Release Date(s)1984 (July 1, 2021)
Studio(s)Warner Bros (Constantin Film)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
[Editor’s note: Both the Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs in this release are Region Free.]
Director Wolfgang Peterson’s 1984 adaptation of Michael Ende’s novel The Neverending Story is a beloved family film which celebrates the power of the imagination. Not only does it present many fantastic sights and sounds which have been burned into the consciousness of anyone who saw the film as a child (with the Gmork perhaps fueling a nightmare or two), but imagination itself is the central theme of the film—one which is handled a bit differently than it was in Ende’s book, but no less successfully. The screenplay by Peterson and Herman Weigel covers approximately the first half of the book, which left the door open for two sequels, though neither of them had the commercial or cultural impact that the first film did.
Bastian (Barrett Oliver) is a solitary child who loves the worlds of fantasy and imagination, but his father (Gerald McRaney) just wants him to keep his feet on the ground. Bastian is the frequent target of bullies from his school, and one day while eluding them, he ends up in a bookshop where he encounters a bookseller (Thomas Hill) who warns Bastian to avoid a particularly dangerous book. Bastian helps himself to it anyway, and launches into the story of a child warrior named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway) who goes on a quest to save the realm of Fantasia from being swallowed up by The Nothing, and to save the Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach) in the process. But the more that Bastian reads, the more that the lines between fantasy and reality blur, and he will ultimately find that the story never ends because he has become a part of it.
While the film was an international success, Michael Ende wasn’t happy with the adaptation, calling it a “gigantic melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic.” He particularly objected to some of the tonal and narrative alterations. He wasn’t entirely wrong, and yet his core theme about the power of the imagination shines through—most importantly, the film does indeed show the way that imagination can provide not just a means of escape, but also a sense of hope. That’s a message which is always welcome in any family film, and the circular nature of the storytelling in The NeverEnding Story allows that hope to continue through its infinitely repeating layers.
Cinematographer Jost Vacano shot The NeverEnding Story in 35 mm using ARRIFLEX 35 BL3 and 35 III cameras, with Technovision anamorphic lenses, while some of the visual effects footage and plates were shot using horizontal 35 mm VistaVision cameras with Nikkor lenses. The film was released theatrically at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with 70 mm prints likely cropped to 2.20:1. There’s no information regarding the elements used for this 4K restoration, but one assumes this is a native 4K scan of original/archival film elements. While it’s far from perfect, it’s a huge improvement over all previous Blu-ray editions. Fine detail is much better, though it can be inconsistent at times. Some of that is due to the generational loss from optical work, but there’s been some DNR applied as well. The grain isn’t completely gone, but it’s reduced to the point where it might be hard to distinguish on smaller displays. Closeups do look solid, with facial features and fine textures such as the weave on Bastian’s shirt standing out, but details can look smoother in medium or long shots. The HDR grade (HDR10 is provided) offers strong contrast with deeper black levels, and much more shadow detail in the darkest areas of the screen. The new timing adds subtle depth to some of the colors, with Falcor’s pink hues standing out clearly, and his scales appearing more iridescent. The harsh orange filtered look which marred scenes on the previous Blu-rays is gone here in favor of a more natural look.
Audio options include German 5.1 DTS-HD HR, German 2.0 Dolby Digital, English 5.1 DTS-HD HR, and English 2.0 Dolby Digital. Optional German subtitles are available. While a lossless soundtrack would certainly have been preferable, the lossy 5.1 mix still sounds fine, with good ambient surround effects such as rain or environmental details. There’s deep bass during appropriate moments, such as when the Rockbiter is riding his cart. Note that the both the opening and closing titles are in German, as are insert shots with text (such as close-ups of the book). Some of the English dubbing for various supporting characters is also different than in the North American release—for example, Teeny Weeny (Deep Roy) has a distracting Southern accent here. The most critical difference for many viewers will be the fact that Limhal’s familiar title song is completely absent from the German version. There are a few other variations in the score, but the lack of the song may be a deal-breaker for some.
Constanin Film’s German Ultra HD release of The NeverEnding Story (Die unendliche Geschichte) is a 2-Disc set containing a UHD as well as a Blu-ray, both Region Free. It’s worth nothing that since this is a German edition, it contains the 101-minute German cut of the film rather than the more familiar 94-minute North American cut. The extras are included on the Blu-ray only, and while it’s Region Free, all of them except for the trailers (which are in 1080p) are in either 1080i/50 or 576i/50, which could cause issues for some combinations of players and displays. They include:
- Making of (HD – 16:45)
- Videoclip Limhal (SD – 3:45)
- Vom Storyboard zum Film (Auszug) (HD – 4:21)
- Unsere DVD/BD-empfehlung (HD – 2:18)
The Making of featurette is in German with no English subtitles, though there is behind-the-scenes footage in English with German subtitles. Videoclip Limhal is the music video for the song which isn’t used in this version of the film. Vom Storyboard zum Film (Auszug) is a split-screen comparison between the storyboards for one sequence and the final version in the film. In this case, the storyboards are written in English, but the dialogue from the clip is in German. Unsere DVD/BD-empfehlung is the home video trailer for the German animated production Konferenz der Tiere (aka Animals United). The Trailershow is a collection of trailers for seven different German language releases. They can be played individually, or as a group.
Michael Ende may not have been pleased with this adaptation of his book, but generations of fans have cherished The NeverEnding Story anyway. Constantin Film’s Ultra HD release is currently the only way to see it in 4K, and while the transfer may not be perfect, it’s still a noteworthy improvement over the Blu-ray editions. It’s also interesting to see the differences in the German version, though at least one of those differences may be difficult for fans to accept. (Fortunately, the song is still included in the extras.)
- Stephen Bjork
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