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The NeverEnding Story (German: Die unendliche Geschichte) is a 1984 West German epic fantasy film based on the novel of the same name written by Michael Ende. The film was directed and co-written by Wolfgang Petersen (his first English-language film) and starred Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, Tami Stronach, Moses Gunn, Thomas Hill, and Alan Oppenheimer as the voices of Falkor and Gmork. At the time of its release, it was the most expensive film produced outside the USA or the USSR. It was then followed by two sequels: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter and The NeverEnding Story III: Escape From Fantasia. The novel’s author, Michael Ende, felt that this adaptation’s content deviated so far from his book that he requested they either halt production or change the name; when they did neither, he sued them and subsequently lost the case. The film only adapts the first half of the book, and consequently does not convey the message of the title as it was portrayed in the novel.
Bastian Bux (Barret Oliver), a quiet boy who loves to read, is accosted by bullies on his way to school. He hides in a bookstore, interrupting the grumpy bookseller, Mr. Koreander (Thomas Hill). Bastian asks about one of the books he sees, but Mr. Koreander warns him it is “not safe.” Nevertheless, Bastian “borrows” the book, leaving a note promising to return it, and races towards school. He then hides in the school’s attic to begin reading The Neverending Story.
The book describes the fantasy world of Fantasia which is being threatened by a force called “The Nothing,” a void of darkness that consumes everything. The Childlike Empress (Tami Stronach), who rules over Fantasia from the Ivory Tower, has fallen ill due to the Nothing, and she has summoned Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), a young warrior from the Plains People, to discover the means to end the Nothing. Atreyu is given AURYN, a medallion to protect and guide him. As Atreyu sets out, the Nothing summons Gmork (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer), a vicious, but highly intelligent werewolf, to kill Atreyu.
Atreyu’s quest directs him to an ancient being called Morla that resides in the Swamps of Sadness, which are swamps where if you get sad in them, the mud sucks you under and you drown. Though AURYN protects Atreyu from its effects, his beloved horse Artax drowns in the swamp. Atreyu continues through the swamp, and since he is sad from Artax dying, he is nearly sucked under in the swamp but is rescued by a dragon named Morla and is surprised when Morla reveals itself as a giant tortoise-like being. Bastian, reading, is also surprised and lets out a scream; when he continues reading, Bastian is curious that Atreyu and Morla appeared to have heard his scream. Morla does not have the answers Atreyu seeks, but directs him to the Southern Oracle, ten thousand miles distant.
Atreyu attempts to trek through the Swamps but even AURYN cannot protect him indefinitely. Atreyu blacks out, but awakens, clean and restored, next to the luckdragon Falkor (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer), who had rescued Atreyu at the last minute and brought him to the Southern Oracle. Two gnomes who helped restore Atreyu explain what they know about the Oracle, including the trials that one must face before reaching it. As the Nothing draws near, Atreyu completes one trial and is perplexed when the second trial, a mirror that shows the viewer’s true self, reveals a boy matching Bastian’s description sitting in an attic reading a book. Bastian recoils in shock and throws the book aside, but cautiously continues reading after setting up candles in the darkened attic.
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