Monday, August 16, 2010

The Never Ending Story Book Review

The Never Ending Story Book Review

Wolfang Petersen’s The Never Ending Story (1984) has always been a special film for me. I have been watching and re-watching this wonderful fantasy film ever sense it was first released in theaters. As a kid, I made a special connection with it because it’s a film that teaches us not to loose our imaginations, not to become dark, sad creatures who never dare to dream. It taught us to stand up to our bullies, and to not be afraid to know your true innerself. It taught me not to give up in the face of despair. That scene with Atreyu’s horse Artax dying in the swamps of sadness really stuck with me. It shocked me to see how Artax let sadness get to him so much that he died, swallowed up by the swamp. Plus, I was always a dreamer myself, writing my little short stories and making my little movies with my brothers and cousins. One day, browsing through a book store (much like Bastian does in the movie) I discovered that the film I loved so much was based on a book by German author Michael Ende. So I immediately bought a copy. I thought it would be interesting to see where one of my favorite fantasy movies came from. I’ve just finished reading this wonderful fantasy novel and thought you guys might find interesting to analyze the differences and similarities from book to screen. I won’t be mentioning any of the sequels since we all know they all suck big time.

I always find it so interesting to read books on which films are based on because sometimes what ends up on screen is entirely different to what we might have read on the page. Sometimes, only a glimmer of the source material makes it to the screen. This is the case with Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the novel on which Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1984) was based on. If any of you have read the book then you know that it is an entirely different experience than watching the film. Reading Phillip K. Dick’s novel is like seeing the Blade Runner universe from a whole different perspective. In fact, if someone where to make a direct adaptation of that novel it would make for an entirely different type of movie. Hope somebody does it someday, in fact, with the kind of cult following that Blade Runner has, Im surprised someone hasnt done that yet. Then, there are those books that read word for word, exactly the same way the movie played it out. This happened to me with Richard Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs. The movie is the book, and the book is the movie almost to perfection. So how about The Never Ending Story? Was the film an exact translation of the book?

Well, I have to say that yes, it pretty much is. The thing about the film is that it only covers half of the book. The producers probably said, this book is amazing, and it would make a great fantasy film, but it’s too complex. Let’s chop it in half, let’s only tell the first half of the story. And so they did. Not that that was a bad idea because I agree, there are enough imaginative and wild ideas in the book to make two movies. As you probably already know (and if you don’t, what are you waiting for, go rent this classic fantasy film!) this is the story of Bastian Balthazar Bux. A boy who is dealing with the loss of his his mother, as a result he often times escapes to his own personal fantasy worlds. In school, his teachers accuse him of fantasizing too much. His own father asks him to live in reality and not in the clouds. But Bastian loves reading his books and so one day while running away from a group of bullies he ends up in 'Mr. Coreanders Book Shop'. While there, he encounters a very special book called The Never Ending Story. The book practically calls him to read it. So he steals it and hides away in the schools attic to read it. As he reads it, he discovers little by little that he is becoming a part of the story itself, this isn’t just any ordinary book, this is a magical book that makes its readers part of its story.

Bastian and the Childlike Empress

The book that Bastian reads takes place in a fantasy world called Fantasia, a world that is slowly being eaten up by ‘The Nothing’ a big dark cloud that destroys the world, like a void that eats up everything. All the characters in Fantasia gather in the Ivory Tower to try and find a solution to this horrible situation. If they dont do something about it, Fantasia will be eaten by The Nothing and disappear forever. In the book, The Child Like Empress calles upon the help of Atreyu; a young hunter who is chosen to find a way to destroy ‘The Nothing’. And so Atreyu goes on a journey across Fantasia, looking for a way to save Fantasia and the strange creatures that inhabit it. Bastian follows Atreyu on his adventure and lives through the adventure as he reads it.

