a young boy who lives in books. We learn early on in the movie that his mother has recently died and he has little care for anything in our world. He is bullied by a trio of jerks at school. He cares more about unicorns than classwork. One day he is chased into a bookstore by the bullies and he encounters a cantankerous man who specifically forbids him from reading a mysterious book called “The Neverending Story.” This book, says the shopkeep, is not safe like other books. When you’re reading it it isn’t just a book, because you’re actually a part of it. Of course Bastian takes the book and hides in his school attic to read it.

Inside the book is the world of Fantasia. Fantasia is a magical realm filled with magical creatures. We meet a few of them: the Rock Biter, the Night Hob and his stupid bat, and a dapper little fellow with a racing snail. They are going to the heart of Fantasia to ask the Empress for help because a mysterious Nothing is consuming the land. Where once there were beautiful delicious rocks for the Rock Biter now there is… just nothing. Fantasia is being diminished. Unfortunately the Empress cannot help them for she, like her land, is dying. Her only hope is that a warrior boy names Atreyu, who must go on a quest to find a way to cure her and the land.

I didn’t read the book the movie was based on until after I had seen the movie many, many times. There’s a lot of things in the book that are only hinted at in the movie. For example – in the movie we are told that the Nothing that is consuming Fantasia is what happens when the people of our world lose their hopes and dreams. In the book it is more clear that the Nothing is actually what happens when people stop believing in fantasy. That Fantasia is made up of dreams and imaginings, and when people become jaded and dedicate themselves only to pursuits in the “real world” they lose their dreams and it is because of this that Fantasia is in danger. Of course the movie only covers the first half of the book, but that’s fine with me. I’ve avoided seeing all the sequels to this movie that got made over the years, mostly out of a fear that they will lessen the feel of Fantasia by cheapening it.

The book itself is the tool that the people of Fantasia have come up with to fight the Nothing. It encourages people to have dreams and believe in fantasy by having us follow the adventures of Bastian as he follows the adventures of Atreyu. It is implied that this is what is never-ending about The Neverending Story. Just as we share in these characters’ adventures there are others who share in ours, and others beyond them, and so on into infinity. This recursive nature of the work, and the notion of the realms of human fantasy being something that is endangered are heady concepts to introduce to the mind of a twelve year old boy who is already obsessed with fantasy.

I love the world that the film makers created here. It very well captures the spirit of the book, and it’s full of wonderful creatures. There is an absolute ton of amazing puppetry at work here. In particular there are some life-sized animatronic beasts that work alongside the actors, and although the lip sync is not perfect the range of expression and the detail of these puppets is astonishing. Sure the blue-screen effects aren’t up to today’s standards, and things sometimes look kind of plodding in comparison to the computer animated creatures of today, but that’s part of the charm of the movie. Even if these things weren’t real they actually did exist, and teams of artists brought them to life on a movie set once upon a time.

I’d mark this amongst the most influential movies in my childhood. Along with The Dark Crystal, The Empire Strikes Back and Time Bandits. It made me who I am today to some degree. Or maybe it’s that who I was when it came out was so perfectly in sync with the world and mood of the movie. I never want to be one of those people who refuses to believe in fantasy and loses that child-like ability to dream. I will not be part of the jaded populace that was responsible for the Nothing. Someday maybe I’d even like to unleash some of my own fantastic worlds so that other people can believe in them as well. But that’s another story, for another time.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment