After four years of negotiations, complications, disputes and trouble, the movie version of The Neverending Story was finally completed in 1984. The film’s director, Wolfgang Petersen, had already found fame for the German war movie Das Boot. The soundtrack was composed by Klaus Doldinger. In total the film had cost some sixty million dollars - an inconceivable sum for a German production at that time.
Michael Ende was invited to a private screening before the premiere on 29th March 1984. He was shocked by what he considered the trivialization of his material. ‘A humungous melodrama of kitsch, commerce, plush and plastic,’ he said scathingly. It was, he declared, ‘a cross between E.T. and The Day After’. Ende felt misled and taken advantage of by the production company, and decided to withdraw his name from the production. In a statement, he announced that he was officially distancing himself from the film and requested that those scenes that contradicted the inner logic of the story should be cut from the final take.
In spite of Ende’s disapproval, the movie was finally released on 6th April to a media fanfare. Three hundred German cinemas screened the film on the first day of its release, and preparations were put in place for a thousand copies of the movie to be circulated throughout American cinemas that autumn. In a last-ditch attempt to have the offending scenes removed from the movie, Michael Ende and K. Thienemanns Verlag took out an injunction against Neue Constantin, but lost their case. Ende was left physically and mentally drained by the wrangles over the production. In his view, the movie had been made according to purely commercial criteria, and he saw it as an attack on his integrity as a writer. The battle against the production company was a question of ‘honour’: ‘I would never have been able to look myself in the mirror if I lent my name to something like that. I’ve fought to the point of exhaustion. They tried to wear me down with dirty tricks, and I kicked up a fuss - but what good did it do?’
Michael Ende’s fury over the filming of The Neverending Story gradually abated. Although the disappointment remained, he looked on the episode from a more distanced perspective and took a cynical view of the legal battle. It was, he argued, entirely logical that he had failed to win the case: ‘According to the logic of the ruling: the original novel had undoubtedly been distorted, but since the film was aimed primarily at a younger audience, such distortions were irrelevant. Of course the truth of the matter was that sixty million dollars were at stake. The only voice of opposition came from a lone author who had evidently grown too big for his boots. After all, majority opinion deems a movie to be the pinnacle of a novelist’s success. Shouldn’t writers be grateful if directors want to film their books? In financial terms, losing the court case cost me far more than I gained from the rights. At the time I took the whole thing to heart, but these days I don’t let it get to me. I heard somewhere that Part II has been released at the cinema - I haven’t even watched the thing.’