Term Paper: Never Ending Story

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¶ … Neverending Story

Wolfgang Petersen's 1984 film The Neverending Story or Die Unendliche Geschichte was based loosely on the fantasy novel by Michael Ende. The movie which provides the viewer with a plethora of special effects deviates greatly from the book, yet it is entertaining and a bit of cinema history in itself. The movie brought together two well-known and respected talents in the film industry. Petersen both co-wrote the screenplay and directed this work, but much of what he envisioned was made possible through the supervision of special effects coordinator Brian Johnson.

Both Petersen and Johnson were established professionals at the time when The Neverending Story was made. However, this film strayed from the usual work of both men that came before and after it. The men had already received a great deal of popular and critical applause prior to this film for their work. An exploration of how this work fits into each man's resume is worth the time. A question that is perhaps of greater interest is how does The Neverending Story compare to other films made at the same time that also rely on special effects.

The greatness of The Neverending Story relies on Petersen's ability to tell a story and guide the viewer through the emotions of the characters. Johnson then supplied the appearance of the characters and effects that not only gave the film its fantasy world, but also supplied its sense of wonder. The combination of the talents of these two men made the film the classic it is today. Petersen and Johnson had the advantage of an exceptionally large budget. The Neverending Story which was a German-U.S. co-production was the largest budget film in German film-making to date at $27 million. In Germany, the film grossed a record amount of money; the film had a significant impact in the American box office as well holding the place as Petersen's top money maker for a decade (yahoo.com).

Prior to directing The Neverending Story, Petersen worked in German television and made a few films beginning in 1973 with One of Us Two. However, it was the now famous Das Boot in 1981 that made Petersen both a German and U.S. success story. The World War II submarine movie cost a record $12 million to make, but received international recognition, even garnering two Academy Award nominations for Petersen. The success of Das Boot made it possible for Petersen to make the big budget The Neverending Story. Since Petersen could now cross international boundaries with his work, it made many more things possible for him as a director (yahoo.com).

The Neverending Story is primarily a fantasy film designed for children or any lover of the genre. However, it stands out in Petersen's work as an oddity against the various dramas and thrillers that he has become both well-known for and wealthy from in Hollywood. The list of Hollywood films for Petersen is impressive. He directed In the Line of Fire (1993), Outbreak (1995), Air Force One (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000), Troy (2004), and Poseidon (2006).

All of these films are realistic dramas usually pitting individuals or groups of people against great odds. Petersen certainly knows what makes a strong drama and how to connect to audiences by entertaining them, but he also provides audiences with powerful characters and situations.

In that way The Neverending Story does not deviate from Petersen's norm when it comes to film-making. Characters, particularly Bastian and Atreyu, are expected to achieve greatness against overwhelming odds as Atreyu, a young warrior, is asked to battle the great "Nothing" that is taking over Fantasia. Bastian is the human boy who must take the risk of using his imagination to help the warrior, thereby, saving the Empress and the fantasy world. Strong characters who challenge even stronger enemies is a standard of Hollywood and Petersen as a director. Sometimes, the opponent in these films is a visible person as in Air Force One and In the Line of Fire.

In other films like Outbreak, The Perfect Storm and Poseidon the enemy is either nature or some challenging biological phenomena. In any of these other films by Petersen, the enemy is something that is knowable by people viewing the film.

This is exactly what separates The Neverending Story from Petersen's other works. The enemy in this film is merely a figment of the readers and characters' imaginations. Quite literally, Bastian's, the human boy, thoughts and emotions become part of the fantasy world of the book he is reading. He becomes engaged in the story and begins to participate in it. At first, he is unaware of this process despite the warning from the man at the bookshop. However, it is Bastian's scream audible to the characters while in the Swamp of Sadness that begins to make it clear to Bastian that he is more involved in the lives of the characters and plot of the book than he anticipated (Ebert 511). By the end of the book and end of the film, Bastian realizes his position as carrier of the torch of imagination for all people. He understands his own capacity for thinking, goodness, and imagination and ultimately saves Fantasia from the Nothing by naming the Empress.

It is the relationship between the characters and the way that they are utilized to drive the plot that also set this film a part from Petersen's other works. Like his other works, the battle is between good and evil - a topic that had fascinated Petersen since childhood when he was "initially drawn to the films of John Ford for their clear presentation of good and evil (in contrast to the messy Europe of the day)" (yahoo.com). Yet, in The Neverending Story evil is represented by something that is lacking vs. something that is present for the characters. In many ways, this film is an example of social commentary. Petersen and the original author, Ende, are commenting on the death of imagination amongst everyone but especially youth. At the beginning of the film, Bastian and the book shop owner get into a minor squabble about how young people do not read or use their imaginations. The book shop keeper goes so far as to direct the frightened Bastian to the nearest video arcade assuming that all kids play games instead of read.

Despite the fact that Bastian is a troubled young man who is getting over the death of his mother and dealing with terrible bullies at school, he is the savior of anyone who wishes to connect to the world of fantasy. Because Bastian becomes part of a larger battle, the audience feels as though it becomes part of Bastian's personal battle and the larger battle of fighting the Nothing in the film. Petersen wraps the audience into this dual fantasy world and compels the viewers to participate in the action of the film.

Not only is this film unique for Petersen in terms of its opposition, it is also unusual for him due to the fantasy element itself. His other films involved the use of special effects and the methods available to Hollywood to convey dangerous situations such as the great battles with water in The Perfect Storm and Poseidon. Clearly, Petersen is no stranger to using all that has Hollywood has to offer in bringing the audience on a great ride with him. However, with The Neverending Story, Petersen is working in a completely different realm of special effects. The fantasy world characters and settings had to be created. For this, Petersen turned to expert Brian Johnson to fill the role of his special effects supervisor.

Johnson, like Petersen, was professionally well-known by 1984 when he began work on The Neverending Story. He had worked in U.S. television and movies and his credits include such production as T.V.'s Space: 1999 from the years 1975-77 (Scheib). More importantly, Johnson had worked for George Lucas' creative company, Industrial Light and Magic, as the lead on two major films, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for which he won an Academy Award for Special Achievement and Dragonslayer (1981) which was nominated for a Best Visual Effects Academy Award (Scheib and Brian Johnson award). In 1979, Johnson had won an earlier Oscar in the Best Visual Effects category for his work on Alien (Brian Johnson award). Johnson was certainly qualified as a technician to deliver to the audience wonderful special effects. However, The Neverending Story differs greatly from the space worlds that had dominated much of his other works.

Despite Johnson's amazing credentials, the critics are divided on the quality of the special effects in The Neverending Story. Some critics see the special effects as simply the initiation of German film-making into the process of U.S. based special effects led by the Star Wars movies (Scheib). The copious budget for this film would have allowed the use of special effects unprecedented in German cinema (Allon 420). Hiring Johnson who had expertise of those effects helped to give the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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