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Break Yo’ TV: “The NeverEnding Story”

on September 30, 2010, 1:15pm

The 1980s birthed a string of brilliant fantasy films sullied by tinny technopop soundtracks. Nobody cared at the time of course, but try and sit through Legend in 2010 without cringing at Tangerine Dream’s flowery score and you’re in for a challenge.

Unsurprisingly, director Ridley Scott released his own cut of the film in 2006 with Jerry Goldsmith’s original score intact, showing that he knew what worked cinematically even if the producers didn’t. A more famous (although not quite as severe) case of a stellar fantasy film being sonically poisoned is Wolfgang Petersen’s 1984 classic The NeverEnding Story. The film’s theme song (written by Georgio Moroder and Keith Forsey and performed by Limahl and Beth Anderson) went on to become a top 10 hit around the globe, and within the context of the culture and time period, this makes perfect sense. With its catch of corny synthesizers, canned wind effects, and androgynous vocals, the track is such an 80’s staple that it borderlines on parody. But within the context of the film, a film that otherwise does a magnificent job of establishing a time and a place all its own, opposing aesthetics get juxtaposed in the worst way possible. You can view this trainwreck in its most distilled form by watching its heinous music video. So hop on a Luckdragon and lets soar back to the ’80s.

The video opens with a foggy shot of Atreyu, the warrior hero of The NeverEnding Story, trudging through the snow on his valiant quest to save Fantasia. Those familiar with the film or the novel know that he’s most likely searching for The Southern Oracle, but lo and behold, he discovers something even better. It takes a while for things to crystalize. We can make out some spiky things jutting in all directions. Has Atreyu stumbled across some icy cave adorned with jagged stalagmites? No, wait, that’s hair…it’s…Limahl! You know, the frontman for English synth-pop outfit Kajagoogoo? Oh, you don’t remember them? It’s okay, we don’t either.

Now you may be saying to yourself “Big deal. How is this different from any other awesomely bad 80s video?” This is a valid point. After all, we’ve seen plenty of theme songs horribly spliced together with footage from their respective films. But what makes “The NeverEnding Story” so appalling is that the filmmakers went to such great lengths to ensure that it wasn’t an 80s film, that it didn’t look like anything else being released. Sure, the framing story takes place in the Reagan era, but there is nothing strikingly ’80s about these segments, and the otherworldliness of Fantasia still looks pretty mind-blowing even to this day. The deteriorating landscapes were meticulously constructed, the animatronic puppets were tangible and lifelike, and the environments were isolated, cut off from modern culture. But when placed next to Limahl’s overly tanned, stubbled smirk, it looks a little…well, lame. Hell, what wouldn’t? But back to the video itself.

After getting over the initial shock of discovering that the vocals come not from two chicks, but a dude and a chick, we see that Limahl’s belting his creepy tune from a library. I guess that makes sense, it being The NeverEnding Story and all. Good thing the director did his homework. So Limahl’s singing in front of a bunch of books and things start to get oddly pedophilic. Pause the video at any point during his performance and you’re guaranteed to capture an overly sexualized squint or purse of the lips that coos “Come read with me.”

The video is pretty literal from this point on. When Limahl sings about what’s “hidden on the pages”, we see him turn the pages of a book to reveal…surprise! The NeverEnding Story!  This comes right as he sings these very words for the chorus. More footage from the film ensues, but as we already know, it’s a far cry from watching the real thing. Regardless, it’s nice to see the familiar grinning face of Bastian or the shaggy canine head of Falkor as opposed to the guy who’s singing the song. Hey, there’s Atreyu! And Artax before he traumatized my childhood with his cruel and unusual death in the Swamps of Sadness! And Shadow Lady! What’s that? There was no Shadow Lady in the movie? Then who’s that woodenly animated silhouette that’s…oh, that’s Beth Anderson, the other vocalist in the song. Actually, the silhouette belongs to Mandy Newton, one of Limahl’s backup singers. Beth Anderson’s vocals were recorded separately from Limahl’s in America, and thus, she makes no actual appearance in the video. It’s a shame, too. I’ve never seen Beth Anderson, but I’m sure she would have been a lot easier on the eyes than Limahl.

The footage from the film continues, and for the remainder of the video, we get some oddly placed sound effects among otherwise mute scenes. The first comes at 1:17 when that granite faced buffoon The Rock Biter accidentally drops a piece of limestone on The Racing Snail’s head. We get to hear the overgrown mollusk wince in pain and we are all the richer for it.

On a brief side note, has anyone noticed how in the world of theme songs, non-musical audio mysteriously tends to creep in during such moments of slapstick comedy? Take the opening credits to Family Matters. Fast forward to the one minute mark and check out Steve Urkel accidentally putting a wooden beam through the kitchen window of the Winslow residence. Song, song, song, CRASH, song, song.  And so on.

Or in the case of the music video for “The NeverEnding Story”, (two minutes in, for those keeping score), song, song, song, GERIATRIC TURTLE SNEEZE, song. You get the idea. I did, however, find Atreyu’s screaming of his dying horse’s name (less than a minute later in the video!) to be quite heart wrenching, albeit not as much as Limahl’s hand acting at 1:33. Thank God he pantomimed “dreaming a dream” or else I might not have understood what he said.

The video takes on an unintentional Wonder Showzen-esque tone toward the end as some sort of strange keyboard solo (it could be a harpsichord from the future, but I’m not sure) gleefully plays over the decimation of Fantasia. The visuals of this apocalyptic sequence are by no means disturbing, but the clash of something fun and friendly with something destructive reminds me of this:

Once again, when pared against any other kitschy gem from the 80’s, “The Never Ending Story” seems like small peanuts. But it’s all about cohesion, and the aesthetic of both the song and the video simply don’t gel with the vision of a film that tried so hard to whisk the viewer away from the plasticity of everyday life. Don’t believe me? Wolfgang Petersen’s native German cut of the film is devoid of all things electropop, opting for Klaus Doldinger’s more traditional, symphonic score instead.

The whole thing reminds me of the crappy R&B renditions of otherwise classic Disney songs that get tacked on to the end credits, ruining the vibe of the film. It’s a shame that the most globally known version of “Beauty and the Beast” is the one sang by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson as opposed to the one sung by, um…Beauty and the Beast.

In a way, the case of “The NeverEnding Story” is even worse as it gets played at the beginning of the film. For many viewers, perhaps the theme song is part of why they enjoy the movie so much. Maybe it adds to the nostalgia factor. But for me, it’s always been jarring, even as a child, and more importantly, it’s the epitome of an audiovisual incongruence that has long plagued fantasy films. Even more disturbing is that it was an unintentionally prophetic sign of what the series would eventually become:

Shudder.

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