“ Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Theatrical Release: 1994 / Director: Peter MacDonald / Actors: Jason James Richter, Melody Kay ... / DVD released 04 June, 2002 at Miramax / Features of the DVD: Closed-captioned, Colour, DVD-Video, NTSC „
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The first Neverending Story Film, based on a book of the same name, is a superb childrens fantasy film full of wonderful characters and mythologies, with a great score and some stunning special effects. It takes a plot that might otherwise sound very clunky and cliche- a lonely schoolboy plays truant to read a mysterious fantasy book, and discovers that the story is reallly happening, but that his imagination is key to saving the world of its characters from total annihilation- and turns this premise into a stunning narrative that merges myriad real-world ancient mythologies (Norse, Native American, Persian, to name a few) with new fantastical creations in a story that celebrates the importance of the imagination whilst also touching on darker themes such as depression and nihilism, with the book-world being threatened with destruction by 'The Nothing'- an encroaching entity of pure...well... nothingness whose existence is linked to the suppression of imagination in the normal human world.
It's a masterpiece of children's cinema, exhuding intelligence and avoiding being patronising or twee, although the second film in the series is a decidedly medoicre and cynical rehash- a poor facsimile of the original that was created in an effort to rake in some extra cash after the success of the first film. Film number 3 is where it gets really insulting however- and possesses absolutely NONE of the charm, style or intelligence of the original (or even that of the sequel).
It's shockingly, shockingly bad. Again, the story rehases the narrative of a troubled boy (bullied, this time, by a group of older kids led by none other than Jack Black) who finds solace in the magical world of Fantasia only to end up fighting a desperate battle to save it from destruction. The frightening nihilistic foe of the original has been replaced by a standard fantasy villain, and everything looks cheaper and nastier, not least Falcor, the animatronic oriental-style 'Luck Dragon' from the first film who here looks more like some cheap sweatshop-made knock-off of his former self, but most dispicable of all is the treatment given to The Rockeater.
In the original, The Rockeater was an intriguing character- a massive, gentle man made of stone who rode about on a stone trike and had a penchant for eating huge chunks of fine mineral-stone. He was a powerful, morose and beautiful character, but is here reduced to a pathetic parody of his former self. Here, he has a wife and kid, and lives in a cave in a Flintstones-style sitcom setup- they even have a stone TV set- (in Fantasia!! The horror!!! That's a bit like inserting a Burger King into the Lords of the Rings universe, only worse because the whole point of the original film/book is that mindless TV shows and computer games are killing childrens relationship with books). Rockeater even rides along through the forest to the sound of 'Born To be Wild' by Steppenwolf... because its ROCK MUSIC, get it???
Well done, corporate suits and hack writers. You've wrecked one of my childhood memories to a degree that I didnt even think possible. Well thats not really true- this film is such garbage that I can just dismiss it as having nothing to do with the original whatsoever, but its still a spectacular insult all the same.
Good points? There are none. It has a made-for TV feel, and is uttely devoid of everything that made the original special. Okay, so Jack Black, although I generall ydont like him at all, doesnt actually put in a bad performance here, his fellow actors are awful, as indeed is the dialogue and script, which doesnt even make sense in places, highlighting the fact whoever wrote this didnt care in this slightest about anything other than getting paid.
This is exactly the kind of garbage that feeds The Nothing.
The Horror.....The Horror.......
87. The Neverending Story III: Escape From Fantasia (1994)
[film only review]
The original Neverending Story (1984) is without doubt a children's classic. The second installment in 1990 met with much criticism and disappointment, but nothing could prepare you for this contemptible disaster. Usually when I see a film that is generally considered bad, I can find something to invest a little interest in. Perhaps a good actor, a flawed idea that could have worked, some amusing mistakes, a good costume, funny dialogue. There's usually something to get hold of and empathise with the film-makers. This time I was clutching at straws through the pain.
