Friday, February 8, 1991.
BE NICE, I TOLD MYSELF.
Movies with General ratings and no classifier’s warnings are rare, so think positively.
The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter is chock-a-block with swell special effects. The technical craftspersons — visual effects, set and costume designers, model makers, matte painters, animators and makeup artists — all busted a gut to put on a spectacular show.
That’s good, because Vancouver's Science World is currently  featuring Hollywood Special Effects: The Science of Movie and Television Magic, a special travelling exhibition created by the California Museum of Science and Industry.
A fantasy, Neverending II called upon the illusion-making skills of a small army of talented folk. Director George (The Aviator) Miller’s picture is a nice introduction to Science World’s exploration of the arts that make it all possible.
The F/X wizards’ secrets are illustrated in a display that includes props and process-work materials from dozens of recent movies.
Nice, too, are the new film's familiar exteriors. Though essentially a German project, Neverending II touched down in six countries during production. As in the 1984 original, Vancouver stands in for young hero Bastian Balthazar Bux’s American home town (identified as “De Forest, Washingon”).
Also nice is the fact that it comes complete with a terrific new Bugs Bunny cartoon. For animation buffs, the big news is that the Bunny is back and he has Daffy Duck along with him.
Billed as “his first theatrical short in over 26 years,” Box Office Bunny is a star vehicle worthy of the wascally wabbit. Recent guest appearances in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Gremlins 2: The New Batch notwithstanding, the Bunny is at his best in the classic format.
Under the direction of Darrell Van Citters, Warner Brothers’ enduring superstars are as sharp and timely as ever in a tale of mayhem in a modern movie multiplex. More, please?
But hold the Neverending Story sequels.
Though screenwriter Karin Howard’s dialogue is a touch less sappy than in the original picture, her storyline plays like something assembled from a folkloric motif index.
Bastian (Jonathan Brandis in the Barret Oliver role) is a 13-year-old wimp. Friendless and still missing his late mom, he resents his dad (John Wesley Shipp, replacing Gerald McRaney) for trying to get on with his life.
Returning to Koreander’s bookshop, he hears a cry for help from an ornate copy of author Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. In a blink, he’s off to Fantasia to save the enchanted land’s imprisoned, endangered Childlike Empress (Alexandra Johnes, replacing a no-longer-childlike Tami Stronach).
Having defeated “the Nothing” on his previous visit, Bastian must now contend with “the Emptiness.” A similar force, it’s been unleashed upon the world of imagination by Nazi-like witch Xayide (Clarissa Burt), a villainess who attempts to co-opt our hero.
(Kids who already know how to read will recognize a plot swiped from C.S. Lewis’s 1950 Narnia novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)
Xayide sends a henchman in a chicken suit (Martin Umach) to encourage Bastian to make wishes, because each time he does he loses a memory, and eventually he’ll forget his quest.
Since everything here is symbolic, one well might ask the meaning of a tale without a significant female character who isn’t dead, deadly or deadly dull.
All those fine special effects notwithstanding, I was rooting for the Emptiness to prevail, sparing us further chapters of this neverending tedium.
That wasn’t nice.
The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1991. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
Afterword: First adapted to the screen in 1984, The Neverending Story did well enough financially to generate a sequel. Though the original book’s author hated it — in 1984, Michael Ende told Germany’s Der Spiegel that director Wolfgang Petersen’s picture was a "gigantic melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic" — producer Dieter Geissler went ahead with The Next Chapter. Apparently the first film was based on the first half of Ende’s 1979 novel, and the second feature was designed to finish it off. Against my advice in the above review, they went ahead and made The Neverending Story III: Escape from Fantasia. Based on an original screenplay by American TV writer Jeff Lieberman, it was shot on Vancouver locations and given a limited U.S. theatrical release in 1994. To the best of my recollection, the final picture in the series never made it into a B.C. theatre.
See also: According to 8th Dimension co-owner Nick Paraschos, the name of Vancouver’s newest bookstore is a movie reference. Both Nick and his partner Kelly Everaert really like director W.D. Richter’s 1984 fantasy classic, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.