Thursday, May 2, 2024

Written On the Pages is the Answer

The NeverEnding Story
Director: Wolfgang Peterson
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Alan Oppenheimer
Released: July 20, 1984

I had seen this movie only once before and that was when I was in second grade (or maybe it was third or fourth grade; I honestly don't remember) when the teacher showed it to the class on VHS (heh). I don't remember if it was a holiday (like Valentine's Day) or we earned it because we got enough stars and if your class earned enough stars, you got a class party. Who knows. All I remember is that we watched this movie and ate a ton of junk food. It was pretty funny; we were eating so much candy, that at lunch, people were trading their desserts for carrot sticks because they couldn't eat any more sugar. I didn't remember anything about this movie except for the weird pink dragon/dog thing. Either I wasn't paying attention or I had suppressed the memory of seeing it deep inside of me because there's a pretty traumatizing scene (if you've seen the movie, you know exactly what I'm talking about) that I'm sure scarred millions of children who grew up watching this movie. 

Can we all agree that the theme song by the lead singer from Kajagoogoo totally slaps? I actually kind of forgot the existence of it until I was reminded of it in season 3 of Stranger Things when Suzy makes Dustin sing it to her. The whole scene should drive me mad because he's contacting her for some very vital information...I don't exactly remember because it has been four years since I've seen it, but the world is in danger and he needs this information and she makes him sing this song first. And I totally loved every second of it because that song is awesome!

The movie quickly introduces us to a ten-year-old (that's the age Wiki says he is, so I'm going with it; plus it's close enough to the actor's age at the time) Bastian (short for Sebastian, perhaps?) who is played by Barret Oliver who was the grandkid in the Cocoon movies. We learn that his mom has recently died and he's not coping well with it. His dad, who seems like a no-nonsense kind of guy, tells him he got a call from his math teacher telling him that Bastian isn't turning his homework in on time and was caught drawing horses (Bastian insists they were unicorns; I thought this exchange was weird looking back in hindsight because there are no unicorns in this movie). His dad tells him he's old enough "to keep his head out of the clouds" and "to stop daydreaming and start facing your problems." 

Having an insensitive father is not the only problem Bastian is facing. He's also bullied by three little sh*ts who call him a "weirdo" and demand that he give him any money he might have. (Why would he have any money on him? He's a ten-year-old going to school. You could say he has lunch money, but later we'll see that he brings his own lunch to school). They chase him down an alley and when they find out he doesn't even have any money to steal, they throw him in a dumpster. When he gets out and rounds the corner, the bullies are still there and demand he get back in the dumpster so he runs away from them again, but this time he hides in a small bookstore cluttered with antiquated and (I have no doubt!) musky-smelling dusty leather-bound novels. Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer would love this place. The shopkeeper, Mr. Coreander, who is smoking a pipe and sitting in what looks like an uncomfortable armchair with a book, tells him to leave because he doesn't like kids. He tells him the arcade is down the street and sarcastically says that here he'll only find rectangular things called books. Seriously, does this man think kids don't know what books are? Bastian has him on blast; telling him he has 186 books at home (what kind of nerd keeps count of their books? I couldn't even tell you how many books I have) and starts naming some of his favorite which include Treasure Island, Lord of the Rings, The Last of the Mohicans, The Wizard of Oz, and Tarzan. Mr. Coreander seems to be impressed with this. Bastian asks him what he's reading and instead of telling him the name of the book, he just tells him that the books he (Bastian) reads are "safe" and that after he becomes engrossed in a story, he "gets to become a little boy again." If I were Bastian, I'd be like, "The hell you talkin' 'bout, old man?" The way he's talking, it makes it sound like the particular book he's reading is going to pull a Jumanji on him! 

The phone rings and when Mr. Coreander gets up to answer it, Bastian swipes the book and leaves a note that reads "Don't worry I'll returns your book." The man wanted him to take the book, right? He just leaves it on the table unattended. If he really didn't want this kid to take it, he would have carried the book to the phone. Plus, he has this smile on his face when he sees the note. We'll return to this later. 

