The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter (1993) — Time for a book burning

“Don’t be afraid, Bastian. We are all a part of a neverending story.”

Justin’s rating: You ever hear the techno remix of the Neverending Story theme? Not half bad. This, however, is all bad.

Justin’s review: It’s hard to talk about this movie without carefully stepping around the tragedy of Jonathan Brandis. He is perhaps best-known for his stint as “Dolphin Boy” on the scifi show SeaQuest DSV in the mid-’90s. In this time, he was adored as a teenage heartthrob by millions and reviled as a doofus by millions more.

I actually didn’t know that it was Brandis in The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter until I got bored somewhere in the middle of the film and wandered over to the computer (with the movie still playing on TV) to look up info on it. Trust me, doing some minor research on Brandis was far more interesting than anything happening in this lame, slapdash sequel.

Not that the original Neverending Story really holds up well today, but at least it’s original and unforgettable in its own right, particularly if you grew up watching it. The idea of a kid reading a book where the events were actually shaped by what he did or said was a fascinating concept, and some of the locales and puppetry they threw in are still worth the effort to get past the “kiddyness” of the acting and plot. Shoot, even if you thought the first movie was dumb, you could still have a blast taking potshots at it — flying pink luck dragons are only the tip of the sarcastic bait, my friend.

The sequel, in comparison, doesn’t know what to do with itself. It’s barely even toilet trained, often spilling pee all over the place as it loses its focus during the running time. The filmmakers threw out the clever concept of reading-the-book-as-it-happens-for-real entirely, and instead launches Bastion 2.0 (Brandis) into the world of Fantasia through the book (now reduced to a crummy portal). Bastion lands in a Wizard of Oz reject sales lot, where a massive chunk of the budget is blown on costumes and pretty sets, all of which have no real flavor or purpose. It’s like flipping through the pages of a junior higher’s sketchbook who likes to draw typical fantasy doodles; you know one day he’ll get better at drawing these, but for now, it’s only of minor interest.

So why is Bastion there? Well, he steals The Neverending Story from the bookshop owner (again) and discovers — oh nos! — that the words are disappearing from the pages. The Childlike Empress (candidate for the Worst Character Name Ever; I wonder if she ever got sick of people calling her that? “Call me Betsy!” she yelled to the court one day.) tells him that our world’s lack of imagination and love of fantasy is killing Fantasia, and Bastion has to defeat some sort of vague model witch to make things right. First of all, where are we, Never Never Land? I believe in you Tinkerbell, I believe! I clap with all my might to make you alive again! Gimme a break. Only really young kids might actually swallow the idea that nobody in our world cares about the fantasy genre anymore, which is a pretty thriving business, last time I looked.

It’s a garage sale of well-used fantasy ideas repackaged and sold to the lowest bidder. The most offensive of TNES2’s notions is that Bastion has a magic token that grants him wishes — only unbeknownst to him, every time he makes a wish, he loses a memory. Hm. Okay. Whatever. The film never quite says how the evil people set this plan into effect, nor why when Bastion makes just one wish he loses about fifteen memories, but the worst aspect of it is that Bastion absolutely stinks at wish-making. Really. If he’s going to lose some memories, he might as well wish BIG, but instead he’s constantly frittering them away on tiny little situational solutions. He doesn’t wish for the evil lady to go away, he doesn’t wish for things to be set right, but he certainly does wish for a stair at one point!

The scene: Bastion is hanging from a ledge and needs to climb higher. So he wishes for another stair to pull himself up — and lo, a stair pops out. Bastion pulls himself up two more feet. Then he wishes for another stair. And another. And another. He makes a dozen or so meager wishes on individual stairs, never once thinking to ask for a complete stairway, or for the monster to be destroyed. No, just individual stairs. Moron.

Brandis as an actor is another low point, awash in a sea of low points that is Neverending Story II. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, exactly, that he was doing so wrong… until about the middle of the film when it clicked. Brandis doesn’t act like a bad child actor, he acts like a bad adult actor in a child’s body. Bastion is far too confidant, too unrealistic as a kid, too quick with head-slapping one-liners and pratfalls to be treated seriously. He never sold me as a realistic kid, but instead he’s the epitome of a cinematic “superkid,” the ones who always know what to say, always come out on top of any situation, and always are far smarter than any adult around them. Leaves a bad taste in your mouth, don’t it?

Excuse me for a minute. Can I borrow this? *yanks the wish trinket off of Bastion’s neck*

I wish this film was never made.

Ahhh. Totally worth the amnesia.

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