Atreyu riding on Falkor taking a flight through Fantasia

The first half of the novel (the half that the 1984 film was based on) involves Bastian reading the book and imagining everything. Basically the film that we see is how Bastian is imagining what he reads. And it’s a great fantasy story filled with flying luck dragons, giant talking turtles, Rock Eaters and a zillion different creatures, too numerous to mention. The film ends with Bastian saving Fantasia, and having many more adventures there, but as the film says “that, is another story, and shall be told, another time”.

As I read the book, I honestly couldnt help feeling a bit like Bastian himself, reading a novel and imagining it. And in a way, yes, becoming a part of it. The way Ende wrote the book, you feel like you are becoming a part of the story, which is an awesome element the book has. As I read, I kept searching for the differences between the book and the film. I tried to notice what characters were left out, what characters were modified. What situations were shortened.

Here are a few of the differences I noticed:

In the film, the land where all the characters in the book live is called Fantasia. In the book this land is called ‘Fantastica’.

In the book, Bastian is a chubby little kid who hates the way he looks. In the movie he wasn’t fat at all.

In the book, Atreyu comes from a race of beings who have green skin and blue hair!

The Childlike Empress sends a Centaur to go find Atreyu, who lives somewhere in fantasia hunting The Purple Buffalo. In the movie, this never happens for Atreyu makes his own way towards the Ivory Tower.

Falkor, the luck dragon is a bit different. In the movie, he is a white dragon that has the face and body of a dog. In the book, Falkor is actually red, and his face resembles that of a Lion. In the book, the luck dragon has red ruby eyes and loves to sing as he flies! When ever Falkor talks in the book, it sounds like bells are ringing.

In the book, when Atreyu finally arrives at The Southern Oracle, we find out that to get to it Atreyu must first go through three doors before he gets there. And after he passes through the third gate (the one where he looks at himself in the mirror) he goes into a room where he meets a character called Uyulala, a being he can only hear, this character gives him a clue as to where he is to go next. This never happens in the film. In the film, they simply leave things off when he looks at himself in the mirror.

In the book, Atreyu faces way more enemies and creatures on his journey. He fights against a giant spider named Yagrul The Many. In fact, he ends up fighting Yagrul because Falkor has fallen on the spiders giant web, this is how Atreyu meets Falkor in the book, in the film Falkor magically appears in the Swamp of Sadness, to save Atreyu from death. This giant spider is composed of millions of other smaller spiders!

In the book, while flying on Falkor Atreyu encounters four characters called The Wind Giants, who are constantly at war, they give Falkor and Atreyu a hard time in the sky. The Wind Giants conjure up a storm that hurls Atreyu to a place called Spook City.

In the film, we find out that Bastian has to give The Child Like Empress a name in order to save Fantasia. When Bastian screams the name, we never get to hear it because thunder and lightning are too loud. I was always so curious! What was the name that Bastian screams to the wind? I use to try and read Bastian’s lips as he shouted it, but I never did really get to know what the name was, until I read the book! The name Bastian gives to the Childlike Empress is: Moonchild.

Every chapter starts with artwork like this one, on this one we see Bastian talking to Falkor in front of The Fountain of Life (the way back to the real world)

Once Bastian gives The Childlike Empress her name, thats where the first film ends. Truth is, if you were reading the book, the story continues right on with Bastian visiting Fantastica and meeting all the characters he had only read about, and then some. What I love about this book is how it emphasizes so much that you have to really get to know yourself, it emphasizes the importance of finding what you really want in life and doing what you really want to do with it. But it also focuses on not abusing your powers. For example, it might come as a surprise to many who love the original film that in the second half of the book Bastian actually turns into the despotic ruler of Fantastica. He doesn’t care about its people, only the power and attention he receives. It is actually kind of heartbreaking to see Bastian going through that change, but its an interesting allegory for how we can loose our humanity, loose our focus and only care about our own selfish desires. Bastian uses the Auryn to make his wishes come true, but this wishes end up harming the people of Fantastica, and even those he once called friends.

