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.
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.”
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.