WHEN: 12:06 pm EST, May 4th, 2013
WHERE: The living room of my apartment in Portland
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 32″ LED HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Just got back from Free Comic Book Day shenanigans. The nerd blood is pounding through my veins.
There are things in The NeverEnding Story that are left unexplained, or characters that could do with some more fleshing out. The most unusual scene in the entire movie does not include a giant talking turtle or sphinxes made of ice. I’m talking about the Fresco Room. What’s that, you ask? You don’t remember any Fresco Room in The NeverEnding Story? Well, neither do I until I see it each viewing. It’s like the Silence from Doctor Who, you forget about it once it’s out of sight. But I’ve got you this time, Fresco Room! Your bland, unexplained appearance will be dealt with.
Exactly how I keep track of my viewings.
For those of you who haven’t watched The NeverEnding Story this week and have no clue what I’m referring to, the Fresco Room is a series of secret chambers that Atreyu stumbles upon by accident while trying to escape from the Nothing. He becomes increasingly freaked out as each painting he finds reveals important scenes from his quest.
“What the hell? I never fought a basilisk.”
I’m not really sure what the point of these rooms are other than to give G’mork the opportunity to make a spooky appearance. Atreyu gets to relive receiving the AURYN, the start of his journey, Artax’s death, Morla, the Sphinx Gate, flying with Falkor, and finally, G’mork. Atreyu is understandably upset that his journey has been chronicled on some random walls in an unfamiliar city, but without context, the scene stands only as a flourish in a world filled with fantasy and the unexpected.
Without any exposition, we can infer that these paintings are quite old and represent the work of an artist who could foresee the future. Atreyu’s journey was always meant to happen. We can debate fate versus free will or even mutable or immutable timelines, but in this world, in Fantasia, these paintings are an archive. The world of Fantasia is a cyclical existence and Atreyu is the next hero to continue the cycle, so it only makes sense that his adventures get some sweet art, right?
Actually, this art is only semi-sweet.
Since the frescoes depict the future, who in Fantasia knew what was coming? The Childlike Empress, for one. I don’t see her actually painting, but perhaps she commissioned the work. A random painter-prophet could be responsible just as easily. That seer was probably murdered, by the way. Murdered or promoted. Since the paintings reveal everything, then Atreyu’s commitment to his quest runs the risk of being destroyed. Atreyu has to be a hero in order to get Bastian to save Fantasia, but if information leaked then Atreyu may not have been able to play his part as admirably. He would be tainted by his foreknowledge.
So why keep such important information accessible to nearly anyone? Remember, our hypothetical prophet may have received adulation. The building could be a sacred place only frequented by the most powerful and important Fantasians. Priests of some order may have been responsible for guarding the secret. Or the rooms were secret and only to be revealed to Atreyu when he arrived in that place.
Honestly, all of this conjecture is dumb. The frescoes don’t add anything to the overall plot. This scene seemed fun and interesting at one point, but it’s superfluous now. Why reveal this room without explaining it? The plot could move forward just as well without seeing any of these mediocre paintings. Now, if Atreyu had walked beyond the painting of G’mork, that would’ve been interesting. Atreyu may have seen the destruction of Fantasia or even Bastian. That’s how you add provocative layers to an ordinary concept. Atreyu is only seeing his past, but a quick glimpse into the future would certainly shake him and the audience up more.
You should be taking these notes down, Mr. Petersen.
I get that all of Fantasia can’t be explained in 92 minutes and that’s why adaptations cut a lot of unnecessary crap. There’s no reason that Wolfgang Petersen needed to include this extraneous piece of information. Sometimes less is more. As I said earlier, the room does help build tension before G’mork makes his appearance, but there are other ways to build that same suspense. I forget about this scene constantly. Do you know why? Because it’s the least interesting scene in the entire film. The NeverEnding Story does a fantastic job of moving the plot along so efficiently that I forget and don’t care to ask some questions. Every time I get to the damn Fresco Room all I can think is, “Oh yeah, this rubbish.” It’s important to recognize and point out imperfections in films we love. The NeverEnding Story remains solid, but could stand to cut a little more fat in this case.
Or swell into a nerd-financed cash cow.