Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The NeverEnding Story.”
The Movie: “The NeverEnding Story”
Starring: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Plot Summary: (From Rotten Tomatoes) A troubled boy dives into a wondrous fantasy world through the pages of a mysterious book.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82 percent
Brown: After last week’s lame-ass peek into the ‘80s, I wanted to go as (REDACTED) ‘80s as possible this week.
Few movies can accomplish that than “The NeverEnding Story:” a movie where kids still read, teachers and parents alike don’t really care about the well-being of children and talking dog-dragons whose mouths don’t quite sync up to what they’re saying are universally loved and not thought of as pure nightmare fuel.
I wanted to pick this movie to follow the JOE-DOWN tradition of (REDACTED) all over everyone’s childhoods.
And then I received this gem from Froemming after I told him my pick.
While I complete my transformation to mustache-twirling baddie, hold back your tears and give us your initial thoughts, Froemming.
Froemming: Wow, maybe check your toxic masculinity at the door, Brown. It’s 2019, it’s OK for men to cry.
Look, very few things cause me to tear up: Deaths of friends and family, I cried once during my divorce and that’s it.
But “The NeverEnding Story” is a whole other thing. Maybe it is the memories associated with seeing this as a child, but even now at 37, the Swamps of Sadness cause me to well up, and I will not talk about that scene in this review.
This has been one of my favorite movies sincer I was a child. Even rewatching it, I still enjoy the hell out of this movie. Are there stupid things in it? Absolutely, but the thing about love is being able to point out loudly the shortcomings in the things you care about…
Ohhh, that’s why I am divorced. OK.
Anyway, I’m gonna hop on my Luck Dragon, Brown why don’t you kick this off.
Brown: We first begin with a disco song from Giorgio Moroder because that’s the most ‘80s (REDACTED) you can possibly do. Hell, he’s the guy who put together the “Scarface” soundtrack!
So after becoming Tony Manero in my living room for a spell, we get introduced to Bastian, which irritated me as a sports reporter who types out bizarre names all the time. Just call the kid Sebastian, movie.
Anyways, it’s a dour start to the movie where we find out that Bastian’s mom recently passed away and there’s clearly a distant relationship between him and his dad. I mean, the old man is giving Bastian a lecture about how he should keep his feet on the ground and quit daydreaming while gulping down raw eggs in a glass like he’s training to fight Apollo Creed or something.
Dude, your kid’s what, 10? Let him dream and doodle in his notebook. He has plenty of time to become disenfranchised when he grows up.
Froemming: The dad looks and dresses like an accountant, so I too was baffled by his Rocky Balboa breakfast of champions.
We see that not only has Bastian lost his mother (which any good parent would let their child deal with such a trauma by doodling in his notebook, not being grounded in the cold, tragic reality of the situation) but he is bullied on his way to school by what looks like two rejects from the Goonies and a kid in a bright red hat that I assume will one day mockingly smirk at a Native American man playing a drum.
These bullies chase our hero and force him into a dumpster, twice. Ah, the magic of being an awkward youth.
Brown: Dude, how (REDACTED) up was it when the bullies were like “Hey, there’s that mama’s boy. Let’s get ‘em!”
… His mom just died. Like, holy (REDACTED).
Well, Bastian escapes from the #MAGA crowd and finds himself in a bookstore run by an old pervert. I have worked in retail, so I can say this with confidence: Telling customers to go away is not the best way to run a business.
Brown: I bet that old man regretted that practice a few years later when Nintendo ended up on our shores and killed reading for generations after that.
Froemming: Reminder: You and I are in the print media business. (REDACTED) this old man for pulling stunts like this. Oh, people will be reading print FOREVER! Get lost kid!
Brown: To be fair, I don’t think a kid like Bastian is our problem. He’s read an oddly specific amount of books, including stuff like “Lord of the Rings” and a bunch of books that are now movies today.
Now, Bastian sees this old man reading a book he calls “The NeverEnding Story,” which is a fallacy to start since I can see the binding on both the front and back of the book. So, you know, it ends. It’s not wrapping around the bookstore like it’s the damn world serpent from Midgard (disclaimer: My knowledge of Norse mythology is based strictly on the “God of War” video game).
I should also mention that the old man hears about the bullies and asks why Bastian doesn’t just punch them in the nose. Reagan’s America, ladies and gentlemen!
Froemming: We need another Vietnam to toughen kids up.
Brown: While the old man walks away, Bastian steals “The NeverEnding Story” from him.
