The Movies Made Me Do It: Confessions of a Film Actor (Issue #10)

Russell Bradley Fenton
3 min readApr 16, 2024

--

THE NEVERENDING STORY, 1984, PG — ARTEX! YOU STUPID HORSE!

That moment was the turning point in what is arguably the most existential fantasy film to emerge from the 80s. The moment when every kid watching (which up to that point was a fairly hopeful adventure) would feel the pain and crushing sadness of an animal sinking into the Swamps of Sadness, drowning while the hero Atreyu pulls and tugs on it, unable to save it, screaming on helplessly. Like did the horse really have to die? You wanna talk about traumatic emotional recall? Yes, this my one spoiler alert for those of you who have never seen The Neverending Story.

I was six or seven when I first caught it on HBO and found the actual hero of the story, a young boy named Bastian, instantly relatable. He has no friends, gets bullied regularly (enough to be tossed into garbage dumpsters), and has a distant father who seems to prefer work rather than talk about his recently deceased wife (and Bastian’s mother). Furthermore, Bastian enjoys reading books as a form of escapism, so it wasn’t out of character for him to steal one from a dusty bookstore after the grumpy owner practically dares him to do so. It’s an ominous tale titled The Neverending Story. It even boasts a curvy, snake-like medallion sealed right on the cover.

Bastian skips classes that same day and sneaks into the school attic, where he starts reading the book in which a young boy named Atreyu sets off on a quest to save the world of Fantasia from extinction. The threat: a hurricane type force called The Nothing (has there ever been a more nihilistic villain for a children’s movie?) And here’s the kicker: the story within the story is all happening because Bastian is reading it in real time, thus creating from his own imagination what exists cover to cover. This blew my mind, and it wasn’t till years later that I discovered the book (upon which the film is based) is even more complex, profound and imaginative with its challenging narrative and themes.

What else can be said? The movie hosts a variety of vivid characters that come and go during the journey of good versus evil, including a giant racing snail, a giant turtle, giant laser shooting statues, a flying Bichon dragon creature named Falkor who speaks in a grandfatherly voice, a bloodthirsty werewolf named Gmork that somehow runs at light speed, freaky gnomes, a giant rockeater with a tricycle, and more. The set pieces and production design of this world include good old fashioned practical effects (matte backdrops, miniatures, puppetry) which are way more charming and tangible then CGI, especially for a story like this one, complimented by an appropriate score and luckily a happy ending.

The movie was at the time of its release the most expensive feature ever produced outside the US. German director Wolfgang Petersen had made the WW2 submarine thriller Das Boot just a few years earlier (he went on to direct 1985’s sci fi adventure Enemy Mine, followed by summer hits like In the Line of Fire, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm and Troy). He may have seen some of the softer fantasy films coming out of Hollywood and thought: let’s turn it up to 11 for the kids. The title song got featured in season three of Stranger Things, a nice throwback and reminder to audiences that the 80s had quite the soundtrack. And to this day, I still have no idea what Bastian screamed out the window after the Child Empress demanded over and over from him: SAY MY NAME!

*According to Wikipedia, the name is Moon Child, but I dunno…

--

--

Russell Bradley Fenton

I am a film/TV actor for life, screenwriter in development, and film/TV enthusiast.