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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Neverending Story aka Die unendliche Geschichte [Blu-ray]


(Wolfgang Peterson, 1984)



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Bernd Eichinger/Bernd Schaefers

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:34:04.597

Disc Size: 19,471,971,628 bytes

Feature Size: 19,294,752,768 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.06 Mbps

Chapters: 30

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 2nd, 2010



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video




DTS-HD Master Audio English 2222 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2222 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio French 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps



English, Danish, Finnish, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanis, Swedishh, none



• (nichts)



The Film: 6
Wolfgang Peterson is known for such action-packed films as The Perfect Storm, Air Force One, and Poseidon, but also for more imaginative films like Troy and Enemy Mine and the movie that nailed the Malkovich persona, In the Line of Fire. He began work as a director for German television for some ten years before he made the movie that would bring him international acclaim: the intensely claustrophobic submarine thriller Das Boot. I can well believe his next film was meant to serve as a kind of antidote: The Neverending Story is based on a popular children's book published only a few years earlier in 1979 by Michael Ende: Die unendliche Geschichte (It's tempting to speculate about the pun on his name.)

Made in Germany with an English speaking cast and clearly targeted for a young and international audience, The Neverending Story tells of a pre-teen boy, Bastian (Barret Oliver), who, while trying to deal with the death of his mother, loses himself in his books and dreams. He is bullied regularly on his way to school (it's not even clear if he ever manages to get to class), and is admonished by his father for spending too much time dreaming to the expense of his schoolwork.

We can see where this is all leading in a heartbeat, so when Bastian stumbles into a bookstore where the old bookseller tells him about a book that "isn't safe" like others he's read where he can return to being a little boy whenever he puts it down. (Let us note that the old man is reading this book before Bastian comes into the store and he's a little annoyed that his concentration is interrupted.) Bastian is fascinated. He "borrows" it, and reads it, and reads it, and reads it. He can't get enough of the adventures of its hero, another boy named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) who is chosen by an ailing Empress (Tami Stronach) to rescue Fantasia from "The Nothing" which is gobbling up everything in its path. So off Atreyu goes on a perilous Quest to find some unnamed thing that can defeat The Nothing and restore the natural order of things. Bastian gets so wrapped up in the story he sometimes has the feeling that there is a kind of dialogue possible between himself and the story's characters. Because he has made a promise to his father to stop dreaming, he is reluctant to give himself up entirely to the pull that the story has on his imagination.


I have some confidence that The Neverending Story will keep the attention of children and some adults for its mere hour and a half running time, despite the competing attraction of today's elaborate and enticing video games, though I doubt that youngsters will respond to the filmmakers' message that the development of a child's own imagination is what keeps stories alive and that stories are an essential part of our lives. (I might go so far to say that the less they think about this aspect of the movie, the better.) As depicted by Peterson and Visual Effects master Brian Johnson, Atreyu's adventures in Fantasia are relentlessly fascinating to look at. Hathaway is a compelling hero and eleven-year old Stronach a lovely and well-spoken Empress, though we don't get to see her until the final reel. The fantastical creatures and humanoids Atreyu meets on his Quest are wonderfully, if briefly, realized.

I have to admit I was put off from the start when the bookseller promises that "The Neverending Story" will be an even more exciting book than others Bastian has read like "Treasure Island," "Lord of the Rings" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." We don't get to see what the old man really means by this promise and how it might relate to the acknowledged classics until the very end, but by then nothing about the story itself has elevated it to anything remotely near the status of the classics he so readily discards. . . although I doubt children will be so critical.

. . . which leads in a roundabout way me to my basic problem with the movie: To begin with, I can't tell if it is for or against reading fiction as compared to merely dreaming. I like to think that the point of the movie, and of the book Bastian is immersed in, is that storytelling, and the reading of it, which is the same thing, is a deliberate act of creative imagination, a dialogue between writer and reader that generates tremendous creative power, and that the writer here wants to encourage this ability in children. But there is no evidence that Bastian doesn’t already possess this ability. He tries to assure the bookseller of this. The old man demands "Have you ever been Captain Nemo trapped inside your submarine while the giant squid is attacking you?” “Yes,” he replies. And we believe him. We have no reason to think Bastian is careless about his 180 books, or that he needed The Neverending Story to kick start some latent ability. More to the point, isn't this a natural ability that just about all of us have? Once we learn to read – and part of that process is being read to, something we doubt Bastian's father ever did with his boy – a large part of what keeps us involved is how it engages our imagination. And if this is a native ability, then what's this movie about?

