Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

A belated sequel to the original 1984 classic fantasy film, The Neverending Story II is based partially on the second part of Michael Ende’s original novel, albeit with a significantly altered ending. Jonathan Brandis takes over from Barret Oliver as Bastian, who returns to the land of Fantasia via the titular book in order to seek advice on courage. Before long Bastian is again drawn into a new adventure alongside Atreyu (Kenny Morrison taking over from Noah Hathaway), the Childlike Empress (Alexandra Johnes taking over from Tami Stronach), and Falkor the Luck Dragon, as they seek to stop an evil sorceress called Xayide from destroying the world. The film was directed by Scottish filmmaker George T. Miller, and has an original score by Robert Folk.

If there was an award for the composer who wrote the best music for the worst films, Robert Folk would be first in line to receive it. Since first appearing on the film music scene in 1984 with his score for the comedy Police Academy, Folk spent the rest of the 1980s scoring an endless series of absolutely terrible films, including five Police Academy sequels, the Tom Hanks sex comedy Bachelor Party, and studio flops like Thunder Alley (1985), Can’t Buy Me Love (1987), and the Richard Gere vehicle Miles from Home (1988). However, one thing these films all had in common was the fact that Folk provided them with massively over-achieving excellent scores; The Neverending Story II is another addition to that list. You could make a very strong case for The Neverending Story II being the most conventionally beautiful score of Folk’s career; it’s a score which overflows with sentimental beauty, magical fairytale atmosphere, thematic strength, and powerful action, via a series of cues that make use of two full orchestras (the Bavarian State Orchestra and the Großes Rundfunkorchester Berlin), a full choir (the Choir of the Bavarian State Opera), and several specialty instruments, most notably the pan flute which carries the main melodic content in several key moments.

Interestingly, Folk’s score has very little in common with either Klaus Doldinger’s score for the original European Neverending Story cut, or Giorgio Moroder’s more pop-oriented replacement; in fact, the score has much more in common with James Horner’s 1980s fantasy action scores, almost to the extent where I wonder whether the film was temped with things like Battle Beyond the Stars, Willow, Cocoon, and Krull. It’s certainly true that anyone who has an affinity for those masterpieces will enjoy a great deal of this score, not least it’s gorgeous main theme, Bastian’s Theme, heard right at the outset in “Searching for Fantasia”. It’s a classic long-lined melody, soaring and sweeping, but also with a sense of gentleness and peacefulness that is just enveloping. The choral accents are high-pitched and operatic – this is where the Horner similarities come into play, especially when Horner used The Ambrosian Singers in his scores – and the whole thing has a sense of wonder and magic that you just don’t hear in film scores any more. The pan flute theme for Atreyu that appears at the 1:21 mark adds a little bit of an ethnic tone to the piece – possibly alluding to Atreyu’s roots in a fantasy version of Native American culture – and reminds me of the wonderful work of people like Gheorghe Zamfir.

These two themes, for Bastian and Atreyu, are the cornerstones of the score, and appear in numerous cues thereafter, sometimes alone, and sometimes together, especially in the second half of the score when the pair are traversing Fantasia together seeking a way to stop the sorceress Xayide. “Bastian’s Dream” is warm, nostalgic, but a little bittersweet, featuring some lovely writing for piano and oboe, and a tender contrapuntal statement of both themes, one on piano and one on strings. Later, “Silver Mountains” is appropriately wondrous, and focuses mostly on Bastian’s Theme, while “Silver Lake” is a little more abstract and textural, taking ideas from both themes and combining them with more prominent pan flute passages, gentle chord progressions, and soft choral tones.

One of the few things that may disappoint people about this score is the complete lack of any reference to the magnificent ‘flying theme’ that Klaus Doldinger wrote for Falkor the Luck Dragon for the original film. However, for my money, Folk’s theme for Falkor is almost as good; it’s more traditionally orchestral and symphonic, and doesn’t have the subtle jazz phrasings that made Doldinger’s theme so unusual, which means it may appeal to a broader array of people. The theme is first introduced in “Falkor’s Quest” amid more gorgeous pan flute textures, more operatic choir, more sweeping orchestral lines, a heroic reprise of Bastian’s theme, and the first appearance of Xayide’s theme on threatening brasses at the 2:00 mark, but more on that later. It then simply explodes in “Flight of the Dragon,” an adventurous celebration of the freedom and exhilaration one can only feel while riding on the back of a Luck Dragon, and is the first real action sequence in the score.

Folk’s music here is full of movement and energy, a mass of dancing strings and heroic brass triplets, free-wheeling rhythmic patterns, and swooping woodwinds, all with the orchestra thrusting and swaying in unison behind. Interestingly, “Flight of the Dragon” is one of the few cues to feature some light electronic textures, adding a new dimension to the sonic palette. “Morning in Fantasia” introduces the new theme for the Childlike Empress, which is bright and bold and full of effervescence, and has a touch of Bruce Broughton in it from the way the strings interact with each other, and from the use of ringing triangles in the percussion section. The subsequent “The Childlike Empress” builds further on this theme, with some impressionistic woodwind writing, and eventually a quite majestic and regal restatement of the melody.

