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14 Fantastic Facts About The NeverEnding Story

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The movie adaptation of German writer Michael Ende's 1979 fantasy novel The Neverending Story (Die unendliche Geschichte) was released during that special era in the 1980s when a PG rating almost certainly meant nightmares for children under the age of 10 (see: Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal). But that didn't stop Wolfgang Petersen's magical adventure story from becoming a bona fide cult classic. Having recently celebrated its 31st anniversary, now seems like the perfect time to revisit the world of Fantasia with these 14 things you might not know about The NeverEnding Story.

1. IT WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE FILM IN GERMANY'S HISTORY.

At the time of its release, The NeverEnding Story was the most expensive film production in the history of German cinema. With a price tag of about $27 million, the project supplanted 1981's Oscar-nominated Das Boot—also directed by Wolfgang Petersen—as the country's priciest film. Luckily for Petersen and the studio, The NeverEnding Story managed to rake in approximately $100 million worldwide.

2. THE BOOK'S AUTHOR CALLED THE MOVIE "REVOLTING."

Despite having worked with Petersen on the script, The Neverending Story author Michael Ende publicly bashed the finished product. Following the film's release in Germany, Ende organized a press conference where he referred to the film as "the revolting movie" and demanded that his name not appear in the credits, claiming that "The makers of the film simply did not understand the book at all. They just wanted to make money."

3. ENDE WAS EMBARRASSED BY FANTASIA'S "STRIPPERS."

Ende was definitely not on board with the busty, laser-shooting Sphinx statues that Atreyu encounters in the film. He said that "The Sphinxes are quite one of the biggest embarrassments of the film. They are full-bosomed strippers who sit there in the desert."

4. NOT EVERYONE GOT ALONG ON SET.

When asked about working with such a young cast in an interview with SciFiNow, special effects director Brian Johnson said "Barret Oliver (Bastian) was an absolute gem" and Tami Stronach (the Childlike Empress) "was fine ... Noah Hathaway (Atreyu) was a bit of a pain in the arse, frankly. It was very difficult for Wolfgang to get anything out of him. Barret Oliver delivered all the time, he was just brilliant, absolutely brilliant."

5. THE DIRECTOR WAS A PERFECTIONIST.

There are two sides to every story, of course. And Noah Hathaway remembers things a bit differently. In a recent interview with The News Tribune, the actor—now 43 years old—says that Petersen, whose English was limited, was a perfectionist who sometimes required up to 40 takes before he was satisfied with a single scene. “A three-month movie turned into a year," says Hathaway, who noted that two iconic scenes—Artax's death in the Swamp of Sadness and the introduction of the giant turtle Morla—took two months to shoot. "It was a lot of work."

6. IT TOOK A WHILE TO TRAIN A HORSE TO "DROWN."

There's a reason why the Swamp of Sadness scene took so long to shoot. The short version? Most horses won’t walk into deep pools of mud if they have a choice. It took two trainers seven weeks to teach the horse playing Artax to stand still on a hydraulic platform in the swamp with mud up to his chin without trying to swim or run away.

7. FALKOR IS A LUCKDRAGON, NOT A DOG—BUT HE'S ALSO PART AIRPLANE.

Towohlfahrt at the English language Wikipedia // CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The 43-foot-long luckdragon’s face looks a lot like a dog's, but according to the source material, his official breed is zero percent canine. While even the special effects director referred to the creature as a “golden retriever/dragon,” Falkor’s appearance was simply the director’s interpretation. At least two Falkor models were constructed; the first, built by Giuseppe Tortora, used airplane steel for the frames and the head alone weighed more than 200 pounds.

8. BASTIAN IS A CANUCK.

The real world does not play a major role in The NeverEnding Story, so the city is never explicitly identified. While the bulk of the film was made at Bavaria Studios in Munich, the scenes of Bastian at home, in the bookstore, and running away from the bullies down an alley were all shot in Gastown, a neighborhood in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.

9. THE STORY DOESN'T END WITH THE CREDITS (BUT IT DOES HAVE AN ENDING).

If you’re the type of moviegoer who avoids sequels, you may want to rethink that policy in this case—or at least pick up a copy of Ende’s book. Because the film version of The NeverEnding Story ends at around the halfway point of the book, audiences never find out what happens to the beloved characters. George T. Miller's 1990 sequel, The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter, includes plot points from Ende’s novel, but also adds new elements to the storyline. There is a third film in the series (1994's The NeverEnding Story III), but it is an extended adventure that was not part of the book.

10. THE THEME SONG WAS A SMASH HIT.

Written by Keith Forsey, composed by Giorgio Moroder, and performed in French and English by pop singer Limahl (with additional vocals by Ann Calvert and Beth Anderson), the earworm title song is not featured in the German version of the film, but it did infect other parts of the world. The song reached the top spot on music charts in Sweden and Norway, number 17 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and sold more than 200,000 copies in the U.K.

11. TWO OF THE BOOK'S BIGGEST SCENES WERE NEVER SHOT.

Because of the limitations of special effects in the 1980s, two scenes from the book that were written into the script had to be removed. The first was the real introduction of Falkor, during which Atreyu helps him escape from a shape-shifting monster known as Ygramul the Many. In the film, Falkor appears out of the clouds when Atreyu is near death in the Swamp of Sadness, and in the next scene, they are on the mountain where the gnomes Engywook and Urgl live.

The other cut scene found Falkor and Atreyu caught in a fight between four Wind Giants. Instead, the scene was edited to be a brush with The Nothing, where Atreyu falls off of Falkor and comes to on a beach.

12. SOME LUCKY PEOPLE HAVE NEVERENDING STORY TATTOOS INKED BY ATREYU HIMSELF.

After making a few more movies, Noah Hathaway left acting behind and tried out several other careers, including martial arts trainer and tattoo artist, the latter of which required him to revisit his NeverEnding past. “I wouldn’t do another Auryn (talisman) tattoo because I did 15 in three weeks,” he told The News Tribune. “It is very flattering though.”

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/entertainment/article29910505.html#storylink=cpy

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG OWNS THE ORIGINAL AURYN PROP.

Spielberg helped Wolfgang Petersen cut the U.S. version of the film, which is seven minutes shorter than the German version. The pacing needed to be a little quicker for U.S. audiences, Petersen told MTV News, so he asked his friend Spielberg—who had learned his editing technique from George Lucas—for help. “There were little snippets, bits and pieces here and there," explains Petersen. “Nothing major. Nothing that’s like ‘take the entire sequence out.’ It was just a polish kind of thing. A pacing thing; a few seconds here, a few things here.” As a thank you for his help, Petersen gave Spielberg the Auryn.

14. THE NEVERENDING STORY BOOK PROP ALLEGEDLY STILL EXISTS.

Someone claiming to have the original prop has tried to sell it on eBay a couple of times, once in 2012 for $75,000 and more recently for $28,500. He even tracked down Noah Hathaway and had him pose with the book for the listing. Neither listing ended with a sale, so if you’re a big fan of the film, there may still be hope.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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