The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter was released in 1990, six years after the original NeverEnding Story, which had been the most expensive film produced outside the United States at the time of its release. The first film also proved a succcess with a worldwide gross of $100 million worldwide against a production budget of $60 million. It was directed by Wolfgang Peterson who had previously written and directed the acclaimed German war film Das Boot and who would go on to helm a handful of Hollywood action hits including In The Line of Fire, Air Force One and The Perfect Storm.
This first sequel to The NeverEnding Story was directed by George T. Miller, not to be confused with George Miller — the Australian fillmaker behind the Mad Max franchise. Unsurprisingly, Miller’s directorical CV certainly suffers when compared to Peterson’s and the fact that The Neverending Story II remains his most notable film signals the direction that his career has gone from here.
The original film was an impressive children’s fantasy adventure, memorable for its distinct dark tone and play of meta-fiction where the young, lonely Bastian (played by successful child star Barrett Olivier) found himself literally drawn into the magical world of Fantasia through his own reading of a mysterious, magical book, titled The NeverEnding Story. The climax of the film saw Bastian recreating and merging with the world of Fantasia, which had been destroyed by a powerful, destructive force of darkness called “The Nothing”.
The NeverEnding Story II begins, once more, in the real world with Bastian again unhappy and isolated. Motherless, Bastian’s relationship with his father is becoming increasingly strained and he fails to make a place on his school’s swim team when he refuses to jump off a high diving-board. It isn’t long before he again accquires The NeverEnding Story, only to discover that the words on the pages are in disarray and are disappearing. Unlike before, Bastian is then transported almost immediately to Fantasia, which again is being drained of life and hope by an invisible, evil force. Unbeknownst to Bastian, there is a secondary menace at play, an evil sorceress called Xaiyde who has created a machine which will extract a memory of Bastian each time he makes a wish with the magical Auryn. Bastian soon allies with Atreyu, the child warrior protagonist of the first film, as well as the beloved flying luckdragon, Fawlcor, to end the evil force that is threatening to destroy Fantasia.
One of the most apparent features of Neverending Story II, from the outset, is the replacement of the principal actors. This time, Bastian is played by Johnathan Brandis, another successful child star who enjoyed fame in the 1990’s with roles in the mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s IT and the TV series, Seaquest DSV. Whereas Barrett Olivier chose to leave acting for a printing and photography career, Brandis struggled to deal with post-fame depression and tragically committed suicide in 2003. Elsewhere, Kenny Morrison takes over from Noah Athaway as the heroic Atreyu, Alexandra Johnes inherits the role of Fantasia’s ruler, the Childlike Empress, from Tami Stronach, whilst Gerald McRaney is replaced by John Wesley Shipp, who has enjoyed success on TV in two versions of the DC comic-book series, The Flash.
Putting the drastic casting alterations aside, The NeverEnding Story II proves staggeringly uninspired in its plot which is a virtual replay of the threat posed by “the Nothing” of the first film which, if unchallenged, will eventually destroy Fantasia and leave the humans of the real world without the imaginative wonders of story. And yet, whilst Neverending Story II unimaginatively recycles the plot of the proceeding film, it even more dissapointingly does not attempt to employ, or even expand upon, the meta-fictional dimension that played out so effectively in the original. Bastian’s father does eventually come to discover and read the adventures of his vanished son in Fantasia but he remains a detached, passive observer and one is left feeling that a lot more could have been made of this dynmaic from a storytelling perspective.
Instead of exploring the creative opportunities offered up by the original film, The Next Chapter dumbed everything down and left audiences with nothing more than a generic children’s film. The NeverEnding Story was well and truly over.