On The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter

I cannot claim to have really seen The NeverEnding Story, but arguably, I am much more familiar with The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter. According to the AgonyBooth review:

Welcome to the second installment of the Agony Booth’s exploration of the NeverEnding Story film franchise. This mini-recap, as well as the one I posted of the first film, should be all you need to prepare for Michael Novelli’s full-length recap of the third film, coming very soon.

When we last left Bastian Balthazar Bux, the savior of Fantasia, he was cruising off on his giant flying pink poodle into a magical Generic Fantasy Land of his own making. Many exciting adventures were promised to us, yadda yadda, cue theme song by Limahl.

Six years later, Bastian’s continuing adventures finally limped into theaters under the title of The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter. And I think it says a lot that the movie’s big selling point at the time was that it was preceded by “Box Office Bunny”, the first new Bugs Bunny theatrical short in over 25 years. Unfortunately, even that couldn’t save the film, because it failed to earn back its $36 million budget in its initial run. (However, it apparently did well enough on home video to justify a third movie.)

I’d imagine the big undoing of this movie is that, like me, the target audience who loved the first film were now mostly too old to care. Allow me to put this in context: The first film came out when I was in grade school. By the time the second film finally hit US theaters, I was applying for college. There may as well have been a 50-year gap between the two films.

The filmmakers seem to have been well aware of this, because they crafted a story that’s obviously tailored to kids too young to have seen the first movie. At the same time, they throw in just enough of a fudge factor where things almost fit together between the two films. Almost. Ultimately, NeverEnding Story II ends up being more of a pseudo-remake than an actual sequel.

A number of behind-the-scenes people return from the previous film, but the only actor to appear on camera in both the first movie and the second is Thomas Hill, as the devious bookstore owner Mr. Koreander. (But the third movie is so bad, even he didn’t come back for that one.)

After six years, all of the child roles had to be recast, obviously. The lead role of Bastian Bux is now played by Jonathon Brandis, who would later go on to be a regular on SeaQuest DSV. But these days, he’s probably known more for how he died, by hanging himself back in 2003.

Certainly, when somebody takes their own life, it’s always a tragedy, especially when it’s a guy who was 27 and obviously had a lot of things going for him. Having said all that, Brandis’ death has unfortunately triggered yet another case of that phenomenon known as Dying Young Retroactively Makes You More Talented.

From the way his fans talk about him on message boards to this day, you’d think the world had lost the next Olivier. This is a bit much, given that his primary claim to fame was as the most annoying character on a mediocre show that only lasted three seasons. (Seriously, prior to his death, reviewers mostly described Brandis’ SeaQuest character as a dopier version of Wesley Crusher.)

And it’s even more amazing how quick his fans are to boil his suicide down to a simple case of despondence about the state of his career. Evidently, a couple of years before he died, he was in the running for the role of Anakin Skywalker. And if you can believe it, fans have subsequently made headache-inducing statements like“George Lucas practically placed that rope around his neck!”

Come to think of it, that’s pretty easy to believe, considering this is the internet, where the utter lack of perspective never ceases to amaze me.

If someone really is unstable enough to kill themselves over one career setback, whose fault is that? The guy who didn’t hire him, or the guy who couldn’t handle rejection and get on with his life?

I realize the part of Anakin was huge, but come on—actors miss out on huge opportunities all the time. Kevin Costner was supposed to have his big break in The Big Chill, but all his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. And yet, by not killing himself, he went on to massive stardom. And you know, Eric Stoltz didn’t throw himself off a bridge after getting fired from Back to the Future, and look where he is now. Okay, maybe that’s a bad example, but at least he’s still working.

Honestly, I think if they could, people would blame George Lucas for how their family dog died when they were four. They’d blame George Lucas for 9/11 if they could (though I do understand the Taliban were pretty unimpressed by The Phantom Menace). In fact, George Lucas might be the reason gas is nearly $5 a gallon. George Lucas does not care about black people!

Sheesh. I don’t particularly like the Star Wars prequels myself, but a few bad movies do not make a guy into Satan.

Having never seen SeaQuest, I can’t comment on Brandis’ acting there, but he definitely brings nothing of interest to this film. There’s no subtlety whatsoever in his performance, which consists of alternating between A) bugging his eyes out of his head in fear and B) putting on a sad pouty face whenever someone mentions his dead mom.

I’m not trying to single Brandis out here, because the whole cast is second-rate, from the new Atreyu, to the new Childlike Empress (who might actually be played a mannequin), to the new Bastian’s Dad. There’s not much subtlety from anybody, really. But Brandis is the one who’s supposed to be carrying this film, and he just wasn’t up to the job. But he’s just one of many problems with this movie, as we’ll soon see.

As you might recall, the first film ended at roughly the halfway mark of Michael Ende’s original novel. According to Wikipedia, the second film very loosely follows the second half of the book. I can’t tell you if that’s true, because it’s been almost 25 years since I read the book. I honestly can’t recall a single thing from after Bastian arrives in Fantasia, and nothing in this movie rings a bell, so I’ll just have to take the word of Wikipedia. Hey, when has it ever been wrong?