Reagan’s America, ladies and gentlemen!
Froemming: The old man sees the child has stolen his magical book, so:
Brown: I call bull on this being a magic book. The way the old man was describing this book, it was one of three things:
- Nazi literature
- “Catcher in the Rye”
My guess: This is how Bastian will act when he finishes this “NeverEnding Story.”
Froemming: Bastian gets to school, but sees he has a math test when he peaks in the door, so he sanely decides to skip out and go to the spookiest attic in America, which is oddly on top of his school.
I’m pretty sure schools do not have attics. I could be wrong, but this seems weird. Not only is it a school attic, it has skeletons, skulls and all sorts of items one would probably find in Jeffrey Dahmer’s basement
Brown: Also, what school leaves a key sitting around in a broken box that says “attic key?” I get that the ‘80s in cinema was nothing but absentee adults but this seems egregious. And if there’s such easy access to a school attic, kids won’t be up there reading books. They’ll be doing pot and having unprotected sex. Someone call Nancy Reagan!
Froemming: Satan’s Cabbage is the only explanation for what follows in the film.
So Bastion starts reading the titular book of this film which is — checks clock — a half-hour into this hour-and-a-half-film.
We see some woodland folks in a magical forest having the bejesus scared out of them by one of my all-time favorite characters: The Rock Biter. A giant rockman who eats rocks and, I assume, poops out said rocks, making life come full circle without waste. He must be part of this New Green Deal I am hearing about on FOX News that will destroy America.
Turns out these characters are on their way to the Ivory Tower to meet with Empress, because an entity is destroying the land of Fantasia.
What is this entity called?
Brown: When we got a look at The Nothing, this hit me so hard: “Stranger Things” ripped this movie off so hard.
That’s how this movie is “The NeverEnding Story.” Nevermind its three sequels, “Stranger Things” carries on this series. The Nothing is now the Upside Down. Will is the new Bastian. Eleven is the Empress/Moon Child. The Gmork becomes the Demogorgon…
Froemming: This movie, “The Goonies” and “E.T.” deserve residuals from Netflix for stealing their plots and wonderment for “Stranger Things.”
Now, the Empress is ill and there is only one who can find the cure. No, not the Highlander, it is Atreyu, a Native boy whose name would end up being used by some terrible emo/metal band that I despise. Also, the man calling for Atreyu to save them all kinda looks like his head is a penis, which has always troubled me.
Brown: I thought the man was Pai Mei, The Bride’s master from “Kill Bill.” You know, the beard and all…
Froemming: His head looks like a dork. I stand by that observation.
Now, there is a big issue with what they are tasking Atreyu to do: Find the cure, but they have no idea where to start. Atreyu is basically Robert Muller here, a wide open canvass to find out the answers and both are quite the wild ride. I would have loved for Atreyu to have busted Roger Stone, who dresses in real life like a 1960s Batman villain.
So the boy sets off with his trusty horse, Artax, to find a cure for the Empress and see if the Trump Administration colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.
Brown: I hated how Atreyu was told to not bring any weapons and to take on this quest alone. … Why? Who says any of these rules have to be followed? Hell, he gets saved by the luck dragon a short time into his adventure. It’s like a damn “Metal Gear Solid” game, “Save our world, young hunter. But you must do it on extreme mode. All weapons and equipment are OSP.”
Also, there is a warning that a creature, later known as Gmork, will be on the hunt for Atreyu. Frankly, Gmork is the werewolf thing Michael Jackson turns into at the start of “Thriller.”
Froemming: Pretty sure Gmork was never accused of being a diddler, though.
Brown: We don’t know how the criminal justice system works in Fantasia. Speaking of justice system, how did this movie never get sued by Disney?
So, before we all get weepy at the Swamps of Sadness, were you mad like I was that after Atreyu was whisked away for his journey that the weird man on the racing snail and the night hob aren’t really in the movie anymore? Or that the rock eater just shows up at the end with little reason? It makes me feel like the first 40 minutes of this movie are kind of a waste.
Froemming: The Rock Biter explains he couldn’t save them from The Nothing, but yes, it has always bothered me we didn’t get more of those characters because it felt like it set them up, then the movie pulled the old bait-N-switch and BOOM! Here is some other kid who whines almost as much as Luke Skywalker.
Brown: So, let’s head to the Swamps of Sadness, where Atreyu is off to search for Morla the Ancient One. And essentially, if you feel sadness or hopelessness or something, you’ll start to sink in the swamp. Atreyu is doing fine but all of a sudden, Artax starts sinking.
