The film opens with impressive CGI landscape shots of Fantasia. They're pretty and all, and I won't take that away from anyone, but it's obvious this movie was made around that time when Hollywood was still feeling the whole "computer" thing out. It's not as bad as Spawn, but none of this looks A) real or B) like any other background in this film or C) anything like the Fantasia we saw in the first two films. I almost feel bad making fun of it, knowing that it's not really their fault—it's just the technology (and budget) they had to work with at the time. I'll just marvel at how pretty it is, and move on.
A booming British voiceover tells us that the Mountains of Destiny are the highest point in Fantasia. I thought the prior films established that the Ivory Tower, home of the Childlike Empress, was the tallest thing around, but hey, continuity is for wusses.
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It's revealed that the voice belongs to the Old Man of the Wandering Mountain. His job, as you might know from the novel, is to write down everything that happens in the NeverEnding Story so that it can become, well, the NeverEnding Story. The Old Man is played by Freddie Jones, who's had a lot of roles over the years, but Boothers will most likely remember him best from David Lynch's Dune, where he played Thufir Hawat.
Why the Old Man of the Wandering Mountain is currently hanging out at the Mountains of Destiny is anybody's guess. In the novel, the Wandering Mountain actually wandered, and the only way to find it was to climb up a different mountain and just hope the Old Man showed up. Also in the novel, the Childlike Empress just happened to guess that he would show up at the Mountains of Destiny. So I suppose it makes some sense for him to be here, but it strikes me as unusual that he would still be hanging around, as opposed to, you know, wandering.
Lex Luthor got old hanging out at the Fortress of Solitude, waiting for Superman to show up.
Here, the Old Man dictates everything into a large book with the help of a "stylus" that looks like a high concept dentist's mirror. As he speaks, computer generated letters appear, and flutter into place on the page. He seems to be having some difficulty continuing the story, and I don't blame him. Kind of hard to tell a story when nothing's happening.
Damn, the Soul Train Scramble Board gets harder every year.
After briefly bickering with his book (yes, bickering), CGI letters fly onto the page that say, "There will be a day when the writing stylus will start to act strangely..." And it will pump out a script like this one, and blame it on someone named Jeff Lieberman!
The book goes one step further, and says this will somehow make it hard to remember the NeverEnding Story. According to the book, this will be a sign that "the Nasty" is coming. Hey, some people actually like doin' the Nasty, you know. And the sexual undertones of this name will become even more blatant as the film goes on, but for now we're supposed to believe that the Nasty is what happens when children "turn away from books and reading!" Well, you do have to put down your book to do the Nasty (at least if you're doing it right, anyway), so that much is true.
Blah blah blah, more exposition, something about how in order to "stop the Nasty, even temporarily", Fantasia will require someone who is "a voracious reader, of grrrreat imagination, and extra-ordinary courage!" Basically, the exact same characteristics as... Bastian Balthazar Bux! Oh yeah, like that was a surprise, what with him being the main character of the first two movies and all.
Still, I'll buy that Bastian can stop the Nasty. I mean, if I'd been the kid in the Free Willy movies, I'd have grown up to be a cock-block, too.
And just like in the first movie, our intrepid hero Bastian is escaping from school bullies. Shortly on his heels are a gang of pasty white ruffians, led by... Jack Black!
Given how long they chase him, there are apparently six or seven floors to this school. I guess this is supposed to be one of those in medias res openings, where we wonder why he's being chased, and why the camera spends so much time on the people watching the chase (they'll be important characters later, in case you care). But in order for this to work, we'd have to forget the well-established fact that Bastian is the biggest puss-slash-bully magnet in history. So we're not the least bit surprised that, once again, he's being chased by bullies.
Jason James Richter didn't do so well at the Eraserhead
Seriously, how can we root for someone who escapes into a magic book every single time he gets scared? Oh, and this whole scene might be a jab at irony, since the Old Man just described Bastian as having "extraordinary courage", but I doubt it.
One thing I do find amusing is that the bullies run past a poster for the children's book Where the Wild Things Are, even though I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be a high school. Either that, or Jack Black is the oldest-looking middle-schooler since Stephanie Kaye.
Bastian ducks into, where else, the library. Here he runs into Mr. Koreander, or as I like to call him, the curmudgeonly cuss who constantly causes the mystic and magical malarkey that makes Bastian's life somehow worth filming. (Hey, if Michael Ende can write like that, why can't I?)
If you'll recall, Koreander is the former bookstore owner who brainwashed Bastian into shoplifting the NeverEnding Story in both of the prior movies. He's now a school librarian. I'm guessing he's also working under an assumed name, after shuttering his bookstore and disposing of his entire inventory in a single afternoon simply to avoid talking to the police.
And Koreander is no longer played by Thomas Hill as in the previous films. He's now being played by Freddie Jones, the same guy who played the Old Man of the Wandering Mountain. Not for any real reason, but there you have it. Maybe they were also trying to rip off Tron, where everyone in the "real world" had their own counterpart in the computer world, also for no particular reason.
"Damn that David Lynch. Kill my career, will he?"
This encounter is something of a surprise to both Bastian and Koreander. Evidently, they both moved away from the town where the other two movies took place, and just by pure coincidence, they both ended up here. Funny how life works sometimes, huh? Makes you wonder why they bothered changing the locale of this movie at all, considering how little impact it has on the actual story.
Which brings me to an important question: Why would Koreander sell his bookstore and become a high school librarian? Did he decide his job wasn't thankless enough?
Bastian thumbs through some of the books, which apparently came from Koreander's old store. And in the reference section, of all places, he finds the NeverEnding Story. As a reference book? I'd trust the Uncyclopedia as a reference before I'd trust the NeverEnding Story.
"Wow, it... uh... looks exactly the same! Nope, no differences between this and the book in the other two movies, no way!"
Koreander gets all menacing about how it's "strictly a reference book now" and Bastian can't take it out of the library. Okay, I think we can all see where this is going. I really wish Koreander would just give Bastian a break, and not make him steal the damn book in every single movie.
Bastian flips through the book and says, "It keeps going!" Koreander is a little too polite to reply, Of course it keeps going, it's the NeverEnding Story, ya dipshit!
There's a brief expository recap of how everything Bastian does ends up in the book. Koreander advises him to "remember that the next time you pick your nose!" Um, okay then...
"You should also remember it next time you read Sports Illustrated, if you catch my drift..."
Koreander then finds a convenient excuse to leave Bastian alone with the book yet again, and Bastian thumbs through it some more. He's once again shocked to find out something he just did is written in there. Oy. Will he ever stop being surprised by this?