Well, it's time once again for another look at the myriad of quality or even excellent movies, that should have stood the test of time as stand-alone, self-contained works. But instead due to Hollywood's love of money, received highly unnecessary, and in many cases absolutely horrible sequels. And away we go!
Film: The Neverending Story
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Unnecessary Sequels: The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter (1990), The Neverending Story III: Escape From Fantasia (1994)
Today we look at one of the quintessential films of the 1980s, and one of the greatest fantasy films ever produced, Wolfgang Petersen's "The Neverending Story". Based on the novel by the same name, written by author Michael Ende, this film is hands down one of the most esoteric and imaginative ever crafted, certainly that I have ever personally seen. It tells the tale of a lonely boy named Bastion whose mother has recently died, and who has a strained relationship with his father as they both struggle to cope with the loss. On his way to school one day, Bastion is chased by local bullies, who proceed to throw him in the garbage. After exiting said garbage, he is caught by the same bullies and manages to hide from them by slipping into a bookstore, owned by a Mr. Koreander. After talking with Koreander, who discovers much to his surprise that Bastion is most interested in books and fantastical stories, the shop owner leaves the room to take a phone call, which leaves the mysterious book he was reading, called "The Neverending Story", unguarded. Bastion, ever curious and loving stories, decides to snatch the book, leaving a note promising to return it. The shopkeeper sees this and merely chuckles, leading the viewer to realize he probably expected that the boy would do so. And from this we have the framing for our tale.
|Quite possibly the coolest looking book in history.|
So naturally, Bastion arrives late to school, discovers he's also late for a math test, and proceeds to steal away up to the school's storage attic, where he settles himself into reading this forbidden and mysterious book. What follows is one of the coolest movies ever made, one of the most imaginative worlds ever conceived, and all in all just a damn fun experience for just about anybody who has a soul. While produced on "only" $27 million US dollars, this German-American co-production really spared no expense, as they obviously tried their best to make every facet of the film, and the world within the book, known as "Fantasia", the most exotic, lavish and creative that they could. The entire film just oozes with a special feeling that few ever truly possess. I might be biased because I grew up with this movie, and it was and remains one of my all-time favorites. But it also holds up just as well today, and I think is beyond just being a "cult classic" film. In fact I think it absolutely deserves to be considered simply a classic, period.
|"What's a Luckdragon?"|
So there you have it, without going TOO in depth into this literally magical film. It's just full of so many memorable creatures, characters, and moments. It was absolutely a stand-alone film that stood the test of time, and served as a great, self-contained story that needed no further elaboration or exploration. It was a nice ending, nice wrap-up, nice everything. But, following the predictable pattern, the film made a lot of money worldwide, and thus movie executives were salivating at the prospects of making MORE money. That didn't wind up happening for several years, but come 1990, they finally released a "Neverending Story II". And as a kid, not yet really grasping such concepts as "This would be better as a stand alone piece and doesn't need any sequels", I was super excited to see it. So when it finally came out on tape, we rented it, and while I'm not sure I can rightly say I was unhappy with the film, I do remember being kind of let down by it, at the very least. Naturally, happening six years later, they recast all of the central roles of Bastion, the warrior Atreyu whose story Bastion followed by reading the book, and the Childlike Empress, ruler and embodiment of Fantasia whom Atreyu had set out to save. And with the sole exception of Atreyu, who they found another appropriately Native American looking kid to portray, the other two casting choices looked pretty much nothing like their predecessors. That alone was something that did bother me a bit, even as a kid. But that wasn't the half of it.
|The devastating results of making a warrantless cash-in sequel.|
Now before continuing, I suppose I am obligated to point out, that while I have never read the original book (though I certainly should), it's worth noting at the very least that the events of this second film aren't just made up crap by the movie studio. Rather, the events of the first movie actually make up only roughly the first half or so of the book, and thus the producers did actually bother to attempt a correct approach by using the second half of the book as the source material for it's sequel. However, in all honesty that is about where the earnestness ends. The story, in a nutshell, sees Bastion after having (SPOILERS) saved the day in the first movie, now actually adventuring around the land of Fantasia himself, any child's dream come true. During his adventures, he runs into an evil witch named Xayide, who proceeds to butter him up nonstop as the savior of Fantasia, using him for her own ends. Those ends have a little something to do with a new Fantasia-ending phenomenon called "The Emptiness" (replacing the original film's unstoppable force "The Nothing"), which causes things to hollow out and shatter like glass, becoming nonexistent, etc. She also helps turn Bastion into a jerk, which causes him to turn on his friends, kind of making him a bad guy and setting Atreyu up to save the day, and so on and so forth.
|"We're having fun."|
All of this, as far as I know, is fairly true to the second half of the book, with the exception of the "Emptiness" business, which I guess they felt added a "bigger" threat to the movie. But the real point is, as it has been with the earlier entries, that this film just simply was extremely unnecessary, and the entire thing just FEELS that way, from start to finish. Everything in the film is just "bigger" and flashier and glossier, more "Hollywood", whereas everything in the original film just flowed very naturally and everything seemed and felt very organic. This sequel from beginning to end just kind of quietly screams "FORCED!", and that is already a foundation for disaster. Now I wouldn't quite call this movie a disaster. It's not. It's just not very good. However, it is fantastic when compared to what would come next...........
|This poster pretty much says all that needs to be said....|
In 1994 a third sequel was released, in Germany only apparently. Almost two years later, it saw limited release in US theaters before going straight to video. That already kind of "smells funny", yes? Well, sufficed to say, I never actually saw this film when it came out, not bothering to actually try and watch it till I was 19 years old, in 2001. And when I DID finally sit down to try and watch it, because why not, I shit you not, I made it through the first ten minutes of the film, got to the part where it's revealed that the bad guys (seriously) refer to themselves as "The Nasties", and it was at that point I promptly turned it off and have never looked back. So no, in some remote sense of fairness, I must point out that I've never watched the entire film. But in fairness to ME, I don't think I really have to. You don't have actually eat a dog turd to guess what it probably tastes like, and thus is the case with this film. Ironically enough, this movie even features an early turn by (now megastar) Jack Black, as the leader of the Nasties "Slip". I'm sure he tries to forget this fact today.
Basically, without even watching the whole thing, just having read about it, added to the feel I got from just those first ten minutes, I can tell you that this movie was nothing more than a cheap cash-in times ten. It was cheaply done, probably hurriedly produced, and just displayed no care whatsoever for the original film or the book. At least the second film, while certainly not all that good, and very much a glossy, whitewashed Hollywood product, displayed some modicum of trying to live up to the first. This movie doesn't even attempt that, and follows some haberdashery about "The Nasties" getting control of the book, and creatures from Fantasia somehow being sent to this world, blah blah blah. I won't even dignify it by trying to get deep into it. If you really care about the plot, either see the film, or read the Wikipedia article. Just know that if the second movie is weak, the third straight up sucks. And that's all you really need to know. Just enjoy the first film, and forget that the "sequels" ever even existed.
But hey, take solace! If you've never seen the first "Neverending Story" film, please do yourself an enormous favor and see it as soon as possible. You'll be glad you did, and your life shall be all the richer for having seen it. Cause it's fuckin' awesome. Cheers!