Bastian is a young boy who lives a dreary life being tormented by school bullies. On one such occasion he escapes into a book shop where the old proprieter reveals an ancient story-book to him, which he is warned can be dangerous. Shortly after, he "borrows" the book and begins to read it in the school attic where he is drawn into the mythical land of Fantasia, which desperately needs a hero to save it from destruction.Written by
Graeme Roy <email@example.com>
Noah Hathaway was hurt twice during the making of the movie. While learning to ride a horse, his horse threw him off, then stepped on him. While shooting the drowning sequence in the "swamp of sadness," his leg got caught on the elevator and he was pulled under water. He was unconscious by the time he was brought to the surface. See more »
When we first see Gmork (the wolf) in his cave (at around 5 mins), his teeth are close together and short but when we see him talk to Atreyu (at around 1h 12 mins), his teeth are now further apart and longer. See more »
Morla, the Ancient One:
Not that it matters, but... yes.
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Detailed differences between the German (97 minutes, PAL) and the US/International version (90 minutes, PAL):
Title sequence: The German version has white text on black background and the original title music by Klaus Doldinger, which is a bit gloomy to represent Bastian's dream about his mom that he's waking up from in the first scene, the music then continues playing in the background till the breakfast scene. The US version instead has the text placed on a colorful artificial clouds scenario and the "NeverEnding Story" pop song by Giorgio Moroder, performed by Limahl.
When Bastian woke up and closed the book, the US version right cuts to the breakfast scene, but the German version shows 48 seconds more footage: Bastian puts the book away, turns around to switch the lamp off, he then swings over to sit down on the edge of the bed for a little while and looks sad. His dad comes down the stairs, enters the kitchen, looks in a mirror and opens the refrigerator door.
At the end of the breakfast scene when they finished talking and Bastian's dad leaves, the German version shows 14 seconds more footage: Bastian still looks sad and thoughtful, he slowly butters his bread and holds his head with the other hand, plus we hear the sound of dad's car driving away in the background.
Koreander's book store, alternative close-up shots of the book: Once the cover has the title "Die Unendliche Geschichte" for the German version and once it has the title "The NeverEnding Story" for the US version.
Koreander's phone call is slightly longer in the German version (alternative take as it is part of the following notepad shot), but the US version has a short additional insert of Bastian: He hastily grabs the book and runs away with it (just under 1 second).
Bastian leaves a message for Koreander on the notepad, alternative close-ups: Once the note says "Nicht Böse sein. Ich brings bald zurück" for the German version and once it says "Don't Worry, I'll return Your Book" for the US version.
When Bastian enters the school's attic, the German version has more footage at the beginning: He comes in, walks down the stairs and looks around for a bit (19 seconds) longer.
In the US version there's a little bit of synthesizer music by Moroder when we first see the Racing Snail, in the German version is no music there (also some other scenes in the movie that are originally quiet were filled with music for the US version, either with additional music by Moroder or with pieces from Doldinger's music that were taken from other scenes).
The Nothing approaches and Rockbiter looks worried, trees hit out in direction of the camera and in the US version Rockbiter just drives away with his bike then (7 seconds, probably taken from the material that showed Rockbiter arriving before). The German version doesn't show him driving away, but has a different and longer scene following here: Bastian jumps up in fright after the trees hit out, then the school's caretaker enters the attic and carries a bunch of teaching material, the man stumbles, falls and complains. Bastian hides until the caretaker leaves the attic, jumps on his mattress and continues reading the book then (1 minute, 5 seconds).
Different music for the presentation of the Ivory Tower: The German version has a majestic and gentle theme by Doldinger featuring an orchestra (mainly strings, plus choir, trumpet and harp), the US version has a powerful synthesizer pop theme by Moroder instead. Also in several other scenes in the US version of the movie Doldinger's great original orchestral music was replaced with new electronic sounds (similar to what was done to Jerry Goldsmith's work in Ridley Scott's movie "Legend" back then).
During Cairon's speech on the terrace of the Ivory Tower: The US version has extra inserts with shots of some of the bizarre people of Phantasia. The German version of that scene has the same running time but one shot less of the people with the huge heads, no shot of the guy with the elephant head, no shots of the people with three/two faces, and shows more of Cairon and Night Hob's reaction instead.
When Atreyu leaves the Ivory Tower, the following scenes that show him riding through several landscapes of Phantasia were differently edited: The US version has some sequences placed in a different order and combines them, with the first appearance of Gmork placed at the end, and then cuts to the scene with Atreyu and Artax resting. The German version shows the ride in stages, interrupted in the middle by the Gmork appearance and slowly fades over to the resting scene at the end.
The US version jumps to another music right when Atreyu received the Auryn and starts his quest (still Doldinger music, but taken from a theme composed for an other scene), after the different editing mentioned above the original music was too short and so a similar longer track was needed. There are also a few more scenes during the movie where the Doldinger music was moved to other places where it didn't appear originally.
Artax sinks into the swamp, Atreyu desperately screams and tries to rescue his horse, without success. The German version slowly fades to the next scene and is about 3 seconds longer here than the US version (which fades out a little earlier and to black instead). The German version omits Bastian's narration, reading off the book, saying "Everyone knew..." which actually added to the understanding of why Artax sank and why Atreyu does his best to smile afterwards.
In the German version the scene of Artax' death and the following scene of Atreyu sitting in the swamp crying has very sad and powerful orchestral music by Klaus Doldinger (strings, panpipes), for the US version it was replaced with simple synthesizer music by Giorgio Moroder. However, the cue is better synced to enhance the sense of loss and desolation.