The leather-bound book is called The NeverEnding Story and it has a raised emblem of entwining snakes. Bastian goes to skip school. (Try to wrap your mind around that concept!) Now, he originally was going to class, but when he peeks through the tiniest window of the door, he see the class has a math quiz, so it's then when he decides to bail, though I have a feeling he would still bail even if it was just a regular class because he wants to start reading his new book. We see him retrieve a key from a box (that looks like it's been broken into) and then he opens the door to an attic. Huh? Is this normal for schools to have attics? I have never heard of a school having an attic. But, anyway, he goes up to the attic where they keep life-size skeletons (for physiology classes, I assume), wolf heads on sticks (don't ask cuz I don't have an answer for that one), and candles. The candles will come in handy to help him read when the storm comes! 

He starts reading the book and we're transported into the world of Fantasia. I guess in the book this movie is based on, the world is called Fantastica, but they changed it to Fantasia. I tried to find out why, but couldn't really find anything. Probably because it just sounds and rolls off the tongue better. When I think of the word "Fantasia", I think of the old animated Disney movie. 

Right away we're introduced to a few characters who, aside from one, we'll never see again, but I guess they just need them to set up the plot line. Two humans (or two characters played by humans I should say) have set up camp in a wooded area with their animal sidekicks. There's a goblin/troll type character named Night Hob who gets around by flying on a bat and a Mad-Hatter-esque character (he literally looks like the Mad Hatter) named Teeny Weeny who has a racing snail. Because it was 1984, they didn't use CGI to create the certain characters; instead they were puppets and I was pretty impressed by them. When I saw a close up shot of the snail, I blurted out, "That looks like Jar Jar Binks!" Haha, I bet George Lucas got inspiration from this movie! Of course, the snail doesn't talk so it least it doesn't have the annoying personality of Jar Jar. 

Another character who is created by using puppetry is Rockbiter, a giant being who is made of rocks and eats rocks. He is rolling a giant wheel really fast right towards them and I was getting quite concerned because it looked like he was going to smoosh everyone, but he stops right before any of them can get flattened. He says he's been traveling all day and asks if he can join them. He tells them he comes from the north where there used to be "exquisite gourmet rocks"and a beautiful lake, but all of that is gone. When asked if the lake dried up, he says it just was't there anymore, that everything just seems to keep disappearing. They tell him that the same thing is happening in the west and the south; "a strange nothing is destroying everything." 

Rockbiter informs them he is being sent to the Ivory Tower to ask the Empress for help and they tell him they are also on the same mission. One of them says, "If the Empress couldn't save us, who could?" Hmm, who indeed? It's the middle of the night and they decide they need to go to the Ivory Tower right that minute. This is when it is revealed the snail is a racing snail and it can go pretty fast! I loved the added effect of the oozing sound it makes as it glides across the ground. 

When they get to the Ivory Tower, Night Hob and his bat are looking through two windows. I liked how the bat was hanging upside down while looking through the window. A council is having a meeting about The Nothing that is destroying their world. There are a lot of weird characters in Fantasia...huge rock heads that sit on blocks (which reminded me of the statues in Easter Island), people with two, three, sometimes four faces (yeah they were a little freaky), even an elephant. It's a very bizarre assortment of characters. These beings have also "come to beseech the Empress for help." Cairon, the robed man holding the meeting and who works for the Empress has the fun job of telling all these citizens of Fantasia who have come to ask the Empress for help that the Empress has become "deathly ill" and that there seems to be "a mysterious link between her illness and The Nothing" (duh, you think?). He tells them there still might be a chance: "The Plains People who hunt the purple buffalo have among the a great warrior" and only he has a chance to fight The Nothing. He is their only hope - no pressure at all! We're not really told why he is The Chosen One; he just is. Lucky for all of them, the Empress has already sent for this warrior named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) and when he appears everyone is shocked to see how young he is (he's 12/13). The first thing I wondered is what kind of shampoo he uses because his hair is so shiny and glossy! 

Cairon thinks there must be some misunderstanding; that perhaps there are two Atreyus and they got Atreyu the child and not Atreyu the warrior, but the young man tells him he's the only Atreyu of the Plains People. That would have been pretty hilarious if there had been two Atreyus and the wrong one was sent. 

Cairon asks if he would be willing to go on a quest "to find a cure for the Empress to save [their] world". He must go alone and leave all his weapons behind (we're not told why either of these are requirements). Atreyu says he will do it and when he asks if there will be any chance of success, Cairon replies he doesn't know, but what he does know, is that if he fails, "The Empress will surely die and our whole world will be utterly destroyed." No pressure there at all! So don't fail, kid! 

He gives Atreyu the entwining snake emblem (the very same one that's on the cover of the book) to wear around his neck. It is called the Auryn and it will guide and protect him. So now we see Atreyu riding his beloved white horse, Artax, through different landscapes. Here's my question: does he know what the eff he's looking for? We know he has to find a cure for the Empress, but without any further instructions, does he even know what he's looking for? Is there some vial with the medicine in it somewhere in this vast land? Is there some hospital that can provide a caretaker? I am so confused! 

After the quick montage of Atreyu and Artax seemingly wandering aimlessly, they stop at a river to rest and the horse nuzzles Atreyu for something to say and he tells him that's a good idea, then we see Bastion exclaiming, "No, it's a GREAT idea!" and goes to get a sandwich from his backpack. He only takes one bite and says (outloud even though he's the only one there), "No, not too much. We still have a long way to to." Dude, you're at your's not like you're stranded on an desert island with no food. 

Artax, no! 
We learn that Atreyu had been traveling for a week without any success. He had searched the Silver Mountains, the Desert of Shattered Hopes, and the Crystal Towers. Now he was looking for Morla, "the wisest being in Fantasia" whose home is the Shell Mountain, but the only way to get to it is to cross the Deadly Swamps of Sadness. It's a very fitting name. In the next few minutes we'll watch a scene that I have no doubt traumatized every child around the world who watched this film. I, myself, even screamed at the TV, "What the f*ck just happened?" Bastion reads from the book, "Everyone knew that whoever let the sadness overtake him would sink into the swamp." Uh, I don't think Ateyu knew! He has gotten off of Artax and is leading him across the swamp, and at first Artax is following him, but then he suddenly stops and Atreyu has to pull on the reins, but the horse won't budge and everytime they cut back to Artax we see that he's sinking deeper and deeper into the muck until he has completely disappeared and poor Atreyu and Bastion both have tears streaming down their faces. I hated this scene; not necessarily because Artax died, though that was certainly sad, but because it was evident the horse did not like being submerged in this yucky muck because the whites of its eyes were showing.

So after that hellish nightmare, Atreyu finds Morla who turns out to be a giant turtle who hasn't spoken to anyone in thousands of years. Bastions screams and the two characters in the book seem to hear him. I'm not sure why Bastion screamed, but he seems to realize what just happened because he says, "But that's impossible; they couldn't have heard me." I don't exactly understand how this translates. Is he reading that Atreyu and Morla heard a scream in the background and are looking around to see if anyone else is around and just assumes they heard him? Like, how do you even get there? 

Back to the (neverending!) story: after not being helpful at all (and, really, not giving a sh*t), Morla finally gives some advice that will help Atreyu continue his journey: he needs to travel 10,000 miles to the Southern Oracle. 

So now Bastion has been up in the attic reading the entire school day and the school is being locked up as students and teachers are leaving, but Bastion still stays. Why does he stay? Why doesn't he just go home and finish his book there? Also, did nobody call his dad to tell him he wasn't at school? (I mean, I guess technically he WAS in the school, but you know what I mean; he wasn't in class.) 

How to train your 
(Luck) Dragon

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that there's a wolf named Gmork who is after Atreyu and trying to kill him to stop him from succeeding and he is about to attack him, but is saved by Falkor, the pink creature that looks like it's half dragon, half dog. Falkor is a Luck Dragon. I know Falkor is supposed to be a good character, but I found him a bit unnerving at times. He winks three times at Atreyu throughout the movie and it's so creepy! 

