West Germany. 1990.
Director – George Miller, Screenplay – Karin Howard, Based on the Novel The Never Ending Story by Michael Ende, Producer – Dieter Geissler, Photography – Dave Connell, Music – Robert Folk, Visual Effects – Derek Meddings, Animatronics – Giuseppe Tortora, Makeup – Colin Arthur, Production Design – Bob Laing & Gotz Weidner. Production Company – The Neverending Story Film GMBH.
Jonathan Brandis (Bastian Balthazar Bux), Kenny Morrison (Atreyu), Clarissa Burt (Xayide), John Wesley Shipp (Barney Bux), Martin Umbach (Nimbly), Thomas Hill (Mr Koreandor), Alexandra Johens (Childlike Empress), Chris Burton (Tri-Face)
Bastian auditions for the high-school swimming team but experiences vertigo and freezes when it comes to the high diving board. He returns to Koreandor’s bookshop searching for a book about diving. Instead, he finds the copy of ‘The Never Ending Story’ beckoning to him. However, the words in the book are now in disarray. Taking the book and reading it, he is drawn back into the world of Fantasia. There he finds the world’s essence has been drained from it. He reunites with Atreyu and Falkor the Luckdragon and they set forth to find the Childlike Empress. The witch Xayide, who is the one destroying Fantasia, befriends Bastian and convinces him to use his ability to wish for anything he wants. What Bastian does not know as he exercises his newfound ability with relish is that each time he wishes he loses a part of his memory to Xayide.
The Neverending Story (1984) was the biggest budgeted film ever made in its time in West Germany and proved a reasonable success when released in English-speaking countries. This was a sequel that came with an even bigger budget.
The sequel is certainly an improvement over its predecessor in the technical arena. There are a fabulous array of otherworldly sights where the design team have allowed their imaginations to stretch – a city built out of glass sailing ships on an ocean of acid; giant crustacean creatures with buzzsaw claws; an army of miniature blue and green elephants that ride into battle on toy steam calliopes; a character whose head rotates beneath a hood to display different faces; a hold filled with mud creatures, a volcano creature, a woman of ethereally flowing clothing and an augur who speaks by singing to a harp. It feels like the film has strayed onto the set of a G-rated sequel to Barbarella (1968) by mistake.
Unfortunately, creature effects are all that is worthwhile about The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter. While a technical triumph, the film is nothing but the empty surface glitter that lacks any sincerity, feeling or even the same metaphor as the original film. The first film was hardly great but it was a masterpiece compared to this. The first film adapted only half of the Michael Ende book – rather than return to the second half of the story, which would have dealt with Bastian’s journey through to adulthood, The Neverending Story II creates a new original story.
However, the new story completely discards the metaphor of the original. The clever sense of meta-fiction, the interaction between the reader and the book being read, is lost – this time Bastian is simply able to cross over and directly enter into the world of the story. Rather than playing with any meta-fictional ideas, the book has become no more than a magical portal offering the way to a routine adventure in a secondary fantasy world.
Clarissa Burt’s campy eye-battings as the witch are awful. However, the single worst thing about the film is Jonathan Brandis, later to become a regular as the teen genius and heartthrob of tv’s seaQuest DSV (1993-6). Brandis is precocious both in the character’s writing and his playing. He almost has a nervous breakdown about not being allowed on the school swim-team because he wimps out from a high board dive – what does he expect? – but at the same time can push his best friend over a cliff to his death, only to yell after him “You brought it on yourself.” There is something annoyingly shrill about the brashness of his performance.
There was a further sequel, the even worse The Neverending Story III (1994). This was followed by an animated tv series The Neverending Story (1996) and a live-action tv series Tales from the Neverending Story (2001).
It should be noted that director George Miller is not the same director George Miller who made the Mad Max films. (To add to the confusion, both George Millers come from Australia). This George Miller is most well known for The Man from Snowy River (1981), Les Patterson Saves the World (1987) and other minor genre entires such as the tv mini-series Journey to the Center of the Earth (1999) and Attack of the Sabretooth (2005).