The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story (1984)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Moses Gunn
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes

When Wolfgang Petersen’s 1984 adaptation of Michael Ende’s epic novel ’The Neverending Story’ was first released, one critic astutely referred to it as ’the first post-modern, self reflexive fantasy film.’ Escaping school bullies, young Bastian (Barret Oliver) stumbles into a bookshop and discovers a mysterious tome called ’The Neverending Story.’ He starts reading about the adventures of the equally young warrior Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) in Fantasia, ’the realm of human fantasy.’ The storybook kingdom is under attack by a voracious emptiness called ’the Nothing.’ Enlisted by the frightened population to defeat the phantom menace, Atreyu soon finds that the key to Fantasia’s salvation lies outside the boundaries of the mythical realm… in someone who does not know ’he is already part of the Neverending Story.’

Combining stop-motion puppetry, animatronics, and prosthetics, director/co-screenwriter Petersen had the right tools (by 1984 standards) to make Fantasia real. The luckdragon Falkor gesticulates like the world’s largest Muppet, but his gentle wisdom gives the character dimension. The Rock Biter, another mechanical creation, hands down evokes the most emotional moment in the film. However, by concentrating on the first half of the book, Petersen leaves the protagonist at a crucial point in his development. (Ende disagreed with Petersen’s approach, eventually removing his name from the credits.) As an analogy, imagine George Lucas ending the Star Wars saga at ’Empire.’ Despite the artistic choice, Petersen pulls off the impossible, drawing enchantment and pathos from rubber and plastic.

Warner Home Video’s new DVD release of ’Story’ offers both widescreen and full-frame versions. (This would be the perfect test to see if children mind letterboxing.) For me, the film can only be watched in its original aspect ratio. The 2.35 anamorphic transfer exhibits a sharp, detailed picture. The laserdisc looks smudgy by comparison. (Another one bites the dust!) Colors are bold and slightly saturated, completely understandable for a fairy tale setting. The source print looks very clean but graininess pops up in some process shots. Deep black levels and the increased resolution bring out the finer details with minimal aliasing. Despite pixelation occurring a couple of times (noticeable in the cloud effects), there are no digital artifacts.

The Dolby Digital surround audio could have used some tinkering. The front soundstage sounds spacious, but feels less energetic than the laserdisc’s PCM track. The mono surround channel houses some ambience effects and music, but not with much impact. Low-end energy is also lacking. The Rock Biter’s entrance in Chapter 6 could have used much more rumble.

The theatrical trailer is included, presented in anamorphic widescreen and stereo. Interestingly, a shot of the book shows the German title: ’Die Unendliche Geschichte’. A few menu screens with very meager notes on the production and the characters constitute the scant supplements.