Friday, August 6, 2010

Na-na-naaa, Na-na-naaa, Na-na-naaaaaaa

If you were born after 1987, you likely never saw a movie called "The Never Ending Story."

If you were born between 1975 and 1987, you likely gasped when you read the sentence above.

If you were born before 1975, you likely just wondered why anyone would gasp over that weird, awful children's movie.

Stories that involve escapism tend to wield a powerful hold (with big, strong hands I guess), and this is an escapist story about the escapism of stories, so if you saw the movie when you were the right age to identify with Bastian then I guess you're bound to love it.

Now as it happens, we live in the future, so if you'd like to experience a cultural fixture of the "NES Generation" (and here I'm using that to stand for both "Never Ending Story" and "Nintendo Entertainment System") you may do so right now on YouTube. Go on. It's ok. I'll just be here, deconstructing my childhood beat-for-beat.

Some thoughts on watching the film now, all these years later.

I know I said it was "awful," and it kinda is, but to be fair there's some good stuff here. First of all, when Bastian says "I had another dream Dad, about Mom," there's a pretty incredible emotional beat. We don't need any more explanation. One line into the movie and we instantly know who this kid is, what he's dealing with, and how strained his relationship with his father is. That's eloquence itself. And you know what really brings it home? Gerald McRaney, there in the background, stopping right before cracking that egg. That pause sells the whole moment.

That being said . . . does Bastian's dad really crack an egg into a blender full of orange juice, then drink it? Ugh. So gross. And while we're on the subject, doesn't it seem like a lot of 80's movies had scenes with a character drinking raw eggs? I know Rocky did, and I'm thinking maybe the older brother in Goonies as well. Was that how you showed that a character was a big strong guy back then?

Another aspect of NES that really stands up is the large scale puppetry. Before I revisited the movie I doubted whether Morla, Rock Biter, and Gmork were going to look as good as I remembered, but they're all stunning even today.

Generally I'm not in the "it was better the way they used to do it," "old man shaking his fist" camp, but I have to admit that CG versions of those characters wouldn't be as good as these. The designer's craftsmanship was simply too fine, their work too polished by the challenges of physical materials.

But um . . . Falcor I do have to take up with them. He um . . . He looks kind of phallic okay I said it now let's move on.

Of course I couldn't mention those enormous characters without giving a nod to the excellent actors that gave them voices. Or rather, actor. Yeah, they were all done by the same guy, Alan Oppenheimer, and if the NES Genners will take a moment to review the man's resume, I think they'll find that they love him dearly.*

One final tidbit about the film, it left an interesting linguistic mark on the NES generation. I have always thought of an "oracle" as a statue. The whole time I was reading about the "Oracle at Delphi" in Greek mythology, I imagined it as a big stone carving. But it wasn't, the Oracle at Delphi was a person as oracles usually are. So why do the NES Genners get it wrong? Because they were introduced to the word by The Never Ending Story, which includes a "Southern Oracle" that's represented by a pair of huge statues.

*Because he was also Skeletor!

1 comment:

Amanda said...

In response to your raw egg bit, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast is shown eating raw eggs (whole, in the shell...gross) in the he's-such-a-manly-man song, "Gaston." It wasn't the 1980's, but it was close- 1991.