Dreaming isn’t reading. It is not a conscious act of creativity. And daydreaming, while we seem to be in command, brings out nothing like the kind of creative forces requires by reading (Go back to sleep, Walter!) I think it's a fair to say of Bastian's father that he is a psychological moron. It is dreaming that he so unfeelingly demands his boy stop doing. He actually believes that children have control over what they dream or whether or not they dream. (To be fair, dad goes on to make some comments about daydreaming and doodling that are less ignorant, if unsympathetic.) I assume that the writers are putting these words in his father's mouth because they are just as na´ve as he is. They lead their movie with an injunction about dreaming whose only function in the narrative is to require Bastian overcome a resistance so as to give himself permission to let his imagination have its way. But if it weren't for his father's prohibition, he would have found his way on his own. Of course, there wouldn't have been that cathartic "Moon Child!" but the relationship to dad's "little talk" is conveniently left on the cutting room floor, if indeed it was ever considered. In any case, having found that a way to let his imagination run wild, whether or not he had it in the first place, Bastian is going to be impossible to live with at home.


Image: 6/8    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

This marks the first time in twenty-five years that I have seen this movie, and I was pleased that the special effects that created Fantasia are just as innocent yet compelling as they were then. The creative imagination that went into its art direction together with the team of technical people that realized that vision on film was remarkable then and is still a pleasure today.

Warner’s new Blu-ray transfer does this movie proud, despite some problems. Blacks are often crushed, but in some scenes the detail is quite good – we can even make out the dust in the air in the attic where Bastian reads the book. There are some wonderful splashes of intense color and white, but just as often detail is gobbled up by the black. On the other hand, this solution to contrast control, which realizes some surprising dimensionality at times, marks a great improvement over past video presentations where black was rendered in varying shades of gray. That said, there are still plenty of shades of brown and yellow to be found. And two of the creatures who spend much of their time in the dark – Rock Biter and Morla glisten with life.

There is the occasional speck, but these are gobbled up by The Nothing and caused me no pain or strain. I found no transfer artifacts, not even DNR, which might have been expected considering the age of the film, the low light in many of the scenes, and the grain, which never bothered me in the slightest. No edge-enhancement either (which seems to less evident in general on recent titles.)
















Audio & Music: 6/7
This new Blu-ray marks the first time The Neverending Story gets an uncompressed audio mix, and the impact can make you sit up and take notice. When The Nothing is present or during a thunderous storm or an earthquake LFE is about as intense as I have ever heard it on Blu-ray. Rock Biter biting has plenty of bite to it. Dialogue is always clear and crisp, whether whispered or shouted. Atreyu’s pleas to his horse, Artax, to move out of the depressive Swamp of Sadness is imbued with an aching pathos. The new 5.1 mix struck me as something of a contrivance, with bits and pieces passed off as surround derived from the original stereo mix. I wouldn't have worried myself about it if I weren't directed to pay attention.



Operations: 6
The menu, such as it is, works properly, offering six useful chapters thumbnails per screen.


Extras: 0
I think Warner felt it was enough that they rescued this once popular children's movie for a new generation of non-readers. No extras.



Bottom line: 7
From time to time people ask me if I'm not missing something by being critical in the way that I am instead of just enjoying the movie – or, put another way, how it is possible to be IN the movie and yet OUTSIDE it as it goes by? I'm not sure I know the answer to this question exactly, but I think Bastian does – or he did before he got mixed up with that darned book. Despite its overwhelming black at times and lack of a true surround mix, I thought this was a pretty good high definition offering, especially considering what there was to work with. The edition couldn't be more bare bones, but then the asking price isn't Criterion, is it?

Leonard Norwitz
March 1st, 2010



About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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