“Run Atreyu, run!!!”
Poor Bastian. Not only can his name be easily tweaked into “Bastard” by creative school bullies, but his home life is desolate after the death of his mother and he constantly gets thrown into dumpsters. But all that is about to change, when, one day, he steals a book from a creepy old man and locks himself in the school attic to read it. The book? Why, it’s “The Neverending Story,” the tale of the magical world of Fantasia, which is populated by Rockbiters and werewolves and racing snails and Luck Dragons and stupid bats and weird little girl empresses.
Unfortunately for all these horrifying freaks, a destructive force called The Nothing is wiping out Fantasia, so the powers-that-be send out Atreyu, the boy warrior savant, to find out how to stop it. Little does Bastian know, he’s going to be drawn deeper into the story than he ever thought and ultimately stick his head out of a window and scream incoherently.
So many hours dumped into Fantasia. Maybe it was because I was a little reader, couldn’t get enough of the bad-assery that was the Southern Oracle, or Falcor really spoke to my heart, but I could not get enough of The Neverending Story. Even today, while indulging in the wacky adventures of Atreyu and his purple-buffalo-hunting mad skillz, I still dig it; it is a film that has aged quite well.
Screw it. I’m going to bring out the big-gun adverbs and say it has aged exceedingly well. Set aside the clumsy animatronic shenanigans of Falcor; these effects still hold up nicely, and virtually all of them are practical. Miniatures, costuming, make-up; all of it used to craft the inhabitants of Fantasia and just the mere sight of these tactile creations is a refreshing breeze in the current-day Swamps of CGI Sadness.
The narrative stands up just as strongly. A little, lonely, depressed boy, menaced by some bullies who becomes a fantasy hero and rides a dog-dragon thing in the middle of the city? What daydreaming kid can’t get behind that awesomeness? Come on, show of hands, who at a young age ever envisioned a scenario where you get to ride a Luck Dragon and scare the school jerks so bad they poop themselves? The Neverending Story just has that perfect ability to get right at the imagination, and as jaded and cynical as I am these days (hey, did you know we’re running monthly federal deficits of $200 billion?!), I still get a bit misty-eyed when Artax meets his muddy fate.
I am curious to how this would play to the current generation of kids. Despite a handful of intense moments (the dead knight and the Gmork fight), The Neverending Story is certainly a family film. There isn’t a ton of action, the big showdown at the end is a quick edit to the aftermath, and the allegory of The Nothing will likely fly over a few heads, but creativity is creativity and at every turn Fantasia is laden with it. I think it would still perform. At least I’d like to think that.
The Blu-ray is certainly the way to go, though Warner Brothers makes the decision to upgrade tougher than it should be. Picture quality is bumped to a suitable level of quality, though it’s far from the upper deck of catalog rehabilitation treatments. The transfer can be grainy at times and the colors not quite as sharp as I would have liked. Still, it’s the best that’s out there and worth scooping up if you’ve been waiting to add the film to your collection. The DTS-HD Master Audio is a hard worker, blasting that ridiculously addictive theme straight into my brain. The total lack of extras, however, is a real kick to the groin. (It’s not a good sign when the biggest bonus is “For the first time in 5.1 audio!”)