I… I guess I never thought that horses felt sadness? It’s like the people who wrote get-well cards to Barbaro after he got hurt while going for the Triple Crown. He wasn’t going to read those get-well cards because he’s a horse.
I get that kids would be all sorts of sad watching this horse sink into the mud below. … I felt nothing. I blame antidepressants and the fact that I’m a monster.
Froemming: Even Ted Bundy would have weeped at this. Ladies, avoid Joe Brown unless you want to be telling your tragic tale in a Netflix documentary 20 years from now.
Like I said, I don’t talk about this scene, so Atreyu finds Morla the Ancient One, which is a giant, depressed turtle who sneezes all the time. Also, this turtle puppet emotes more than Kristen Stewart in all the “Twilight” movies, which is hilarious to me.
Brown: That turtle talked like it was The Dude trying to explain how the kidnappers took Bunny in “The Big Lebowski.” Plus, it was super depressed. My guess is that swamp was knee-deep in heroin.
So, we jump into reality quick and Bastian realizes that school is over. Part of me was really hoping that the bullies would see him and be all, “Who the (REDACTED) told you you could leave the dumpster?!” before throwing him in there again.
Morla tells Atreyu to head to the Southern Oracle, which happens to be 10,000 miles away. Despite how terrible it is to trust a junkie, Atreyu tries making his way there but collapses in the swamp because obviously.
But, help is on the way! Falkor, the luck dragon is here! And he kind of looks like my boss’ dog, The Pupster.
Froemming: Oh yeah, Falkor looks like The Pupster all right, and I wish I had a luck dragon so I can fly over and terrorize my enemies for making me watch “Glitter.”
Falkor saves Atreyu, no reason given, I assume he was just passing by and saw some dumbass kid drowning in mud. And Atreyu, while passed out like a drunk college student, sleeps through most of his journey to the Southern Oracle.
His wounds are dressed, he is clean and I don’t want to know how the weird old couple did it, but thank God Falkor was there for him to recover from all this trauma.
Now, this couple are gnomes, so Atreyu towers over them like Brown and I tower over our college buddy Joey because he is comically short. And they bicker and yell at one another, which is funny here, but maybe they need a marriage counselor because this looks like a big problem that has lasted decades.
Once Atreyu is OK and drinks some weird potion the woman hands him, the old man explains that to get to the Southern Oracle, he must pass through two gates/tests. The first being two golden Sphinxes who shoot lasers from their eyes at people with self-doubt. One must be completely confident to pass through, you know, like Trump confident.
Brown: So… blissfully ignorant confident? Got it.
So Atreyu starts to get tense walking by the first group of sphinxes. Probably because the statue has breasts and he’s a teenager. I get it. Also, the whole scene looks like a rock album cover, which is pretty metal. I could see two laser-shooting sphinxes in space on a Yes vinyl.
As his fears build up, the sphinxes’ eyes start to light up so Atreyu makes a run for it and… survives.
So, to get by the sphinxes, either be Trump levels of confident or run really fast. … That kind of kills the tension of that death trap.
I was going to tell him to serpentine like Archer.
Froemming: Well, neither of us are super confident or fast, so it works for me.
Brown: I got a question: What’s to stop the sphinxes from shooting again?
Froemming: Limited range from their eye lasers?
So now Atreyu is onto the next part of this quest, which brings him to Minnesota to freeze his ass off in search of the second gate. What is the second gate? A test where one finds out who they truly are. And Atreyu is shocked to see in his reflection that he really is a nerd kid reading a book when everyone is outside having fun. You know, a Brian from “The Breakfast Club” sort of person.
Well, this creeps Bastian out a bit, because like George Costanza’s fear in life, worlds are colliding. But Atreyu passes and finds the Southern Oracle, which is a blue version of the topless Sphinxes, which means he is walking to them slightly hunched over to hide his shame.
Brown: The Sphinxes tell him the only way to save the Empress is to find a human child beyond Fantasia to give the Empress a new name.
So, the way to save this world is through kidnapping. … Great…
With their vague mission set, Atreyu rides Falkor to the edge of Fantasia. And in my second “Archer” reference of this review, this is how I imagine it goes for anyone riding on the back of the beast.
However, while in flight, The Nothing strikes and shakes Atreyu off of Falkor. While this is happening, there is a storm hitting Bastian at the school. And because this story is being read in what amounts to the attic in an old house, Bastian has to shut the windows. Honestly, if this is the attic of the school, the amount of water damage and resulting mold that would come from rain getting into the attic should close that place down. Or, you know, there’s a reason schools don’t have creepy attics like this!
