When young Bastian borrows a mysterious, ornately-bound book, he never dreamed turning a page would draw him into a shimmering fantasy world of racing snails, hang-glider bats, soaring luckdragons, puckish elves, a Childlike Empress, the brave warrior Atreyu and a slab-faced walking quarry called a Rock Biter.
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Wolfgang Petersen (In the Line of Fire) made his first English-language film with this 1984 fantasy about a boy (Barret Oliver) visualizing the stories of a book he's reading. The imagined tale involves another boy, a warrior (Noah Hathaway), and his efforts to save the empire of Fantasia from a nemesis called the Nothing. Whether or not the scenario sticks in the memory, what does linger are the unique effects, which are not quite like anything else. Plenty of good fairy-tale characters and memorable scenes, and the film even encourages kids to read.
In 1994, Wolfgang Petersen directed the film adaptation of the German novel "Die Unendliche Geschichte", which was written by Michael Ende (1929-1995). The film/novel is better known in the U.S. with its English title of "The Neverending Story". It was also the first film that Wolfgang Petersen filmed in English. The story begins with a troubled boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver), who is being raised by his father (Gerald McRaney). An avid reader with an active imagination, Bastian walks into a used bookstore owned by Mr. Koreander (Thomas Hill) and finds a mysterious book that captures his curiosity. Mr. Koreander seemingly doesn't want to sell the book to him, but Bastian manages to run from the store with book in hand. Bastian takes the book to school with him, where he is tormented by three bullies (Drum Garrett, Darryl Cooksey & Nicholas Gilbert). To avoid the bullies, Bastian finds refuge in a rarely-used attic within the school and begins to read from the book about a magical land called Fantasia. Fantasia is a wonderful place with many unusual characters and is ruled by the Childlike Princess (Tami Stronach), but something terrible is happening to Fantasia as parts of it are disappearing by an unknown force referred to only as "the nothing". The Childlike Princess calls upon the strongest warrior to find a human child to stop "the nothing". The warrior, a boy named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) of a tribe similar to Native Americans, takes the protective signet that the Childlike Princess gives to him and sets off to find a human child, which can only be found beyond the bounds of Fantasia. To his astonishment, as Bastian reads the book and the many adventures, challenges and dangers and Atreyu faces, Bastian slowly begins to realize whom Atreyu and the Childlike Princess are actually seeking.
With imaginative characters, good cinematography & special effects and an endearing & well-written story, "The Neverending Story" is a wonderful and engaging film that not only captures Bastian's imagination in the story, but the audience's imagination as well. Other memorable characters in the film include Teeny Weeny (Deep Roy), Night Hob (Tilo Prückner), Cairon (Moses Gunn), Engywook (Sydney Bromley), Urgl (Patricia Hayes), Falkor (voice of Alan Oppenheimer), Rock Biter, the Racing Snail and the Bat. Overall, I rate "The Neverending Story" with 5 out of 5 stars and very highly recommend it to both young & old alike. It's a wonderful film that can be watched time and again without becoming tiresome. Sadly, the film's two sequels (produced in 1990 & 1994) were far less memorable. Other films directed by Wolfgang Petersen include "Das Boot" (1981), "Enemy Mine" (1985), "The Perfect Storm" (2000) and "Troy" (2004).