Oh, and since the last recap, I learned that Bastian’s magical medallion is not actually called the “Auryn”. It’s the AURYN, fully capitalized, but I don’t know why. I don’t think it stands for anything. Unless it’s one of those backronyms, like “D.A.R.Y.L.” (Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform), only in this case it’s up to the reader to make up what it stands for after the fact. Well, I’m sure that by the time I finish this recap, I’ll have something in mind.

The movie opens on Bastian’s house, some unspecified time after the first movie. Actually, I’m not 100% sure this movie takes place after the first one. I’m really just guessing, based on the fact that the words “The Next Chapter” are in the title, and a few of the characters seem to have memories of meeting each other previously. But that’s really just conjecture.

The previous film ended with Bastian flying off into Fantasia to recreate the entire magical realm from a single grain of sparkly power, but now he’s back at home, living with his single dad again, with no explanation of how or why he came back. (Worse yet, he doesn’t seem to have grown as a human being from the experience at all.)

Bastian is in his kitchen, making himself lunch. He’s reading a fantasy novel at the same time, and getting so wrapped up in the book that he can’t even make a fucking sandwich properly. He gets so into the story that he pretends his knife is a sword, and he stabs his sandwich through the heart, sending food flying.

And I can’t help but notice that the filmmakers went to the trouble of filming in the exact same house as the previous movie. In a good film, this would be a nice bone to throw to the fans, but given how much continuity they screw up later in the film, it’s a wonder they even bothered. (As a matter of fact, they went to the trouble of reusing a few of the same props and puppets from the first movie, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for the third film.)

Bastian attempts to clean up the sandwich, but only ends up knocking over a box of cereal, as well a carton of milk, and a few plates in the process. So, he still pretty much sucks at life.

Bastian comically overreacts to all of these mishaps, just as his dad comes home. And Bastian’s Dad is no longer played by Gerald McRaney. In his place is John Wesley Shipp, who would later go on to play Dawson’s dad on Dawson’s Creek. And around the same time this movie was made, he played the title role on CBS’ short-lived Flash series. And boy, is this guy bland. Bland looks, bland acting, bland everything. He actually makes me nostalgic for that McRaney charisma.

Bastian heads to school, where we learn that despite the events of the previous movie, he’s still ridiculously sensitive and a total pussy. At school, he’s terrified to dive off a diving board.

We get a look at the diving board, and okay, this forces me to amend my pussy comment a little bit, because it’s ridiculously high. The whole diving platform is enormous, and I’m sure it was created through special effects. There’s absolutely no way a school would let little kids jump off this thing. But then again, all the other kids are doing it with no problem (including the girls), so in the context of this scene at least, Bastian’s still a pussy.

Once he’s up on the diving board, Bastian starts to visualize a raging waterfall. Is it a daydream, a hallucination, a peyote trip, an acid flashback? No idea. But he’s so scared of diving off the platform that he pretends he has a cramp and can’t jump. All the kids laugh at him, and his coach even mocks Bastian for his “high wimp factor”. Oh yeah? Well, I saved a whole fantasy realm, so suck on deez nuts! That’s what I would say, anyway. So maybe it’s a good thing they cast Brandis and not me in a kid’s movie.

Back at home, Bastian and his dad have a Meaningful Conversation. Turns out Bastian is still bitter about his mom being dead. Oh, come on, kid! Since she died you created a whole fantasy world! Get over it, already!

And Dad is still hopelessly out of touch with his son. He reveals that he’s started dating again, and Bastian almost has a nervous breakdown over this news. Dad sensitively responds by making fun of Bastian’s sweater, to which Bastian overdramatically says, “Mom made it!” Sorry, kid, dead mom or no, you look like a meth addict. Seriously, the sweater’s all ragged, with huge holes in it. I guess the implication is that he’s worn it out by putting it on everyday to remind him of Mom, but it honestly looks like he just changed back from the Hulk.

Bastian then goes over to Koreander’s bookstore. You may recall Koreander from the first film, and how Bastian ducked into his bookstore to avoid bullies, and was eventually introduced to a book called The NeverEnding Story. Here, the two of them act like they remember each other, and yet Koreander never says anything like, Hey, remember that book you stole from me that took you into an alternate reality? Good times.

Bastian asks for books to help him find courage, and conquer his fear of heights. Koreander says he has just the ticket. He climbs a ladder and pulls a book off the shelf, which somehow causes a bright ray of sunlight to come streaming through the stacks. The camera follows the ray of light, where it once again reveals The NeverEnding Story to Bastian.

Bastian looks at the book and hears the echoing voiceover of the Childlike Empress calling out to him. He opens the book, and finds that words are literally fading off the page.

And yet again, Koreander uses reverse psychology to get Bastian to steal the book. First, Koreander demands the book back, but Bastian points out he’s already read it. So Koreander sternly warns him that when you re-read a book, it’s never quite the same as the first time you read it. Truly a dire warning, but Bastian refuses to listen.

He shoplifts the book, yet again, and once again, Koreander is pleased. See what I mean about this being a pseudo-remake of the first movie?

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One thought on “On The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter

  1. Pingback: On RoboCop 2 | The Progressive Democrat

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