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FILM : Petersen's Pro-Reading Message Isn't the Same Old Story

July 25, 1991|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly covers film for The Times Orange County Edition.

The hero in "The Neverending Story" is Bastian, a young boy who would rather find a good book in his hands than the joystick of a beeping, whirring Nintendo game.

Bastian (played by the ever-lively Barret Oliver) loves to read, both as a retreat from the bullies he faces on his way to school and from his dad, a well-intentioned but nearsighted sort who can't understand why his son isn't doing better in class or trying out for the swim team.

When Bastian stumbles upon a strange, back-alley bookstore, "The Neverending Story" (screening Friday night as the latest offering in Golden West College's outdoor family film series) gets rolling along its fantastic way.

The shop's peculiar but kindly owner introduces him to a rare tome, Bastian starts turning pages, and before you can say "Alice in Wonderland," he's participating in a magical quest to save the fanciful kingdom of Fantasia.

The movie, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and first released in 1984, is first-rate children's entertainment, bright with surprising but benevolent special effects and tinged with the proper morals of a good fable.

Kids should be charmed by Rolf Zehetbauer's unusual creations (every frame seems to have a new one, from the mountainous, stone-gulping "rock-biter" to the three-faced townsfolk) and adults, if they give in just a little, will find the ride easy to take.

Throughout "The Neverending Story," Petersen and fellow screenwriter Herman Weigel offer the not-so-subtle message that children should read more, but in ways that let it go down like candy. Bastian learns along the way that Fantasia is nothing less than the world of our own imagination, a place that anybody can visit at any time. Television, computer games and even the movies have their place, but books are special.

The film is rated PG (the only one in the series that isn't G-rated) because of the bursts of violence and the look of some of the characters. Although most are more cuddly than frightening, a few may trouble very young children.

What: Wolfgang Petersen's "The Neverending Story."

When: Friday, July 26 (movies start at dusk; get there by 8 p.m.).

Where: Golden West College's amphitheater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach.

Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Golden West Street and head west. Go south on McFadden Avenue to Gothard Street and head west. Enter the Center Street parking lot next to the campus.

Wherewithal: $1.50 and $2.

Where to Call: (714) 891-3991.

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