The Never-Ending Story comes to Blu-ray with a new 1080p transfer in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, which differs from the OAR very slightly. I have reviewed many films over the years that have exhibited a stunning quality upgrade over previous pictures- and when I praise them a lot of people who have never seen the film wonder what I am going on about. It is true that when compared with a modern movie, this picture may not be the most visually arresting presentation on Blu-ray - but when you take into account previous versions of the film, this upgrade is simply stunning.
The first thing to note, however, that the source is most certainly not pristine - and an extensive digital restoration has not been carried out. This means that there are certainly moments when the film does show its age somewhat. Internal scenes, for example, tend to show up slight elements of print degradation. The odd scratch and mark do occasionally show their ugly faces. This does not detract much from the overall experience (the faults are certainly not frequent) but they are there and should certainly be mentioned.
What is certainly not in dispute, however, is how gorgeous the colours look in this transfer. The palette gradually, almost imperceptibly, darkens throughout the film as Fantasia comes under more and more threat. Primary colours are almost non-existant as earthy colours come to the fore, and the light gradually drains out of the landscape. This has always proved problematic for DVD transfers in the past - with it often being quite difficult to make out detail amongst the murk. The revelation here is just how much more of the frame is brought to life in this transfer. Little details such as tears become visible, the fantastic detail in the landscape becomes more obvious, and the various puppet creatures become more lifelike.
Black levels are gorgeously deep, and shadow detail is also impressive. Detail level is certainly ramped up over previous releases, but in all honesty this is a slightly problematic area in places. Some scenes do appear noticeably softer than others. Grain provides a pleasingly natural filmic sheen without ever being obtrusive - and depth is also much better than previous releases.
The Never-Ending Story is presented on Blu-ray with a DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack, which to my knowledge it has never received before. It was originally shot with a stereo soundtrack so this is a remix. Usually I am against such practices - but here it has certainly added a lot to the whole experience of the film.
From the very start, the whole track is so much clearer than it has ever been before. On home video and DVD I have always found the track to be a rather muffled experience, with very little in the way of dynamic range. Whilst those used to modern blockbusters may find me rhapsodising about this mix to be rather strange, the level of improvement shown by this mix is astounding. Suddenly, every line of dialogue, every sound effect, and every note of music is given room to breathe and fills the room with well prioritised sound.
From the lowest rumble of the rock biter crashing through the scenery, to the piercing cries of Bastian - the dynamic range here is such an improvement over what we have been presented with before. Every line of dialogue, whether screamed or whispered is well prioritised within the mix and clearly heard.
The front separation is excellent, the sound field is wide and as characters move off-screen you can clearly hear them moving off into the distance. The music is allowed to soar and fills the room. The sub is used effectively when needed, and underpins the action on screen well. The rock biter, and the destruction of Fantasia has never been as effective as this, rumbling through the room.
The surrounds are not as well utilised as well as they might have been - but considering many remixes like this tend to sound artificial with the surrounds kicking off at every opportunity, this is actually a sign of how sensitively this remix has been carried out. When needed, the surrounds provide some nice ambience but they are never in your face or over emphasised.
It is certainly true that if you spun this disc as a new release you would probably be disappointed. You would expect a more dynamic sound field maybe. You might expect the rears to be more aggressive - the sub to go slightly deeper. But when compared to all versions we have received in the home before, this is an outstanding effort. For this reason, the mix receives a high mark. If you have ever watched the film before, this will be like coming to it anew. And isn't that cinematic wonder what we want to recapture? Isn't this why we have invested in Blu-ray in the first place?
I would love to report that there were some fantastic extras here. Maybe a commentary with Peterson - maybe a retrospective featurette with interviews with the cast. But we get absolutely nothing here. Zilch. Maybe when the Hollywood remake hits, Warners might revisit this - but for the moment the picture and sound upgrade is all your going to get if you invest in this title.
I hope this is not seen as hyperbole - but to me, The Never-Ending Story is one of the finest children's fantasy films ever committed to celluloid - and is one that can appeal equally to adults. Not afraid to go to surprisingly dark places, but also chock full of magnificent creatures - this is a well constructed piece of cinema.
On Blu-ray the film shines like it has never done in the home before. The disc has been given a fantastic spruce up in terms of AV - both the picture and soundtrack are streets ahead of any previous release and worthy of upgrade by any fan. Sadly, though, Warners have provided no extras here - so despite the fact that I recommend this disc unreservedly I have to deduct some marks for that.
The film is currently being scheduled to be remade in Hollywood - and I cannot imagine this to be anything other than a bad idea. You owe it to yourself to make yourself familiar with the original if you have not yet done so - and if you are a fan then you will not regret upgrading. It will be almost like coming to the film again through fresh eyes and ears.
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