I'll always be pleased that my generation seems to be the last one to receive quality family entertainment. Princess Bride, Secret Of Nimh, Goonies, Neverending Story, the list goes onwards. These are pictures that simply aren't made anymore, as studios recognize that flashy animation is certainly cheaper and can return a quick profit. As for the group I've mentioned, "Story" remains one of the best of the breed, a suprisingly creative and inspiring picture that remains as enjoyable for adults as it does for children. It also contains a wonderful message that isn't presented in a heavy-handed way.
Suprisingly, it was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who has been responsible for the classic submarine picture "Das Boot", as well as recent films like "The Perfect Storm". The film stars Barret Oliver as Bastian, a small boy who is attacked by bullies on his way to class and ends up in a bookstore. The owner doesn't like children, but the two eventually discuss books, including a certain book that the shopowner has in his posession. When the keeper's head is turned away, Bastian runs off with the book, but he finds that he's late for class. Hiding out in the school's attic, he begins to read and finds himself involved in a fantasy world called Fantasia.
The creatures of Fantasia are an interesting bunch: a rock-biter that eats various kinds of rocks, a racing snail, a flying dragon named Falcor, an anicent turtle and others. Not all is right in the land though, as an evil force called "the Nothing" is sweeping over the land and destroying it. The princess of Fantasia has fallen ill and a young warrior named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) to find a way to stop "the Nothing" from destroying their world. Meanwhile, Bastian finds that he's a part of their adventures, even though he's never left the room in the schoolhouse.
Almost all of the film's elements are exceptional. Production design is often remarkable, as are some of the film's early "special effects". Cinematography by Jost Vacano (who later went on to be director Paul Verhoven's usual cinematography) is also superb. All of those remarkable efforts really came together to form one of the most magical cinematic experiences that I had growing up, and hopefully, the beautiful presentation of the film contained on this DVD can be shared with future generations.
VIDEO: "Neverending Story" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Warner Brothers. Although the seventeen-year-old picture does present some minor flaws and concerns, many scenes appeared so magnificent that I'd be willing to bet that work was done to restore the picture to this level. Sharpness and detail are superb throughout the movie, which appeared well-defined even into the dimly-lit or smoky sequences.
There's a few concerns that have always been a part of the movie: a few of the effects sequences do appear rather grainy, but as effects were rather primitive in 1984, I believe this is how these scenes always appeared. A few of the darker scenes also were visibly slightly grainy, but only slightly. What I was extremely pleased with was the lack of print flaws. I spotted the occasional speckles during the film, but there were no instances of anything further; I saw no scratches, hairs, dirt or more major wear. A few very slight traces of edge enhancement and a couple of tiny instances of pixelation are visible a few times, but didn't cause the viewing experience to suffer.
Colors appeared almost jaw-droppingly vibrant at times. Although the film's color palette does vary from scene-to-scene, sequences that displayed brighter tones were visibly stunning, looking well-saturated and gorgeous. Flesh tones were accurate and natural, as well. Although not without a few minor flaws, I think this presentation most certainly exceeded my expectations on how the title would look. Warner Brothers really has done fine work here.
SOUND: On the other hand, the sound quality is simply fine. Obviously, there has been a good deal of work put into the image quality, it would have been nice if the film's audio had been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 instead of the 2.0 presentation available. Audio quality still sounded superb throughout the movie, as the score came through warmly and crisply, while dialogue sounded clear and easily understood. A couple of sound effects sounded a bit thin, but this was a minor complaint.
MENUS:: The cover art and film-themed images are used as backgrounds for the non-animated menus. The score does play behind the main menu, though.
EXTRAS:: Director Wolfgang Petersen has recorded several commentary tracks for his films. The director's tracks have been some of the best, as he is able to recall a great amount of detail and has a warm, chatty presence. Unfortunately, "Neverending Story" has not gotten the special edition that it deserved; it would have been really nice to hear from Petersen and those involved. All that is included here is the theatrical trailer (presented in 2.35:1 and still in suprisingly good condition, as well) and several text screens about the characters and cast/crew.
Final Thoughts: "Neverending Story" remains a classic family picture, with terrific performances and exceptionally imaginative sets and imagery. Warner Brothers has provided stellar image quality and fine audio quality, but it would have been nice if some extras had been included. Still, this is a real treat for children and adults - certainly a must to add to any collection.
The Film ****
Video 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Audio: 83/B = (332/400 possible points)
Extras: 70/C- = (210/300 possible points)
Menus: 73/C = (146/200 possible points)
Value: 85/B = (255/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: B