Feb 26 2009 5:20pm

The NeverEnding Remake

Funny, I was just reading about the insane amount of money that the Friday the 13th remake made, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but news of another remake of a film I hold dear. (Okay, so I’m not a poet.) The Kennedy/Marshall Co. (who brought you The Case of the Curiously Long Movie) and Leonard DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company have acquired rights to The NeverEnding Story. They are apparently in discussions with Warner Bros. about “reviving the 25-year-old franchise with a modern spin.”

This remake bug is damned infectious. (Total Recall? The Crow?) Remaking slasher films is just a way to repackage sequels so people will see them in the theater. But remaking iconic fantasy films like The NeverEnding Story is a challenge—to the genre, to the fans of the work—and it’s not one to be undertaken lightly.

The only potential improvement to this particular franchise would be in the special effects. (And, I guess, hewing closer to the narrative from the book. But I didn’t spend my toddler years endlessly re-reading some book, so that feature is lost on me.) The caveat I would make is that they must, absolutely, keep the puppets. Falkor, the luck dragon, remains the most impressive feature of a nearly thirty-year-old movie. Since then, the Henson shop has produced hundreds of fully realized character puppets for genre media. Farscape boasted not one, but two major puppet characters who were as richly developed as the human co-stars. (Rygel the 16th ceases to be a muppet after about three episodes. Pilot is arguably the most endearing character of all.) For all its faults, the 2005 movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (itself a remake/revision of an older, less polished miniseries) did produce some pretty spectacularly dumpy looking Vogons. If they want the new Story to fly, the puppets stay. If we’ve learned anything from the failures of George Lucas, it’s that the digital revolution...isn’t.

One other suggestion? Keep Atreyu androgynous. No one else agrees with my pet theory, but I always suspected that despite the girlification factor of it having been the 1980s, Atreyu was feminized as a means of making him an accessible character to both male and female viewers. Of course, Bastian, the story’s reader, was a boy, so his self-insert character into The NeverEnding Story had to be a boy. But some girls must have picked up the book at some point. (This girl definitely watched the movie a few too many times for it to be healthy.) So maybe a girl-type Atreyu would be an in for them as well, and the new version might play on that. Maybe the Bastian character could even be a girl this time around. If this is already a sacrilegious remake—and it is—why not?

What would you keep or change with this remake?

Richard Fife
1. R.Fife
Let us not forget the giant turtle thing (god I need to get my hands on a copy of that movie and rewatch it). That has to stay as a puppet too. Honestly, I cannot think of a thing in that movie that needs changed. If it was advertised and released in theaters today without me having any foreknowledge of the original, I would probably still go and see it. Some movies are just timeless (Dark Crystal being another).
Dave Thompson
2. DKT
>>>And, I guess, hewing closer to the narrative from the book. But I didn’t spend my toddler years endlessly re-reading some book, so that feature is lost on me.

This seems like an...odd statement considering this particular site. Am I missing something? Do you mean because you endlessly re-watched the movie?

I haven't read the book but from what I've heard, staying closer to its narrative would be a huge reason to "remake" or re-adapt this one.

But God, I did love the original movie.
Dayle McClintock
3. trinityvixen
@1: You mean Morla the ancient one???

@2: I'm not an elitist about books versus movies; I frequently will like a movie version better than a book. In this particular case, having never read The NeverEnding Story, I can't connect emotionally to whatever story was told. I'd also wager cash money that most of the kids like me who grew up with that movie never read the book either. The thing they're playing on with a remake is the nostalgia factor for the movie, not the book. Making it more like the book might enable them to tell a better or different story, but that's not what their pre-sold audience would necessarily be interested in.

