When German producer Dieter Geissler did his "NeverEnding Story" in 1984, he was happy to arrange advance screenings. That was because he knew he had a winner.
The sequel, "NeverEnding Story II, The Next Chapter," was given no local advance showings, and for good reason. The new movie is a loser, and Geissler may know that. The original film, based on a portion of the book, written in 1979 by Michael Ende, was done in Canada and Germany. It included a lot of air time for Bastian and Falkor, his flying luckdragon.
There isn't too much flying time in the new film, and that may be one of the reasons the film is so leaden. Rather than soar, the sequel is grounded by one special effect after another, and none intrigues. The movie looks like one long video. It also looks a little like Cher's Las Vegas show, one that was recently shown on television, but then that, too, was one long video.
In the first film, Bastian, seeking solace in a book called "NeverEnding Story," was drawn into the book, which took him to Fantasia where he met The Childlike Empress.
The plot was simple enough. It was "The Wizard of Oz" all over again. The plot in the sequel, however, is so layered it is almost overwhelming. In it, Bastian, mourning the loss of his mother, goes back to the book for another adventure, one that takes him back to Fantasia where the "evil Sorceress Xayide" is trying to gain control of the kingdom.
She is going to replace everything with emptiness, she says. The Childlike Empress, meanwhile, informs Bastian that this must not happen and that earthlings must go on believing in stories or they will simply end. One can always hope.
Bastian, meanwhile, is wearing a magic medallion that allows him a certain number of wishes. Each time he wishes, however, he loses another "memory."
Are you following all this? It isn't easy. Not for adults. Children may get it, but they may not find the film that diverting. There was a lot of aisle activity at the screening we attended.
Among the creatures Bastian meets in his journey through the second film are Atreyu, the boy warrior of the Great Plains, Rock Biter, a giant made of stone, Mudwart, Lavaman, Windbride, Smerg and Junior Rock Biter who, like so many little things, does a lot of whining. You rather hope his father will bean him with a boulder.
Appearing as a companion to "NeverEnding Story II" is "Box-Office Bunny," a new Bugs Bunny cartoon which is over long before it should be. It's that good. The cartoon, marking the 50th anniversary of the Bugs Bunny cartoons, has builders erect a "cineminium," a movie-house complex over Bugs' warren. Irate, Bugs confronts Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck, whose voices, originally done by the late Mel Blanc, have been re-created by Jeff Bergman. You'll never know the difference.
"NeverEnding Story II" and "Box-Office Bunny" are showing at local theaters. Be sure to catch the cartoon. It's the better part of the bill.
" NeverEnding Story II The Next Chapter" * The continued adventures of Bastian, as he revisits the land of Fantasia, home of The Childlike Empress.
CAST: Jonathan Brandis, Kenny Morrison, Clarissa Burt, John Wesley Ship, Martin Umbach and Alexander Johnes.
DIRECTOR: George Miller
( RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes