Wolfgang Petersen's 'The Neverending Story' tells the tale of a young boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver), who finds comfort and purpose within a fantasy book, as in real life he must face a group of bullies, while also struggling to deal with the recent loss of his mother. While a favorite of many children of the '80s, the film has not aged gracefully.
As the film opens, Bastian's father (Gerald McRaney) oddly insensitive to what his son is going through, tells him he must stop daydreaming and pay better attention in school. When chased by bullies, Bastian hides in the bookstore of the cantankerous Mr. Koreander (Thomas Hill), who appears to dislike children due to their fondness for video games over books. When Bastian reveals himself to be a reader, Koreander regales Bastian with his account of the transformative power of stories. He then mentions a book that the boy can't have because it's too special. When Koreander's back is turned, Bastian steals the book and leaves a note promising to return it. A satisfied look reveals it was Koreander's intention for Bastian to take the book all along.
Bastian takes refuge in the school attic and, over the remainder of the day and one dark and stormy evening, reads about the land of Fantasia. He learns that the creatures of Fantasia are frightened (even the massive giant known as Rockbiter) because the Nothing, represented as a black cloud, is destroying their world. They go to see the Empress, but she is ill due to the Nothing. A warrior named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) is called forth. Even though he is a young boy about Bastian's age, he accepts the mission to save the Empress.
From there the plot leaps forward, and as the film progresses, Bastian's world, and that of Fantasia, mix and react to one another in increasingly unexpected and surprising ways.
While a nice family film with good intentions, it suffers from focusing too much on children as the audience, and gearing the film down towards them. The story is flawed, as there really isn't much conflict throughout considering all the build up, and it tries too hard to make sure everyone understands the meaning, which appears to shift from being about Bastian to being about humanity in general. The acting is perfunctory and there's little to connect with in the performances. Today's children may have to be very young to sit through this, as (I hate to say this) much of the puppetry is terrible. Honestly, I kind of wish I could watch this with a child and see their reaction.
That being said, the film's many video releases, along with two sequels, and a spin-off TV series, attest to the story's popularity and enduring nostalgic appeal to a broad fanbase, unfortunately, I am not among their ranks, but this release will certainly be met by an appreciative audience.
The video is given a 1080p/VC-1 that is presented at 2.40:1. The source looks good for its age, with only minor, infrequent wear that doesn’t mar the film and a natural layer of grain that thankfully reveals a lack of artificial tampering. The colors look consistent and evenly hued. The cinematographer's palette mainly uses earthy, natural tones, then grows darker as the film progresses. There are brief uses of bright color with the standouts being white and gold for the Empress, a pink and white combination for Falkor's fur and scales, the golden-yellow Sphinx and the blue Southern Oracle. All of which are satisfyingly vibrant. Black levels are competently rendered and shadow delineation is strong. One good example is the clarity of items in the darkened school attic.
Many details can be clearly seen, from tiny flakes of snow, to the Gmork's fur, and textures of creatures like Morla and Rockbiter. A sense of depth is regularly apparent. Yet there are also times when the images get soft which may be more a creative intention of the director to create a fantasy look, rather than a transfer issue. Unfortunately, a lot of the movie magic trickery is magnified by the high definition. Scenes of Falkor flying, as well as some of the matte paintings, challenge the suspension of disbelief. In a couple of long shots of the Empress' palace, the lighting causes a brief bit of banding.
The liner notes trumpet the fact that film has 5.1 audio for the first time and appears to be from a source that suffers no wear. The '80s keyboards-led soundtrack immediately fills the surrounds during the opening credits. But the mix is off, as the volume often needs to be raised in order to hear the dialogue, though when adjusted the voices are clear. The mix imbalance is illustrated again and will send you lunging for your remote when Rockbiter makes his way through the forest, causing the entire system, including the subwoofer, to fiercely rumble and shake. While the surrounds don't offer a continuous immersive experience, they periodically engulf the viewer. The audio has a wide dynamic range, although some effects are too top heavy. A very good track other than some loudness issues
Since I am neither a child nor filled with nostalgia towards the film, 'The Neverending Story' is appropriately titled, as it felt much longer to endure than its 94-minute runtime. While it can't sustain the brief moments of charm it creates, I can see a family with young children enjoying it together for Movie Night. I hope fans will revolt against the lack of special features and hold off buying it as long as possible, but they rarely do what's in their best interest. Learning that this adaptation covers only half his book, I can see why author Michael Ende fought to stop the film's release and it explains why the story feels sleight. Hopefully the planned reboot will offer a more satisfying adventure.