When talking with Greg about why he gave Sucker Punch 4 “hombres” out of 5 on our site, he commented that it was “everything Transformers wanted to be”. Zach Snyder would probably embrace a million backhanded comments like those at this point, for most critics have been very aggressive in their condemnations of his latest film. We have known ever since Gerard Butler’s CGI-enhanced washboards that Snyder was a man who favored noteworthy style over substance, but films like 300 and Watchmen were at least given some general credit for their visual strengths. Why now, in a subgenre (I like to call it “escapist fantasy”) that seems made for Snyder’s, um, particular kind of message, are riot acts being read? Maybe one should look to a well-known escapist fantasy from the past for answers.
DAY 17: THE NEVERENDING STORY
I have often heard parents complain that kids don’t “get lost in books” like they used to, but this film takes it over-the-top, doesn’t it? For what it is worth, in spite of its excessive silliness, at least the story’s premise is sufficiently complex to a degree that kids will be able to enjoy the ride. Basically, the plot could be described as follows: “See Bastian run. Bastian grabs book. Read, Bastian, read.” Taking a “special” book from a local bookstore, under the endless pursuit of the normal spurt of intelligent kid bullies prevalent in 80s cinema, Bastian (Barret Oliver) takes the book up to the attic of his school to read and….that’s about it. The rest of the movie basically involves his interactions with the book, in a part of the school that apparently does not have any lock on it. Oh, there is mention of the grieving he and his father are going through, but that is never explored as much. You never see the father a second time, and his mother’s name is not distinctly mentioned once in the entire movie.
The “Neverending Story” itself involves a world called Fantasia that is being attacked by the “Nothing”, sort of like what would happen to its entertainment value if Mickey’s dancing broomsticks were removed from its world. In other words, the world is caving in on itself and nothing is spared from its dripping, sharp-toothed attack – at least I am assuming it is sharp-toothed, because we never actually see the villain. A native warrior named Atreyu (Noah Hathaway, who is actually ¼ Mohican…IT’S NOT THAT HARD, MR. SHAMALAMA!) is called on to fight “Ol’ Invisible” with his trusty sidekick horse Artax….as long as he does so unarmed…..Wait, what? I guess that makes sense to a degree, if you are trying to defend yourself and those around you against an abstract manifestation of collective imagination decaying in modern society…sort of like trying to scoop carbon monoxide from the house with a teaspoon. But you are telling me he couldn’t even bring a bow and arrow to, I don’t know, hunt for food during their weeks-long trip? Maybe that teaspoon can help scoop some invisible fish.
Anyway, over the course of Bastion's storybook, swamps stink, heroes sink (into depression), rocks bite….it’s all standard steps in the “Hero’s Journey” formula, ones that Shia LaBeouf has more masterfully performed for younger audience many times over by now. But while a giant made out of rocks and “big, strong hands” can’t capture the imagination quite like Bumblebee transforming to the background music of Linkin Park, it keeps Bastian interested. And I suppose we should be glad someplace without the names “Potter”, “Frodo” and “constantly-shirtless werewolf gang” are promoting an afternoon of reading. At the very least, it is a beautifully captured world that any child would want to skip a math test to visit. [Actually, the kid probably wouldn’t need to be offered the trip.] The use of CGI and clearly-rendered green screens is sorely missing, showing the datedness of the film through its use of actual sets and sense of realness. But getting the chance to realistically imagine flying a dog-faced, six-legged, furry luck dragon (????) comes close to making up for that modern inconvenience.
However, in spite of director Wolfgang Petersen’s visual success, much more significantly than Snyder, his work in this film does seem to come up short in its concepts and depth. First of all, let’s look at how they examine the theme of finding refuge from your problems. While Snyder’s main character knowingly fights to combat inhumane hospital treatments, never insecure about her vulnerable state, Bastion takes the easy route and tackles simpler issues. Grief? Loneliness? Uncertainty about your ability to make a difference? Most of the time, he does not even realize the book is helping him. Is this some sort of mystical New Age voodoo? Kids can get motivational posters for those problems in the classroom, bring on the attack on evil hospitals and moustache twirlers instead! And what is it with this idea that the storybook needs Bastian to survive just as much as he needs it, as if it’s actually…alive? Kids don’t respond to complex diatribes pertaining to the intangible relationship between a story and who hears it. They want to see things go BOOOM! Action scene! Long-winded villain speech! After all, their Facebook multi-person video chat starts in 15 minute, kids today need a neatly-tied ending.
So in conclusion, Snyder is clearly a man ahead of his time who knows his moviegoing audience. And I am sure his work with Sucker Punch will make The Neverending Story a distant mem-
*insert sounds of angry shouts, boos, fisticuffs, rotten fruit being tossed...and a squawking chicken*
April Fools, folks. This film is timeless and needs to be remembered now more than ever. Along with amazing visuals that pull you in and a wide range of acting that never feels forced or awkward even among the child actors (Again, GET A CLUE, SHAMABLAMA!), its message about the state of modern society’s imagination is one that should be heeded. Maybe if Snyder took a page from it and directed someone else’s vision for a change, maybe something neverending could be found in his work too.
[Overall Rating: 9/10...But why does the horse get depressed?!]
NEXT TIME: APRIL FOOL'S SURPRISE!!!