The second main action sequence after the “Flight of the Dragon” is “The Giants’ Attack,” which is much more brutal and imposing, and very much foreshadows some of the action music Folk would write for Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time later in the year. It’s filled with spiky, aggressive, punchy motifs that jump between strings, brass, piano, and percussion, sometimes all at the same time, but it is not in any way jumbled or unfocused; Folk cleverly makes time to include fleeting statements of both Bastian’s theme and Atreyu’s theme way down in the mix – blink and you miss them – and there are also allusions to the theme for Xayide that will become much more prominent later. It’s all very bold and complicated and very impressive.

“Xayide’s Castle” is where her theme really asserts itself, a mass of horn flurries and menacing orchestral textures that help to convey the evil witch’s terrible power. Folk allows the music to really express itself here, and the ragged, breathy brass rasps he uses are especially notable. Everything comes to a head in “Atreyu’s Return to The Great Plains,” a dark cue which uses the orchestra, the choir, and several different metallic percussion effects to bring a real sense of tragedy and loss to Atreyu’s standoff with Xayide. Bastian’s theme is pitched into the piece at a moment of high emotion, and the subsequent statement of Atreyu’s theme on pan flute accompanied by a heavenly choir – alone, lost – tells you all you need to know about what is happening. “Bastian’s Lost Memories” drips with emotion, and contains an especially notable statement of Bastian’s theme arranged for Atreyu’s pan flute that is compelling and narratively brilliant. The conclusive “Silver City” begins with a brief flood of rowdy action, but eventually coalesces into one final spine-tingling statement of Bastian’s theme for the full orchestra and choir, bringng the score to a superb close.

The album is also littered with songs. Two of them – “Dreams We Dream” and “Heaven’s Just A Heartbeat”- are originals specific to this film, and were written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock, while the other is of course the classic song “The Neverending Story” from the first film, which was written by Moroder and Keith Forsey. All of them are performed here by vocalist Joe Milner, replacing the original performer Chris ‘Limahl’ Hamill from the 1980s pop band Kajagoogoo. The song from the first movie is a classic, but the new rock arrangement here completely butchers it, and Milner doesn’t have the interesting vocal tones that Limahl had (which is a sentence I never thought I would write). Neither of the new songs are any good, so that’s really all I have to say about that. There are also two short instrumental versions of “Dreams We Dream” and “The Neverending Story” to close out the album, and the orchestral-and-choral arrangement of “The Neverending Story” is actually pretty fun.

I have always felt that Robert Folk was a vastly underrated composer, and this score is a perfect example of why. If The Neverending Story II had been written by Jerry Goldsmith or Basil Poledouris or someone more famous for this type of score, this would be considered an all-time great, but everyone associates Folk with Police Academy, so it gets short shrift, and this is such a shame. Anyone who appreciates the enormous theme-filled orchestral-and-choral high fantasy scores that came out in the wake of Conan the Barbarian will find The Neverending Story II to be fully within their comfort zone; furthermore, anyone who is specifically drawn to James Horner’s contributions to that genre will appreciate them even more. Ignoring the songs, the score flies by in just a touch under half an hour, and I for one would love an expansion – in the meantime, climb aboard your luck dragon, hold on to your auryn, and get ready for one of the most underrated but outstanding fantasy scores of the 1990s.

Buy the Neverending Story II soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Searching for Fantasia (2:19)
  • Dreams We Dream (written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock, performed by Joe Milner) (4:23)
  • Heaven’s Just A Heartbeat (written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock, performed by Joe Milner) (4:10)
  • The Neverending Story (written by Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey, performed by Joe Milner) (3:29)
  • Dreams We Dream (Instrumental) (written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock) (4:27)
  • Bastian’s Dream (2:05)
  • Falkor’s Quest (2:33)
  • Flight off The Dragon (3:32)
  • Silver Mountains (1:29)
  • Morning in Fantasia (1:08)
  • The Childlike Empress (2:15)
  • The Giants’ Attack (2:11)
  • Silver Lake (2:54)
  • Xayide’s Castle (1:26)
  • Atreyu’s Return to The Great Plains (3:10)
  • Bastian’s Lost Memories (1:03)
  • Silver City (2:08)
  • The Neverending Story (Instrumental) (written by Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey) (0:54)

Running Time: 45 minutes 36 seconds

WEA Records 9031-7292-2 (1991)

Music composed and conducted by Robert Folk. Performed by the Bavarian State Orchestra, the Großes Rundfunkorchester Berlin and Choir of the Bavarian State Opera. Orchestrations by Robert Folk and Randy Miller. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs and Alan Snelling. Edited by Doug Lackey. Album produced by Robert Folk.

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