It's like with The X-Files movie that just came out: if you're not catering to the fans enough, fans won't like it and non-fans probably still won't go and see it (because they'll know they're missing something).
Emily Cartier
4. Torrilin
Speaking as someone who hates the book (which spends a lot of time imitating a cat meowing piteously about being stuck in a dark pit of dark dark darkness), hewing closer to the plot is an anti-feature. That book put me off of male characters every time I tried to read it! Boys apparently like it a lot better, but it's still not a book even *they* love with a mad passion.

I wouldn't mind a sequel that tried to take the last half and make the meowing about dark pits interesting tho... There is plot in there. Somewhere. I think it might even be a good plot! But it's so buried in drear that no one likes the book, despite a lot of great visual imagery.
5. Lsana
I did read the original book. I liked it, but it was seriously different from the movie, more in tone than in events. In the book, Atreyu was presented as less heroic than in the movie: many of the feats he was able to accomplish he was only able to accomplish because he had AURYN (and yes, it was written in all caps). Bastian too; before he had AURYN he was a complete coward. Afterwards, it pretty much defines him until he finds a way to escape it and go back to being a fat coward.

The Childlike Empress was also a much more ambiguous figure. She's an elemental force of nature; she has to be protected or Fatastica will die, but she's not precisely good. There's a scene in the book where Falcor has been captured by a giant spider. Atreyu begs the spider to let Falcor go "in the name of the Childlike Empress," but the spider tells him, "You have no right to say that. The Empress would never ask such a thing. Good or evil, she accepts us all as we are." Later, Atreyu becomes pretty convinced that the Empress doesn't care what happens to Bastian--she's gotten what she wanted from him, and it doesn't matter whether he lives or dies after that.

It's possible that you could do a remake focusing on those elements. Now that the kids who enjoyed the story in the 80s are adults, maybe they want to see a more sophisticated version of the story.

Maybe. But more likely, they would be furious at a remake for stamping on their memories of Atreyu as heroic and the Empress as a force of pure good. And the new audience wouldn't really get it.

If I were them, I wouldn't do it. Let the Neverending Story stay what it was. Nothing good is likely to come of a remake.
David Lev
6. davidlev
After re-watching the movie, I think that what I would suggest would be to remake it with less...earnestness, I guess is the word. It's just so cheesy and maudlin in some parts that it's almost unbearable. I loved the movie as a kid, but after rewatching it about a year ago, I noticed that it actually isn't that great a movie. You don't have to make Atreyu all dark and grim, but play up on the fun bits with the rockbiters and racing snails and Morla and all that, instead of this weird quest movie where this kid is constantly dragged around to do stuff he can't do because he has to do it

Oh, and if they remake the movie, tone down Bastian a bit. I know that they need to make reading a book exciting, but seriously, the kid in the movie overacts like no one's business

And the Childlike Emperess is creepy
Dayle McClintock
7. trinityvixen
@4,5: Wow, I'm now not at all sorry my love is based entirely on the movie. I'm intrigued by the idea that interest might exist for a more nuanced version of the story among the grown generation that watched the old movie, though. I hadn't thought of that.
Agnes Kormendi
8. tapsi
I read the book first and the movie was a huge disappointment after that, even though I was still a kid when I saw it. The movie is just... too corny if you read the book first. The original story is not a nursery tale but a rather complex allegory of a spiritual journey (not entirely without occult overtones) that on one level can be read as a tale, and the story arc and the message were just completely mangled in the movie.

I remember even at 12 I was like "so here's the book and here's the movie and they have the same title and some characters that have the same name, but there's no relation whatsoever between the two..."

I don't agree that Atreyu is less heroic in the book, I think he is actually more so, but it's in the awfully hard decisions he has to make and him being the cool warrior prince or anything.

"Bastian too; before he had AURYN he was a complete coward. Afterwards, it pretty much defines him until he finds a way to escape it and go back to being a fat coward."

This is just a complete misinterpretation of the situation. The AURYN doesn't define Bastian but turns him into whatever he wishes to be, and like most fat cowards, he wants to be a tough guy. But his journey in Phantasia makes him realise that it's actively working towards a dream that makes it come true, and not idle wishes. And when he goes back, he goes back to become a very brave fat boy.