It turns out that Falkor knows about the boy's quest because Atreyu talked in his sleep so he has flown him 9,891 miles of the way there. Gee, that was luckily convenient! I guess Falkor truly is a "Luck" Dragon. Atreyu meets two little tree elves named Engywook and Urgl. Engywook is the "expert of the Southern Oracle" and takes him up to the observatory, where, through a telescope, he sees too large statues of Sphinxes (with huge bare breasts) which guard the first gate one must pass before they can reach the Southern Oracle. I guess to pass through, you have to feel confident in yourself, otherwise the eyes of the two Sphinxes will open and shoot lasers at you.

Atreyu decides he's gonna go for it and even though he hesitates at first, he makes a run for it and makes it through the gate. I have to be honest: I didn't quite know what was going on because the next thing you know, he's in a very snowy landscape with howling wind and he comes across a large cave that's frozen and through the ice he can see Bastian reading his book. I guess it took him to a different realm where he can see the person who is reading his story? I guess? IDK? Bastian reads this (that would totally freak me out!) and throws the book into the corner (can't say that I blame him!). Aloud, he says, "What if they really do know about me in Fantasia?" 

Atreyu steps through the ice window and at first I thought he was going to appear in the attic with Bastian, but no, he's now at a second gate guarded by two statues, also with bare breasts. There are sure are a lot of naked breasts (even though they are made of stone!) for a children's movie, but then again, it was made in Europe (Germany)! These statues are the Southern Oracle and when he asks what he can do to save Fantasia, they tell him that the Empress needs a new name. Atreyu is all, "I got this, that's easy", but they tell him he can't do it, in fact "no one from Fantasia can do it. Only a human child can give her this new name." He will only be able to find said human child "beyond the boundaries of Fantasia." Aha! It finally clicks! If we go back to the bookstore shopkeeper, he obviously wanted Bastian to take the book because he had been reading the story and knew what (or who, rather) was needed and he told Bastian that this book wasn't for him because he knows that if you tell a kid they can't have something, then they want it even more. But how long was he holding onto the book for and waiting for a kid to enter the store for? Inquiring minds want to know! 

Now we get a montage of Atreyu flying on Falkor's fluffy pink back with terrible backgrounds of the sky. There's a storm and Atreyu falls off into the Sea of Possibilities (gotta love these geographical names!) and there's also a really bad storm wherever Bastian is (we're really never told where he lives geographically). This is when those candles come in handy. I love how he gets up to shut the window, then three seconds  later, he exclaims "Atreyu!" like he forgot what he was doing.

Atreyu and Falkor can't find each other and are calling each other's names. That's okay because they'll find each other soon, but in the meantime, Atreyu comes across Rockbiter, the only character from the beginning of the (neverending!) story to return in a later scene. Atreyu tells him he failed because he was the one chosen to stop The Nothing, but now he's lost the Auryn (it fell in the sea, but, honestly, it's not like we saw him using it at all) and he can't find his Luck Dragon so now he won't be able to get beyond the boundaries of Fantasia. 

Gmork (remember, he's the wolf who's after him) shows up and, surprise! He can talk! He tells the boy he's been sent to kill Atreyu but doesn't seem to realize that the kid he's talking to is Atreyu, which makes no sense. When Atreyu says he can't get beyond the boundaries of Fantasia, Gmork tells him there are no boundaries in Fantasia and that "It's the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind." The reason Fantasia is dying is because people have begun "to lose their hopes and forget their dreams." The Nothing is "the emptiness that's left." When Atreyu reveals who he is (hmm, I would have kept that information to myself if this bloodthirsty wolf was out to kill me but didn't know I was the one he was supposed to kill!), Gmork pounces on him, but Atreyu has some makeshift shiv and stabs him. This all happens within three seconds. It's very anti-climatic. Maybe Gmork serves a bigger purpose in the book, but he wasn't really needed in the movie, and, honestly, I kind of forgot about him. 

We see Falkor find the Auryn in the sea, then he retrieves Atreyu and they continue their journey. Fantasia has been pretty much demolished and it looks like they're traveling through space with just a bunch of rocks floating around. We finally see Atreyu use the Auryn to guide him to the Ivory Tower which is still standing on one large lone rock. 