Falkor approaches the swamp and saves Atreyu from the Gmork, the German version has the more thrilling Doldinger music and shows one more shot of the Gmork (about 2 seconds) at the end who looks angry because he missed Atreyu.
When Bastian throws the book away in a corner of the attic: Alternative shots of the book again, once with the German and once with the English title. Plus alternative takes for the German and US version of him picking up the book from the floor.
Atreyu's flight on Falkor: In the German version the scene is 19 seconds longer, because the US version has removed two shots (approaching the lake in the mountains plus the following frontal shot of Atreyu on Falkor) and has changed some of the slow fade-overs to simple cuts to make it even shorter.
Before Falkor dives into the sea to pick up the Auryn from the bottom: The US version has a short extra insert (about 4 seconds) that shows some kind of a sparkling point of light in the blue sea (or sky?).
Atreyu back on Falkor, when they ask Auryn to guide them the way to the Ivory Tower it starts glowing: Here the US version jumps from the Doldinger music to Moroder's Ivory Tower theme, while in the German version the original music continues to play and leads to Doldinger's second Ivory Tower theme then. Ironically, the International, shorter version, is better cued to Doldinger's theme. It is especially noticeable when the empress says "The one who can save us all"; in the shorter edit, the music enhances her speech with a magical/romantic/hopeful undertone.
In the attic, when the Childlike Empress tries to get Bastian to speak out her name: He's in doubt if it's really him who could save Phantasia, the German version shows 4 seconds more footage of him where he actually asks if he had the power to do so.
After the windows on the attic burst open, the German version has 12 additional seconds of footage: Bastian is scared and hides under the blanket, a shot of the attic from a distance. of him laying on the mattress and a close shot of him looking out from under the blanket. Plus an additional line for the Childlike Empress, she wonders whether he dares to save them and moans "Help us!".
The Nothing is about to destroy even the Ivory Tower and the terrace already falls apart: The German version shows that in eight shots and a 4 second extra line for Bastian, who says he wish he could do it (helping them), plus one shot of the Childlike Empress, who briefly looks up to the left corner after a bang that scared her. The US version shows only 4 of the 8 shots of the terrace falling apart.
End Credits sequence: The German version ends with two of Doldinger's themes; the US version ends with the Limahl song.
This film was a favorite of mine as a kid, but even back then I recognized that the book by Michael Ende was superior. Overall, it's a wonderful children's film marred by an inconsistent tone and an unsatisfying ending.
No fantasy film I've seen has tapped more successfully into the kinds of philosophical thoughts that kids have. Think of Rockbiter's speech describing the Nothing: "A hole would be something. Nah, this was nothing. And it got bigger, and bigger, and bigger...." This is the type of film that greatly appeals to introspective kids who think about things like infinity and the end of the universe. Do children really think about such things? I did. People who find that surprising have forgotten how profound children can sometimes be.
The whole of Fantasia, indeed, seems to be built out of children's dreams and fears. Some of it is about exhilaration, as when Atreyu rides Falkor. Others reflect anxiety, as in Atreyu's trek through the Swamps of Sadness. What appealed to me most as a kid was how an imaginative but passive child, sort of a young Walter Mitty, opens up a book in which an older, braver version of himself goes on adventures. But "Neverending Story" isn't so much escapism as it is about escapism. It's essentially a fable about the destruction of a child's fantasy world as he grows older and adapts to the modern world.
The special effects are good for their day. Although they look phony at a few points, the film's distinct visual look, from the shimmering Ivory Tower to the assortment of weird creatures, holds up well today. What makes the film work especially well is that the two child stars--Barret Oliver and Noah Hathaway--prove themselves capable actors. I use the word "capable" because almost everyone in the film overacts in an annoying way, which I blame primarily on the director. But there's a wonderful cameo by Gerald McRaney as Bastian's father. He has the perfect tone for the scene, appearing loving but distant, unable to fathom Bastian's mind. I wish the film had followed through by returning to their relationship at the end and exploring how Bastian changes as a result of his experiences in Fantasia.
The reason the ending doesn't work is obvious to anyone who's read the book. Simply put, the movie shows only the first half of the book! While this isn't the movie's fault entirely--there was no way the entire story could have fit into one movie--this could have been handled better. "The Wizard of Oz" faced the same problem yet managed not only to become one of the greatest fantasy movies of all time but to surpass its source material in some ways. "The Neverending Story" doesn't accomplish that feat. The story feels unresolved at the end while at the same time failing to clearly set up for a sequel. It attempts to wrap everything up with a sequence in which Bastian takes revenge on his old bullies. I enjoyed this scene when I was a kid, but in retrospect it creates a clash between the real world and the fantasy world. Bastian never grows as a character, he never learns to put his feet on the ground, something the early scenes suggest will happen.
There's one other problem, and that's that Wolfgang Petersen never really figured out the proper tone for a children's movie. He must not have had a clear idea what age he was shooting for. Some of the scenes are quite scary and violent, making this film inappropriate for younger children. Yet the muppet-like characters are presented in an annoyingly condescending way that I doubt older kids (not to mention teens and adults) would appreciate. For example, the first scene in Fantasia plays like a revival of Sesame Street, with Rockbiter filling the Cookie Monster role. By the time I was old enough to appreciate the deeper aspects of the story, I cringed at the film's cutesy moments. Petersen didn't have to direct the film this way. Had he shot for a wider age group, the result would have been fresher and more authentic for everyone.
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