To briefly summarize the plot, we meet Bastian Balthazar Bux (child cruelty?) who in the last two films helped save the magical world of Fantasia via a book called The Neverending Story. The book serves as a portal between the two worlds, and chronicles the adventures that occur. Whilst being chased by a group of school bullies called 'The Nasties', Balthazar hides in the books world of Fantasia. The Nasties read the book and, without batting an eyelid, quickly accept that it's all real because it describes everything going on around them. They decide to use the power of the book to destroy Fantasia and Bastian; just for a laugh it would seem. Meanwhile, Bastian must get back to the real world and get the book in order to stop them. Unfortunately, when he leaves Fantasia something goes wrong and and some of the fantastical looking citizens of Fantasia get trapped in the real world. It is vital that they be returned before Bastian can use a charm to fix Fantasia, or else they will be trapped in the real world.
Heading up the cast is Jack Black, in one of his earliest roles, as the leader of 'The Nasties'. Whilst he has a screen presence strong enough to leave Jason James Richter (the boy from Free Willy playing Bastian) in the shadows, he also plays it so hammy you'd think he was auditioning for the lead role of Babe 3: Porcine Holocaust. I realise that much of Jack Black's brand of humour comes from his excesses, but there is a lack of finesse here that when matched with the lazy script grates quite horribly.
The rest of the cast has seen numerous changes, so that it no longer stars anyone from either of the previous films. The biggest change is that every character from the world of Fantasia now sounds terminally stupid. Anyone from Fantasia basically gets stuck in the 'light relief rubber puppet' category and none can salvage a shred of integrity. It's a sorry state of affairs, as I recall the big pink dragon Falkor fondly from my youth, only to have him turned into a quipping buffoon. The final straw was a gag where he gets the horn for a street parade's Chinese dragon, to the great distress of it's occupants.
Another favourite, Rock-Biter (a giant man made of rock), gets a wife and kid in scenes reminiscent of a bad episode of Dinosaurs (90s sitcom). The costumes look like the cheap men in suits they are. There is nothing magical about watching him and his wife bicker and throw crockery at each other. The highlight of the entire film was watching Rock-Biter go shopping on his bike whilst singing Born to be Wild. Yes, it's a full on music sequence including 'comedy' running over puppets moments. The tiresome characters don't end there. We get a couple of gnomes (one played by Tony Robinson), whose entire contribution to the film is a half hour gag about needing to go pee. And a big rubbery fake tree man that sounds like Jimmy Durante; I wanted to kill it.
So the characters are uniformly awful, and the reason I've barely mentioned the human ones is because they are so dull and clichéd it hardly matters. There is a sub-plot (arguably the focal lesson of the movie) about Bastian's stepmother and sister, family strength against adversity and the like. It's trite Hollywood manipulation at it's worst. There are pop songs and pop culture references everywhere, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The most successful message the story carried was that kids should read more, and this movie provides the perfect motivation. I wanted to switch it off within half an hour, but managed to rubber-neck my way through it out of stubborn disbelief.
There is a long trend in franchise kids films that each sequel requires less subtlety and style than the one before, and director Peter 'Rambo III' MacDonald fulfils this requirement effortlessly. It really does look like no effort was made at all. Hardly surprising when handed a script fit only for a shredder. One of the biggest disappointments is the lack of fantasy elements that were so vivid in the first film. By quickly moving all the action to our reality, most of the awe evapourates. Worse still when the most memorable moments include a madcap chase through the mall. The plot goes nowhere, and the jokes are as obvious as they are unfunny. If you make it to the end credits you'll also be wowed by the two specially written songs, 'Dream On' and 'Mission of Love', which both name check the movie sick buckets at the ready.
Having such a passionate dislike for The Neverending Story part 3: Escape to Fantasia (Phew mouthful) worried me. Am I intolerant of children's movies? After all, they are meant for a less discerning viewer. Then I remind myself that the first film in this series is very good, a bank holiday favourite, and there are lots of good quality fantasies like The Dark Crystal and Lord of the Rings. It's just that The Neverending Movie Title (blah) is only likely to please people that are entertained by bright colours, silly voices, and fast moving objects. Not something you should be paying for. I feel so violently about this film if I were one of the unfortunate souls to appear even on the 'special thanks' credits, I would demand my name removed. Not so surprisingly the film was in the IMDB bottom 100 list; on 8th May 2007 it scored an average of 2.5 out of 10 from 1,876 votes.
My recommendation to any parents out there, is to show your children the original Neverending Story (it's still a very enjoyable film), and if they ever ask what happened next buy them the book and deny all knowledge of any sequels. They'll thank you once they're older.
Running Time: 91 minutes