Also, the Childlike Empress is a primal force, she's not there to deal out the goodies, but to maintain balance and harmony in her realm, which means she rarely interferes with things. After all, she's the empress of all the evil our imagination creates, and she has to be fair to them, too.
9. Lsana

Atreyu is still a hero, no question, but not nearly as much as he was in the movie. In the movie, he lived through the swamps of sadness because he was able to keep his spirits up. He made it past the Sphinx because he "believed in himself." In the book, he survived the first because of AURYN, and the second because of either AURYN or dumb luck.

I thought Bastian largely became a coward again in the end because he had become brave via a wish, which had to be discarded. There was still a significant change from the character he was at the beginning, but it was more subtle and harder to put into words than "he was a coward and now he is brave."

You and I seem to be thinking much the same thing on the Empress. In the movie, she's presented as pretty much this perfect, white-light angel. In the book, she's necessary but not good. She's empress of the vampires and dragons and monsters just as much as of Atreyu and crew.
Agnes Kormendi
10. tapsi

I'm glad we agree about so many things... but I think Bastian's admission that he stole the book is probably the bravest thing in the book :) because he does it in the real world where he's so painfully awkward.
Madeline Ferwerda
11. MadelineF
"This book is not for you" "These hands..."

Man. That movie was so seminal.

I guess if they stuck to the book it would be an interesting binocular vision thing... I read the book many years after seeing the movie, and it's been many years beyond that, but I remember the book being full of neat ideas. The temple of a thousand doors, that I wouldn't mind seeing on the silver screen. Also, perhaps it's just because I encountered the book at about the same time, but it seems to me that the book's tone was more sidelong and creepy than the tragic tone of the movie: more like Jeunet and Caro's "City of Lost Children". Now those guys, I bet they could do a hell of an interpretation of "The Neverending Story." Damn shame. I guess I sort of trust that DeCaprio is a clever fellow of the right age who probably wouldn't screw it up...

But you're right about the muppets. "We can do you muppets and lyric without the creepy, and we can do you muppets and creepy without the lyric, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can't give you lyric and creepy without the muppets. Muppets are compulsory."
12. Jim Henry III
I saw the movie not long after it came out, when I was in my early teens, and except for a few neat elements here and there, didn't like it at all. Some years later (probably in high school) a friend told me, "Yes, the movie is dreadful, but the book is completely different. Here, read it." And at the time I was blown away and thought it one of the best fantasy novels I'd read. I re-read it a year or two ago and didn't think nearly as highly of it, but still think it far better than the movie. I would be interested in seeing a movie based more closely on the book, with a sufficiently imaginative re-mapping of the specially literary structure of the book into film (it's partly a book about the reading experience; should a suitable translation into film make it into a movie about the movie-watching experience...?). A remake of the earlier movie with no substantial change except improved FX would not interest me at all.
J Dalziel
13. BunnyM
I first read the book of The Neverending Story before the movie came out here in Aus, way back in '85.

Like Jim Henry @ #12, it totally blew me away. It was the first book I ever picked up and utterly devoured in one sitting. I still love it today, and have re-read it more than a couple of times. I suspect a re-read is in order sometime over the next year or so.

The book was, and is, a beautifully intricate and detailed creation, and was the first time I actually thought 'Wow, that's an impressive piece of writing', rather than just 'Cool story!'

If they are to remake the movie and do any sort of justice to the book they definitely need to keep the muppets though. And preferably make it far less superficial than the original movie.

If you haven't read the book, track down a copy and read it, it's an experience well worth the time.
14. Todd Michael
Along with the remake of the film, I am looking for a producer for The Neverending Story on stage at Javits Convention Center in New York City. Both an opera and ballet score have been composed by Siegfried Matthus. Please refer to my website for more details by following the link below.

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