German director Wolfgang Petersen's relentlessly strange fairy tale The NeverEnding Story (1984) has gained well-deserved cult status over the years, not least because it's one of the only children's movies ever made whose villain is not some evil wizard or hulking monster, but the existential void. The first English-language film by the director of the memorable 1981 submarine drama Das Boot and, later, Hollywood blockbusters such as The Perfect Storm and Troy, Story is, conventionally speaking, all about a child's willingness to believe and act on his belief. But the little hero here, a boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver), winds up doing battle with Nothingness itself, a force that threatens to savage the kingdom of Fantasia. Bastian enters that world through the pages of a book, and the story-within-the-story doubles the cinematic intrigue. Part Alice in Wonderland, part puppet show, Petersen's film is a most engaging fantasy adventure, less reliant on special effects (although those are pretty nice, too) than on twentieth-century European philosophy. In other words, bring grownups. The NeverEnding Story screens Saturday, November 12, in the Saturday Midnights at the Esquire series. The Esquire is at 590 Downing Street.; for information, call 303-352-1992.
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