But whatever. Atreyu is stranded on some island. And because I’m a sick man, I thought we were going to see Falkor laid up on the beach like a whale. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Froemming: After seeing that in “E.T.” I think it was the right choice.
On this island, which I think is the island from “Lost” with weird mysteries and a talking jungle cat, Atreyu finds his whole journey has been painted on the walls of the ruins.
I’d like to think it was Gmork who did it, with his paws, paints and a smug French beret.
Atreyu and Gmork face off, where the beast talks about how he is an agent for The Nothing, an entity that has become more powerful because people stopped taking LSD in the 80s and their imaginations are ruined by the cocaine they switched to. With no dreams and everyone in despair because, you know, Reagan and Thatcher and the Cold War and all, Fantasia is being eaten alive. Gmork is a nihilist, but unlike the ones in “The Big Lebowski,” he has all his toes.
Brown: When Gmork showed back on screen, my mind went straight for ‘90s late-night jokes by exclaiming “Hey! Jacko is backo!”
Gmork also says that Fantasia is built on people’s hopes and hopelessness is what’s destroying the land. If that’s the case, The Nothing has clearly been winning since 2016.
Still, Atreyu wants to slay The Nothing’s cabana boy and wants to fight Gmork.
You know what would have been helpful here, Atreyu? Weapons. Or an ally. But noooooo, an old man told you that those were forbidden. Now I’m not saying you should trust old people… but don’t trust old people.
But, Atreyu finds a rock that is just so happens to be shaped like a knife. Kind of like how there was a lemon behind that lemon-shaped rock.
It’s not enough to stop The Nothing from closing in as high winds sweep the area. It would have helped Atreyu if he had a belt to strap onto a pipe like in the end of future JOE-DOWN movie “Twister.”
Froemming: Well, Falkor comes and saves his bacon yet again. Falkor is the true hero of this movie.
And Fantasia is pretty much wiped out. While hurtling through space on his Luck Dragon (which would also be a kickass Yes album cover), Atreyu uses the Auryn to find the Ivory Tower and, perhaps, the Empress. Thank God the Ivory Tower was built better than a Trump Tower, because it survived The Nothing.
And there Atreyu meets the young empress, who says she needs a name but only a human child can give her a new one. Atreyu, rightfully after losing his horse to sadness, being beaten, dropped, shot at and attacked by a large beast, is kinda pissed off at this news. Especially when she says they boy was with him the whole time.
She means Bastian, who throws his book away in a rage much like I tossed the “Super Mario Bros.” DVD at Brown in a rage: We both could not believe the (REDACTED) we just got handed.
Brown: The old man did warn him that the book was too intense… or something. It was a vague warning.
There was a part of me that was thinking when Atreyu arrived that the Empress would say “I’m glad you arrived. And you brought Falkor. Now we can eat him!” I’m sure luck dragon meat can help cure illness.
But the attic starts to feel all “Evil Dead” now and the Empress keeps screaming “Call my name.” My natural response…
However, Bastian screams out a different name: Moon Child.
That’s not a name. That’s what some lame-ass Dead Head would call themselves as they sell hash out of a panel van in a concert parking lot. Also, her name is Eleven.
Here, Moon Child (ugg…) explains that The Nothing has consumed Fantasia and all that remains is a grain of sand. But, Bastian has the power of imagination on his side! So with just one grain of sand, he can create a whole new world. Movie, if you want to use even more savior symbolism, give Bastian a loaf of bread and a fish and tell him to feed an entire village while we’re at it.
Froemming: I find the grain of sand more plausible.
Anyway, Bastian makes a wish and it is revenge on his bullies. Well, not at first. His first wish is to ride Falkor, which would have been mine as well.
But his second wish to torment those who have wronged him? I totally get it. Good for you, Bastian! You fit in perfectly in Reagan’s America!
So he terrorizes the bullies with his magical luck dragon, chasing them through the city until they jump into a dumpster. And we get a narrator telling us he had many more wishes, and the movie ends just as suddenly as the finale to “The Sopranos.”
Felt like they rushed that a bit.
Brown: I just realized this movie could be a Dio song. And I’m OK with that.
I have to go scream a person’s name out of my window, so let’s go to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Sure. it’s a fun fantasy movie that does actually have an ending and deserved litigation from Lionel Hutz.
Froemming: Oh yeah, this is one of my favorite movies of all time. Worth a watch.
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