I like to consider myself somewhat of a fantasy connoisseur.
Anyone who’s listened to me talk about the fantasy genre has heard me ranting about this or that trope that I wish would die (Card Carrying Villain, looking directly at you). I’ll pick apart pretty much any fantasy novel or movie or whatever I come across. Family members have banned me from speaking during movie nights.
The Neverending Story (the movie; the book is sitting in my pile, ready to be read) has a world that’s about as deep into the fantasy pond as we go, with a good helping of eighties kid’s movie cheese for good measure. The good characters are unswervingly good, the bad characters are unswervingly bad. The bullies get their comeuppance via cackling fluff-monster at the end, the world rests on the decisions of one little boy who never thought he was anything special, and was also kind of a nerd.
By all standards of quality movie, I should detest it, or find it ridiculous.
You have no idea how often I’ve watched that movie. It’s one of my studying movies. I can basically recite it. Everyone says that Atreyu’s horse destroyed their childhood, but the “big strong hands” speech is the one that gets me every time. Morla the Ancient One is one of my favourite parts of the movie.
We have a few options then. One is that I’m just not as discerning as I thought I was, and should therefore stop talking. But I don’t wanna, so we’re going to look for another reason.
Did I watch it as a kid? Nostalgia can do a heck of a lot for a movie. And it’s true – I did … but I watched it a few times, then not again until my late teens. By the time I watched it again, I barely remembered what happened, only that I had liked it. So nostalgia certainly isn’t the only thing.
Do I watch it too much while studying, and therefore strung out on sleep deprivation and varying levels of caffeine, and unable to properly judge the movie? Well, that might be more true than I’d like to admit. I’ve certainly watched it in that state many times. But not always, and it’s still retained its good points when I was sensible enough to really pay attention.
Or maybe it’s that the movie is actually a good movie.
Bear with me on this one.
By far the best part of the movie is the world, although I can see where people complain about that. It’s very fragmentary; you move from swamp and ancient tortoise to mountains with a luck dragon and something something coast Gmork bat creature racing snail. The movie never stays in one part of the world for long, and does very much expect the audience to just follow along. A lot of fantasy novels can be like this – they’re more interested in showing the reader the world than in the story they’re actually writing. It’s a parade of shiny things, for the reader to look at, rather than a cohesive world.
That said, The Neverending Story is surprisingly cohesive. Not necessarily in geography (because goodness knows there’s enough evidence to the contrary), but in tone. No matter where Atreyu goes, it all feels like Fantasia. There’s the definite sense of continuity there, and the idea that the world exists as a whole made of parts, rather than a group of parts loosely tied together. Whether that’s artificially created by comparison to the Nothing is a separate post in and of itself, though. These things are always subjective, and by my subjective opinion, the world feels cohesive enough to keep me interested, and wonder about the history and more of the details of the place.
But I’m not one who can like a story just because of the world, otherwise I’d probably like Lord of the Rings a lot more. The characters might be pretty simplistic, but at least the actors do a good job of them.
As for the writing, well, the first scene in Fantasia isn’t much to write home about (by which I mean that I will rant about how it fails at the slightest hint of someone willing to listen to me), but the rest of it holds up well. Sure, there’s been better writing, but when you think of the trainwreck that could have happened had the writing not been handled quite as well? Yeah, we got off light there.
The more I think about this, the more I’m wondering if I basically covered this already in Fun in Narratives. I love a story that can make me forget that it’s not a very good story, whether by dint of being fun (like Dust) or by doing whatever it is The Neverending Story does. I think it’s the sense of wonder and discovery. Would the story be better or worse if Bastion weren’t there? Questions like that.
As always, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments and all that. Or maybe make it a little clearer to me why I’m right? Either way.