Was The Neverending Story Always That Bad, or Did I Just Get Old?

January 14, 2017

neverending story movie posterI’m talking about the movie here, not the book, although this may apply to the book too, for all I know. I loved The Neverending Story when I was a kid. LOVED. I sobbed my eyes out when Atreyu’s beautiful white horse sank into the mud, and my brother and I desperately wanted a “puppy dog dragon” of our very own. I had such fond memories of that dragon, I actually named a laptop after him.

In the spirit of childhood nostalgia, I tried to watch the movie on DVD this week. It did not go well.

Here’s my first problem with the film. Bastian is the protagonist, and the filmmakers want us to sympathize with him. So they give him a dead mother. And a distant, unsupportive father. And trouble with his teachers. AND bullies. What they don’t give us is personality – a reason to actually like this kid. He is as bland white flour, and his entire contribution to the plot seems to be… reading a book.

Not standing up for himself, or grappling with his problems, or in any other way taking action. Just… reading a book. And while I would rather read a book than practically anything in the world, watching someone else do it is less than thrilling.

And then the movie shifted into the world of the book. And it did not get better.

Granted, these were some pretty amazing special effects in the 80s. But special effects can’t replace characters we care about. And while there are creatures here, none of them have any character. I was having a hard time caring that they or their world was going to be swallowed by the nothing.

Then my DVD started to skip and the soundtrack cut out. The inability to continue watching it did not upset me.

Is this another one of those movies that is only awesome in the 80s… or when you’re 8? If I’m totally missing something here, let me know!

13 Comments on ‘Was The Neverending Story Always That Bad, or Did I Just Get Old?’

  1. I didn’t see the movie until the ’90s or early 2000s, and I thought it was pretty awful. However, I can see how the points you mention above could be endearing to a child.

    “What they don’t give us is personality – a reason to actually like this kid. He is as bland white flour,” — I think kids don’t see lack of characterization. That comes with experience and, often, with instruction and guidance from older readers who point out such things.

    The best part of the movie was the song, which I knew about in 1984-85 and listened to all the time, never having seen the movie. I particularly liked the 45 (vinyl record, haha) with the French version.

    Apparently the book was quite good, although no one speaks of it. I’ve never read it, but I’d almost be curious to do so, just to evaluate it for myself.

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    1. I’ve read the book. It was originally written in German, and there are some interesting differences in storytelling style between German children’s novels and North American. A lot of the charm and flavour of it did not survive adaptation.

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      1. Sadly, that is often the case. I often feel I missed my calling and should have been a translator, since I know how to capture such things. I’m often rewording English subtitles of Czech movies. I can’t understand why someone would change what is said if it isn’t necessary and doesn’t enhance the meaning of what was intended, and it’s not an idiom problem or something. As far as style and charm, I think you need to know both languages and cultures decently before you should have the right to translate commercially, and even then, some people do it far better than others. Ultimately, there are always losses because languages are different, but there is a way to get as close an approximation as possible.

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  2. P.S. My laptops and gadgets (e-reader, camera, iPod) are named after Norse and Greek gods and goddesses.

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  3. Unfortunately, the movie is honestly pretty awful. I just watched it last weekend with my husband (it’s been YEARS) after they sang the song during the finale of Stranger Things season 3. I completely agree that Bastion is unlikable, and bland. I commented on this to my husband who agreed. Also, there is no character development of any character in the story. NONE. Falcor is likeable and charming, but I would have loved to know more about him, and where he came from. The writers really missed an opportunity to have him speak about himself while he and Atreyu were flying around.

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    1. Ooh, I haven’t gotten to Stranger Things 3 yet, so that’s a fun tip. But yes… It really feels like they relied on the visuals to carry the story and that never goes well.

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    2. so true its really an awful movie that is only likeable in the 80s

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      1. There were quite a lot of things I loved in the 80s that I can’t believe now, come to think of it!

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  4. I loved this movie as a kid! My husband and I just watched it, and for me, I would say it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. For all the reasons you guys said, and because there was no sense to any of it! There were so many plot holes, it left us with no sense of what was going on, which made it difficult to feel any emotion with the characters. They spent so much time on the actors’ faces and had repetitious lines repeated over and over for no real reason! I was really looking forward to enjoying it like I did as a kid. We were trying to look up reviews with similar thoughts to ours about the movie, and everyone seemed to love it! Until we came to your blog. I think everyone has on the goggles of nostalgia for those that loved it. (I guess side note too, I wasn’t born in the 80s, so I don’t know how this movie compares, but even still, horrible plot line).

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    1. It’s weird how some stuff totally holds up and some does… not. I’m sorry this fell into the “not” category for you too, but you’re definitely not alone, lol!

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  5. So I’m 15 and was persuaded by my mother and my 2 younger cousins to watch this movie. I was shocked to see how bad this movie is. They kept insisting me that it was good and that I wasn’t getting the message. I waited and waited for something to happen. I had never watched the movie or read the book before but I predicted to plot of the movie after 20 minutes of run time. I felt like I was watching a different movie than that of my mother and cousins. As for the message, it was very clear; Atreyu’s quest had been done many times before, which symbolizes the cycle creation and destruction which makes the story “never ending”. When the movie ended I was so relieved. Afterward I kid you not I had to take a Tylenol for the pounding headache this movie game to me. I hate to say this but this might be the worst movie I have ever seen. I wanted to like it, I tried to like it, but I couldn’t.

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    1. Yup, you totally got the message. But a movie needs a lot more than a message to be enjoyable! Sorry it was such a horrible experience for you – try Willow, if you haven’t seen it. Willow is an older fantasy movie that TOTALLY holds up. One of my all time favourites!

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  6. I watched movie when I were a child and I can to say what movie was awful. I read book when I were adult and book is too much good what movie is a insult
    Book is better than all trilogy of lord of the rings but movies of lord of the rings are the best movies of fantasy. Is very very unfair

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