The Empress is actually referred to as the Childlike Empress and this is because she is played by a young girl (probably eleven years old). Wouldn't it be weird to have someone be the ruler of your land who is actually quite old, but looks like a child? I don't think I would like; it would weird me out too much. 

When she asks Atreyu why he looks so sad (and she's whispering the entire time), he tells her it's because he's failed her, but she tells him he hasn't and that he's brought "the earthling child" with him. Well, of course, he's confused because he never contacted any human child, but she tells him she has and that "He has suffered with you. He went through everything you went through. And now, he has come here with you." Okay, let's back up here. Has Bastion really suffered with him? Really, has he? Yes, he cried with Artax died, but it's not like he's been on this perilous journey. He's just been inside his school's attic. I did love Bastian's shout of "WHAT?"! when she says that he is very close, listening to every word they say. The Childlike Empress continues, "He doesn't realize he's already a part of the NeverEnding Story...Just as he is sharing all of your adventures, others are sharing his." Okay, I'm not going to lie. It took me a minute to realize she was talking about all the people who were watching the movie who are watching Bastian who is reading the story. It's like one of those Russian dolls. My mind is blown! And if Bastian wasn't already convinced that the characters in this book knew about him, he should have definitely been when she talks about how he hid from the bullies, then took the book with the auryn symbol on the cover "in which he's reading his own story."

Unfortunately, Bastian may be a bit of an idiot because out loud he exclaims, "I can't believe it! They can't be talking about me!" Atreyu raises a good point and says that maybe this human child doesn't know what to do and Bastian is like, yeah, give me some instructions here. So the Empress says that all he has to do is give her a new name. Just needs to call it out. That's all. That's it. Easy peasy lemon squeezey. But instead of doing that, Bastian says, "But it's only a story. It's not real!" OH MY GOD. JUST. CALL. OUT. THE. DAMN. NAME. ALREADY!!!!! Is this kid some sadist who is enjoying torturing these characters? Because that is exactly what he is doing! The Empress herself literally has to address him by his name when she says, "Bastian, why won't you do what you dream?" Bastian replies that he has to keep his feet on the ground, like he promised his dad in the first scene. She is crying, begging him to save them. Wouldn't it be f***ed up if he just closed the book and walked away? 

The storm is getting so bad now that tree limbs are crashing through the windows and breaking the glass. He goes to the window and screams something out into the storm. I'm not sure why he couldn't just say the name where he was sitting. I had no idea what he said and even the subtitles say he's just screaming. I listened to a couple podcasts about this movie and learned he says "Moon Child" which I definitely heard the second time I watched it. In the scene when he reads about Atreyu finding out that the Empress needs a new name, Bastian mentions something about his mother having a wonderful name and I'm wondering, was "Moon Child" his mom's name? If so, that's, uh, an interesting name. Where did he get Moon Child from? I guess it would be more weird if he had shouted out "Linda"; maybe he thought "Moon Child" fit this mythical being better. Who the hell knows. This movie is weird. 

After he screams the name, the screen goes dark and quiet and suddenly is he next to the Childlike Empress. When he asks why it is so dark, she replies, "In the beginning, it is always dark." Wait, so did he reset the story? Is this why they call it The NeverEnding Story because it just starts over again and again and again and again? Are the characters going to have to depend on some human child every time their story starts over? 

She is holding one grain of sand which is all of what is left of Fantasia. It may have disappeared, but, as she tells him, it can "arise anew from your dreams and wishes." He gets as many wishes as he wants and this will help Fantasia appear and she encourages him to make as many wishes as he can: "The more wishes you make, the more magnificent Fantasia will become." This girl is better than a genie! 

His first wish is to ride Falkor and we see him wave to all the characters he's met along the way as he's flying over Fantasia (which seems to be back to normal now) and the best part is that Artax is alive as we see Atreyu riding him! Hurray for Artax! 

The very last scene of this movie is the stupidest thing ever: Bastian takes Fallor into the real world to scare the three bullies who threw him in the dumpster. I hate that characters from The NeverEnding Story are entering into the real world: I feel like that shouldn't be allowed to happen and it's just such a stupid scene. It should have just ended after we see Artax galloping happily along.