Monday, April 1, 2013

Flying Sperm Dogs, Yo! “The NeverEnding Story” for the White Elephant Blogathon

 [This is part of Silly Hats Only’s White Elephant Blogathon—for more details about this celebration of bloated/egotistical/insufferable/incomprehensible/why-did-they-ever-make-that films, go HERE…and for a complete list of films and blogs tortured by them, go HERE]

The NeverEnding Story (1984)
(Die unendliche Geschichte)
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Screenplay by Wolfgang Petersen and Herman Weigel, with additional dialogue by Robert Easton
Based on the novel by Michael Ende
Special effects directed by Brian Johnson

Long story short:
One man’s nostalgia is another’s utter and complete lack of interest.

The last time I participated in the White Elephant Blogorama was in 2011, with John Cassavettes’ utterly atrocious Big Trouble. For some reason, I missed participating in 2012’s WEB, but I’ve gotten back into Silly Hats Only’s good graces—or else pissed them off more, I’m not sure…

“If you’re not familiar, the idea behind the White Elephant Blogathon is for participants to submit the name of a movie that they’d like to see someone else have to watch and review. It can be a good, classic movie, but it’s more fun if it’s divisive or out-and-out crap.”

Oh yeah, brudder, you speak a truth.
I threw Jon Amiel’s 2003 disaster (movie) The Core into the mix this year (it’s a flick that I think is great—with about 40 six-packs and a pound of primo reefer), and for my sins, I got The NeverEnding Tale. Thank Cthulhu that the flick’s title is a lie and it is only 102 minutes.

Synopsis: A bullied daydreaming child, Bastian, hides in a bookstore to escape a trio of pre-teen tormentors, and discovers a magic book. He ditches his classes and spends all day in the school’s attic, reading it.
The film cuts between Bastian pouring over and pondering the heavy tome, and the actions in the book, where a young hunter, Atreyu, must find a cure for the dying Empress to prevent the magical land of Fantasia from being devoured by The Nothing.
As both storylines progress, it seems that Bastian is able to influence actions in Fantasia (albeit it in the same way books can influence their readers), something that may help Atreyu in his mystical quest.

The best—and smartest—part of The NeverEnding Story is when Atreyu looks into a magic mirror: Whoever looks into the reflecting glass will see their worst fears realized, the worst parts of their character come to life.
And what Atreyu, a selfless warrior who risks all—even losing his precious horse (and best friend) to a grimy, evil swamp—sees is Bastian the reader, a whiny kid scared of his own shadow.

With this slap in the face, Bastian (the audience surrogate) shrieks, “This has gone too far!”

But rather than take this post-modern ball and run with it (perhaps into Terry Gilliam brain-twister territory), the flick slides back into bogus and deceitful fantasy wish-fulfillment.

Bastian doesn’t close the book (that he stole by the way: nice lesson there), and try to follow his father’s earlier advice of “Stop daydreaming and start facing your problems.” (The child does seem to have some problems with socialization and self-worth, evidenced by the total lack of friends, as well as an inability to stand up for himself.)

The kid plunges even more into the world of fantasy, like a dope fiend chasing another fix.

The movie compounds this horrible example of non-responsibility by allowing Falcor, the luck-dragon (who unfortunately looks like a giant albino sperm-dog), to enter our world at the end of the movie, and give Bastian a supersonic ride around the globe which culminates with child and monster dive-bombing the streets of Bastian’s hometown, scaring numerous people (we see pedestrians looking terrified), and chasing the three bullies who harassed the little kid.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I dislike fantasy films; it’s that I hate poorly written movies that have no internal logic.

And despite all the New-Agey mumbo jumbo that’s given lip service, how is having a deus ex machina like a flying sperm monster supposed to help little Bastian’s self-worth?

The fact that The NeverEnding Story has a broad cult following, while the similarly-themed, but much better Godzilla’s Revenge (1969; Ishiro Honda) (which I’ve written about extensively HERE) is ridiculed blows my mind.
But I shouldn’t be surprised: The NeverEnding Story was marketed much better in the US than Godzilla’s Revenge. (Marketing always trumps worth, unfortunately.)

But at least Godzilla’s Revenge has the child-protagonist (and audience surrogate) stand up to his bullies by himself.
The little baseball-cap-wearing Japanese tyke uses what he’s learned on Monster Island (which he visits in his dreams) and applies it in the real world, increasing his own self-worth, and beating the bullies (he stops some bank robbers, too!). Godzilla does not show up to solve the boy’s problems.

Continuing The NeverEnding Story’s dope-fiend analogy: Bastian will never grow emotionally or spiritually if he always has to rely on freaky-creepy flying sperm-dogs to save the day or exact revenge.

While I agree with Falcor’s motto: “Never give up and good luck will find you,” I never see Bastian even start—he can’t “give up” because he’s never even tried. (I regard “Never give up and good luck will find you,” as another way of saying “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” But if you don’t help yourself, how can The Lord? And why should He?)

The NeverEnding Story is still a popular flick, even given a screening at the prestigious BAM Theater in Brooklyn in November 2012, and I cannot stop others’ hopefully happy memories of this movie.

The stuff of nightmares!
But watching The NeverEnding Story for the first time, I was ultimately filled with sadness and near-depression.

However, I did like the film’s production design (great sets and makeup, showing the film’s European roots) and special visual effects (especially the Rock-Biter and his stone tricycle, a great idea), which were supervised and directed by Brian Johnson, who also worked on Space: 1999, Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Dragonslayer and much more.

On the technical level, The NeverEnding Story is right up there with mid-1980s fantasies like The Dark Crystal (1982, Jim Henson & Frank Oz) and Return to Oz (1985; Walter Murch)—both of which are films I like very much, but which also have a more consistent internal tone: The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz created fully-realized worlds that have rules to them—
or at least wittier scripts with more depth and resonance.

(Mentioning The Dark Crystal made me think about other Henson creations…
Had they “hired” rhyming Sesame Street muppet Roosevelt Franklin (who was the muppet closest in representation to any of my friends back in the day: an urban street kid) to play both leads in The NeverEnding Story, the flick might’ve been perfect. Like Bastian, I’m dreaming.)

That said, go to the excellent Cracked humor site for a very detailed (if a tad snarky) putdown/criticism of The NeverEnding Story.
—And go here to see a parody/follow-up to The NeverEnding Story that shows how the bullies have dealt psychologically with being assaulted by a giant flying sperm dog.

A real hero for the people!


  1. Nostalgia is going to kill us all. People just can't accept the idea that just because we like something when we're eight years old doesn't make it good. Eight year olds aren't exactly known for being discerning, after all.

  2. "Eight year olds aren't exactly known for being discerning, after all."
    Ain't that the truth. Sometimes I'm shock at how awful something is when I see it as an adult. Two perfect examples: "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" and "Won Ton Ton, the Dog That Saved Hollywood"--I loved those flicks when I was a youngster. Today, they make me cringe. (They're also *perfect* for next year's White Elephant Blogathon!)