Grograman (above) as illustrated by artist Brianne Lamanna

 Grograman is one of the many characters that Bastian befriends on the second half of the book. He is a lion that constantly changes colors!

Its actually very surprising how dark the book gets for a children’s book. Bastian goes rogue, and he doesn’t give a damn who he takes down on his way to the top! He has forgotten who he was and where he came from. I feel like Michael Ende was commenting on governments, and how sometimes they can forget about the people they are ruling, and only think about filling their pockets with money. In order to do this, a rulers heart has to turn cold like stone, same way Bastian turns cold and selfish. Another thing that the book emphasizes is that we should never forget our past, where we come from, because it is what has made us who we are. But not all is gloom and doom though, because Bastian simply goes through a process of getting to know himself, he turns into a dark character, than realizes his evil ways and goes through a metamorphosis, a transformation of mind and soul.

Even though this review/comparison has gone on long enough, I’ve only touched upon the different characters and situations that Bastian encounters on the book. It is a very imaginative read because with every other chapter we are treated to a new batch of wonderful, strange and imaginative characters and situations. I believe that it would make for a great film, who knows, maybe one of these days Hollywood will remake The Never Ending Story, and maybe then they will do a film based on the second half as well. Here's hoping! I wholeheartedly recommend you guys check this novel out. My favorite part of the book? As you read it, you feel like you become part of the story as well, characters allude to other people who might be reading The Never Ending Story, Bastian writes messages so that other readers can see them, you actually feel like you are right there with them. It’s a great experience reading this novel, it’s a rich, intelligent and complex children’s book that any adult can enjoy as well. In fact, I think an adult will grasp the themes and symbolisms a whole lot better than a child would. So, if you are ever in the mood for reading a fantastic children’s book that pushes your mind beyond the boundaries of Fantasia, Michael Ende’s The Never Ending Story is the way to go!

Rating: 5 out of 5


Fred [The Wolf] said...

Wow, this review is fantastic. I've never read the book and it's been YEARS since I've seen the film [although I will review it soon since Netflix has it on Instant Watch]. But I'm interested in reading it whenever I have time to see how it compares. Great post!

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you liked the review Fred, it truly is a great book, a very satasfying read, that touches upon many interesting themes. I mean, for a childrens book, it goes in deep!

It reminded me a bit about AKIRA, a film that is also about abusing ones powers, and not maintaining a control over what we do with our life, and how it affects others.

From what I gother it went all over the place: politics, religion, death, truth, true friendship, loyalty, betrayal, change, knowing ones self, dealing with loss...its one of those books that speaks about life.

Kind of like a guide, to let children know what to expect from life, but told through an amazingly imaginative fantasy tale.

Hope you do get to read it at some point, its a great book, shot straight to my top favorite fantasy books ever.

HorrO said...

Never read the book. You would think it would tempting considering the boy is reading a book the entire time. Love the movie. Haven't seen it in a long time. Maybe its time to check it out again.

IndieAuthorX said...

Wonderful book. I took it to be an allegory of Nihilism vs. Existentialism with Existentialism winning in the end. The monkey near the end of Bastian's journey seems to be a critique of where the logical conclusion of nihilism ends.

The Childlike Empress, could she represent choice?

It is a beautiful fantasy that leaves the reader thinking, I need to read my copy of this book again!

Franco Macabro said...

Existensialism vs. Nihilism, interesting take on the book!

I find it so interesting that a "childrens book" is filled with so many themes!

I saw the Childlike Empress a the well rounded invidual we all hope we could be. The kind of person who likes to arrive at a happy medium. The best kind of individual, is the kind that accepts everyone for who they are, accepting co-existence and an understanding of how complext and varied our world is. I thought she represented that in a way.

A great book that touches upon so many many themes, I loved the wolf character, he may be a villain the book, but before dying he says a lot of truth!

