"The Sadness of the Swamp
may have been lifted
very own war experience."
Cover story from Issue one by Wally Hirst.
FANTILIGY (THE ART, THE FILM OF THE FANTASTIC)
FantilIgy issue 1: the Never-ending Story
Although I was the right age to see the Never-ending Story; age 12 in 1985, I advocated not too. I was growing up fast and wanted to dive head first into the glories which teen life brings, so fantasy, at least children’s style sword and sorcery, was to take a back seat. Now in my 40’s and frequently revisiting the films which made me; Star Wars (original trilogy), Indiana Jones, (particularly Raiders of the Lost Ark), Back to the Future (the first film), Flash Gordon (Crabbe and Jones versions), it is with extreme joy that I discover this much loved gem.
THIS COULD NOT BE MADE TODAY, WELL NOT BY A COMMERCIAL COMPANY.
What is great about the Neverending story is its honesty and sky’s the limit type scope. This was made in Fantasy’s Golden age and before Political correctness and helicopter parenting was going to swallow up Hollywood. I could rattle on about how it shows a horse sinking to its death or a Rock biter relay how all his friends slipped out of his hands to their certain doom (and I will, later) but that’s not what I mean. The Neverending story is pure fantasy and by that I mean it comes to a boy when he needs it. He has suffered the death of a parent, is being realistically bullied at school, steals a book and plays hooky. This has the effect of immersing the audience completely into the film and when we hit Fantasia we are there, ready and willing to embark on the adventure.
THE HORRORS IN THIS FILM COULD BE THE STORYTELLERS OWN.
Based on the book, the Neverending story was written by Michael Ende, who was just entering adolescence when he was recruited by the Volkssturm to fight against the allies in WW2. He is on record as detailing the horrors he experienced, such as losing his three best friends on his first day of conflict and the fire bomb devastation of his city. The sadness of the swamp and the loss of Artax, the boy’s beloved horse, appears to be lifted straight out of the horrors of war. Of course, many men of many nations lost horses, but a child’s loss of a horse is purely a Germanic experience and one English speaking audiences were not familiar with at the time. It is truly one of the most heart breaking scenes committed to celluloid. Take a close look at how well this scene is edited, the music, the acting, the performance of the horse all add to make a scene that will forever remain perhaps cinemas most tragic.
The Rockbiter’s “They look like good strong hands, don’t they?” plays out like a Father, Mother, Uncle or Aunt not being able to hold onto the young. Need I draw the obvious parallel between this and the European theatre of war? Once again, we are drawn into this feeling of no hope as the camera lifts from the Rockbiters stone carved feet to his dominating visage, ending with the same sentence which began the scene. Whilst the film does end with scenes of Artreyu riding his trusty steed and the Rockbiter celebrating with his friends, it would be false to assume the tragedy was reversed. To commit to the film is to understand that we are returned to the start of the film and not the end and what happened, happened.
Finally, the Neverending story is a beautiful looking film, well paced, well meaning and a fantastic example of world building and what pure fantasy is. I am not going to waste my time with the other two that came later, for I can imagine how they would play out. Director Wolfgang Peterson is an autere and audiences have to respect the art of the autere and not cash in on the series. As explained above, the Neverending story came from a personal place, not an economic or politics preaching place and that is why it is included in the annals of Fantilogy. I don’t need to wish I saw this as a child, for this child never grew up and it gave me a week of 1980’s immersion and I am thankful for that.
The Neverending Story and endings
The clash between author Michael Ende and production has been well documented, with the writer even fighting to have the title changed or his own name pulled from the project. If one goes into the film cold, knowing little about the plot, one is not left with the notion that they watched a disjointed movie but more a clear and concise telling of a story. A movie is its own entity and the ending feels fitting. The horse Artex does not suddenly magically appear alive from the swamp, he is dead and our tears and mourning was justified. The Rockbiter lost his little friends and the Nothing is omnipresent. Sure, we see the host of characters take a final bow at the end of the film but that is because we have returned to the start of the book and this is such a great episode of storytelling and method for dealing with loss. Without sounding like the stiff upper lip father in the film, people die. We have to get used to this. But the memories will always be there. We can always find a quiet place, go back and relive those times in our head. Will this be easy? Of course not. Loss is the hardest thing to confront, but films where the event of death is reversed, say in the vile 1996 retelling of Diabolique or once again the sacrilegious Hollywood remake of the Vanishing, audiences feel their pain being mocked. The Neverending Story would not dare do this. The events happen and sorrow and heartbreak is there. In an age where interactivity is inevitable, at least Peterson is wise enough to make sure the readers interaction is not the Greek God of very early Hellenistic drama who can wield a thunderbolt at the villain at any time when he sees fit.
The Neverending story may be a children’s story but it does not treat them like imbeciles.