Perhaps an indirect result of the success of the Harry Potter and Narnia films in recent years, the Kennedy/Marshall Co. – the production company behind the Oscar-nominated and critic-dividing The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – are in talks with Warner Bros. about a remake of the 1984 geek classic The NeverEnding Story.
Based on the first half of Michael Ende’s novel Die unendliche Geschichte and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the original film made a respectable $20m for Warners and spawned two sequels (though the less said about them the better). It remains popular and much-loved to this day, particularly with twentysomething geeks like this writer, who really ought to be watching grown-up arthouse docudramas or something instead.
Yes, the FX are outdated and clunky. Yes, the score is very, very Eighties. Yes, the theme song is sung by Limahl. But the story itself (and the story within the story) still holds up.
If you were unlucky enough to miss this gem in your formative years, it’s about the magical realm of Fantasia, slowly being consumed by the Nothing as its ruling Empress grows weaker. It’s about the boy-warrior Atreyu’s quest to find a cure for her, journeying through the Swamps of Sadness to the Southern Oracle, aided by gnomes, rockbiters, giant sneezing tortoises and a luckdragon named Falkor. But then it’s also about Bastian, the young boy reading of Atreyu’s adventures in a stolen book, who will eventually decide the fate of all Fantasia as he is drawn deeper into the world within its pages…
And if that all sounds a bit existential, well, it is. The NeverEnding Story is about as deep and philosophical as children’s films get, which is why the prospect of a remake in this age of dumbing-down and taking the audience for granted is, frankly, a bit of a worry.
Of course, you never know, it might actually be OK. The awful scenario playing on a nightmarish loop in this writer’s head (Shia LaBoeuf as Atreyu! Jessica Alba as the Empress! Eddie Murphy as the voice of that wacky ol’ dragon!) probably won’t happen. But it just won’t be right.
Would a re-telling retain that distinctly European sense of melancholy which permeates Petersen’s film? Doubtful. Studio execs would almost certainly be wary of including anything too distressing either, which is why the scene in the Swamps of Sadness – still one of the most upsetting things this writer has ever seen on film – will never affect the viewer as strongly as the original.
While still in its very early stages of development – no writers, directors or actors have yet been signed – the new version will apparently stick more closely to the source material and include details from the book which were omitted in Petersen’s film. Michael Ende objected strongly to how far the first film deviated from his novel, but it is as yet unknown whether the author approves of this latest venture. Not that it matters (in the words of Morla the Ancient One); Roald Dahl couldn’t stand Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and it’s still arguably a much better film than the 2005 Johnny Depp vehicle.
Of course, the constant desire to ‘re-imagine’ films that were fine to begin with is the real neverending story here. I won’t launch into a rant about how Hollywood can no longer come up with a decent new idea. I will, however, await the new NeverEnding Story with a weary heart, a good deal of dread and a staunch refusal to move with the times.
Let’s hope it remains stranded in development hell until it gets swallowed by the Nothing.