But above of all, for me it was about knowing yourself, and coming out a better person in the end.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this excellent review.I wholeheartedly agree with you.The movies seem to miss the very important messages of the powers of creative visualization , the powers of the human mind and the responsibility that goes with that.
I do hope they remake this book and give it the respect it deserves.

Franco Macabro said...

Im glad people keep finding this review interesting! Glad you enjoyed it, and I totally agree, a remake would be very interesting.

Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

Soory, but i have to say that you read the english version of the book. dont know if it is so different from the original, but FUCHUR the dragon is white, like perl with scales

Franco Macabro said...

In the article I wrote that Falkor looks red, but in reality, I should have said that the pearls on his skin look pink when light hits them. He does have ruby red eyes though.

In the film they chose to make him look like a giant flying dragon dog, when in teh book it never mentions that he resembles a dog. In fact, when it comes to Falkor's face, the book isnt very detailed.

Yet in the illustrations we find in the book (one of which I pictured above) he actually resembles a chinese dragon!

Yet in the cover for the english version of the book, Falkor looks more like a gaint red/brown Lion, which is how I envisioned him as I read the book.

So there are various versions of Falkor out there for you to choose.

Thanks for commenting.

Jon Turner said...

THE NEVERENDING STORY has always been a favorite of mine ever since I saw the 1984 movie, but I didn't realize that there was an interesting history behind the book it's based on. I always felt that the ending of the first film felt too... abrupt, like it sort of stopped. I mean, sure, Bastian saved Fantasia and got revenge on the bullies, but what happened after that? The narration at the end felt like a teaser.

That's when I realized it was based on the first half of the book it's based on. I'm not sure you've heard of THE NEVERENDING STORY II: THE NEXT CHAPTER, but it is VERY LOOSELY based on the second half of the book, in which Bastian is manipulated by the evil Xayide to make wish after wish after wish that robs him of a precious memory, to the point where he turns against Atreyu. Like most sequels, it isn't as good as the original, but I liked a lot of the plot elements in the film. But I didn't realize the second half of the real "story" had a lot of added-in details that the second movie skipped. I feel like I owe myself a favor to read the actual book; I'm curious to see how it compares.

More importantly, I think someone should attempt to film the book again, only this time do a better job with telling the second half.

(The less said about THE NEVERENDING STORY III, the better, frankly, I never saw it.)

Franco Macabro said...

@Jon Turner: Thanks for commenting Jon! Yes, I have seen The Never Ending Story II: The Next Chapter, and yes, it's a very loose adaptation of the second half of the book. It leaves out some very important scenes...hell, I'd say it leaves out almost everything except for Xayide and Atreyu turning evil.

The book is so much richer, it has so many more interesting situations and the fantasy element is so much more elaborate, reading the entire book is a whole other thing, I didn't really go into many details about the second half of the book because it should be a surprise for those who read it. The best part of the book is that as you read it, you feel as if the book is talking to you, you feel as if you were Sebastian and this magical book somehow knows that YOU are reading it.

Reading Ende's book is a real experience, highly recommend it! Also, as I mentioned on the review, it has some very important themes, heavy stuff for what is otherwise considered a childrens book.

The second film dissapoints and feels so small when compared to the book, which is broader in scale, way more epic. It feels like a low budget version of the awesomeness that is the book. Plus, that annoying bird character is not even in the book!

Part III I consider to be one of the worst films ever made, literally, it is an abomination in my book, you are better off not seeing it, unless you want to watch a film that completely taints the beauty of the first film, and the epic scale of the book.

A remake of this film would be awesome! Again, thanks for commenting.

Saidi of the 90's said...

Excellent review ! I would give this book a 3.5/5 though. Really , it's the last 4 chapters that were an utter dragfest

Franco Macabro said...

I really enjoyed the book in its entirety, I connected with it in a big way. I liked the whole interactive thing between the reader and the book, you feel like its talking to you, that's an accomplishment because not every book does that sort of thing.


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