The Neverending Story (German: Die Unendliche Geschichte) is a 1984 West German fantasy film based on the novel of the same name by Michael Ende. It follows a boy who reads a magical book that tells a story of a young warrior whose task is to stop a dark force called the Nothing from engulfing a mystical world.
The film was produced by Bernd Eichinger and Dieter Giessler and directed and co-written by Wolfgang Petersen (in his first English-language film), and stars Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Gerald McRaney, Moses Gunn, and Alan Oppenheimer as the voices of both Falkor and Gmork (as well as other characters). At the time of its release, it was the most expensive film produced outside the United States or the Soviet Union. The film was the first in The NeverEnding Story film series.
The film adapts the first half of the book, and consequently does not convey the message of the title as it was portrayed in the novel. The second half of the book would subsequently be used as the primary rough basis for the second film, The Next Chapter. The third film, Escape from Fantasia, features an original plot.
Bastian Balthazar Bux is a shy and outcast bibliophile ten-year-old raised by his widowed father, teased by bullies from school. On his way to school, he hides from the bullies in a bookstore, interrupting the grumpy bookseller, Mr. Coreander. Bastian asks about one of the books he sees, called “The Neverending Story”, but Mr. Coreander advises against it. With his curiosity piqued, Bastian seizes the book, leaving a note promising to return it, and hides in the school’s attic to read. The book describes the fantasy world of Fantasia slowly being devoured by a malevolent force called “The Nothing”. Fantasia’s ruler, the Childlike Empress, has fallen ill, and the young warrior Atreyu is tasked to discover the cure, believing that once the Empress is well, the Nothing will no longer be a threat. Atreyu is given a medallion named the Auryn that can guide and protect him in the quest. As Atreyu sets out, the Nothing summons Gmork, a vicious and highly intelligent wolf-like creature, to kill Atreyu.
Atreyu’s quest directs him to the turtle-like adviser Morla the Ancient One in the Swamps of Sadness. Though the Auryn protects Atreyu, his beloved horse Artax is lost to the swamp, and he continues alone. Morla does not have the answers Atreyu seeks, but directs him to the Southern Oracle, ten thousand miles distant. Atreyu succumbs to exhaustion trying to escape the Swamps but is saved by the luckdragon Falkor. Falkor takes him to the home of two gnomes that live near the entrance to the Southern Oracle. The gnomes explain that Atreyu will face various trials before reaching the Oracle. Atreyu gets past the first trial, but is perplexed by the second trial, a mirror that shows the viewer’s true self, reveals a boy which Bastian recognizes as himself. Atreyu eventually meets the Southern Oracle who tells him the only way to save the Empress is to find a human child to give her a new name, beyond the boundaries of Fantasia. Atreyu and Falkor flee before the Nothing consumes the Southern Oracle. In flight, Atreyu is knocked from Falkor’s back into the Sea of Possibilities, losing the Auryn in the process. He wakes on the shore of the abandoned ruins, where Gmork reveals himself, having been lying in wait. Gmork explains that Fantasia represents humanity’s imagination and is thus without boundaries, while the Nothing is a manifestation of the loss of hopes and dreams. Atreyu fends off and kills Gmork as the Nothing begins to consume the ruins.
Falkor, who had managed to locate the Auryn, rescues Atreyu in time. The two find themselves in a void with only small fragments of Fantasia remaining, and fear they have failed when they spot the Empress’s Ivory Tower among the fragments. Inside, Atreyu apologizes for failing the Empress, but she assures him he has succeeded in bringing to her a human child who has been following his quest: Bastian. She further explains that, just as Bastian is following Atreyu’s story, “others” are following Bastian’s, making this part of the neverending story. As the Nothing begins to consume the Tower, the Empress pleads directly to Bastian to call out her new name, but in amazement that he himself has been incorporated into the story as the child they were looking for, he denies the events as just being a story. Atreyu’s death spurs Bastian to pronounce the name he has chosen before losing consciousness: “Moonchild”. Bastian awakes with the Empress, who presents him with a grain of sand, the sole remnant of Fantasia. The Empress tells Bastian that he has the power to bring Fantasia back with his imagination. Bastian re-creates Fantasia, and as he flies on Falkor’s back, he sees the land and its inhabitants restored, and that Atreyu has been reunited with Artax. When Falkor asks what his next wish will be, Bastian then brings Falkor back to the real world to chase down the bullies from before. The film ends with the narration that Bastian had many more wishes and adventures, and adds: “but that’s another story”.
- Barret Oliver as Bastian Balthazar Bux.
- Noah Hathaway as Atreyu.
- Tami Stronach as The Childlike Empress, to whom Bastian gives the new name of “Moon Child”.
- Patricia Hayes as Urgl, Engywook’s wife and a healer.
- Sydney Bromley as Engywook, a gnomish scientist.
- Gerald McRaney as Mr. Bux, Bastian’s widowed, workaholic father.
- Moses Gunn as Cairon, a servant of the Empress.
- Alan Oppenheimer as the voices of Falkor, Gmork, Rock Biter, and the Narrator (the latter three are uncredited).
- Thomas Hill as Mr. Coreander, a grumpy bookseller.
- Deep Roy as Teeny Weeny, a messenger riding on a racing snail.
- Tilo Prückner as Nighthob, a messenger riding a narcoleptic bat.
- Darryl Cooksey, Drum Garrett, and Nicholas Gilbert as Ethan, Todd, and Lucas, three bullies who torment Bastian.
The adaptation only covered the first half of the book. The majority of the film was shot at the Bavaria Studios in Munich, except for the street scenes and the school interior in the real world, which were shot in Vancouver, Canada (the Gastown Vancouver Steam Clock can be seen in the bully chase scene at the end of the film as the three bullies are chased down Cambie Street past the steam clock at the intersection of Water Street and then on down Blood Alley), and the beach where Atreyu falls, which was filmed at Monsul Beach in Almería (Spain).
The film score of The NeverEnding Story was composed by Klaus Doldinger of the German jazz group Passport. The theme song of the North American release of the film was composed by Giorgio Moroder with lyrics by Keith Forsey, and performed by Christopher “Limahl” Hamill, once the lead singer of Kajagoogoo, and Beth Anderson. Released as a single in 1984, it peaked at No. 4 on the UK singles chart, No. 6 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has been covered by The Birthday Massacre, Creamy, Dragonland, Kenji Haga, and New Found Glory. More recent covers were done by Norwegian synthpop group Echo Image on their 2001 maxi-single Skulk and by German techno group Scooter on their 2007 album Jumping All Over the World. This Limahl song, along with other “techno-pop” treatments to the soundtrack, is not present in the German version of the film, which features Doldinger’s orchestral score exclusively.
In 1994, Italian house music group Club House released the song “Nowhere Land,” featuring Carl, which combines the melody of the tune “Bastian’s Happy Flight” with original lyrics.
An official soundtrack album was released featuring Doldinger’s score and Moroder’s theme tune (Moroder also rescored several scenes for the version released outside Germany).
The film performed very well at the box office, grossing US$100 million worldwide against a production budget of DM 60 million (approximately US$27 million at the time). Almost five million people went to see it in Germany, a number rarely achieved by German productions, resulting in a gross of about US$20 million domestically. It also grossed a similar amount in the United States; only a modest sum in the American market, which director Wolfgang Petersen ascribed to the film’s European sensibilities.