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‘The Neverending Story’ Getting New Film Series Adaptation From ‘Slow Horses’ Banner See-Saw (EXCLUSIVE)

Falkor flies again!

“The Neverending Story” — the beloved fantasy novel from late German author Michael Ende that was famously adapted into the cult 1984 film — is being revived for the big screen once more, with a new joint-venture partnership between Michael Ende Productions and prestige tastemakers See-Saw Films bringing the world of Fantastica back to cinemas over multiple live-action films.

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The news brings to an end the race for one of the hottest fantasy properties yet to be tapped for modern audiences. Variety hears that Ende’s estate had been fielding interest from across the globe over the last few years, including from studios and streamers.

See-Saw — no stranger to adapting well-known literature for screen having been behind features including “Lion” and “The Power of the Dog” and recent TV hits “Heartstopper” and “Slow Horses” — has now teamed with Michael Ende Productions to develop and produce the films. The new partnership has been granted “The Neverending Story” rights by Ende’s executor Dr. Wolf-Dieter von Granau. Iain Canning and Emile Sherman will produce for See-Saw alongside Roman Hocke and Ralph Gassmann for Michael Ende Productions.

First published in 1979, “The Neverending Story” became a bestseller in Germany and would be translated into 45 languages, selling millions of copies worldwide. At the center of the story is the awkward but imaginative child Bastian Balthasar Bux who, while escaping from bullies, discovers the mysterious book “The Neverending Story,” about the heroic Atréyu and his mission to save the magical realm of Fantastica — a world of dragons, giants, vast kingdoms and deadly swamps — and its ruler, the Childlike Empress, from being destroyed by force known as “The Nothing.” But the more he reads, the more Bastian realizes he’s not simply an uninvolved spectator and he soon finds himself transported into Fantastica himself, flying atop the luckdragon Falkor.

“The story is both timely and timeless, and really has an opportunity to be told in a fresh way,” said Canning, speaking to Variety from the offices of “The Neverending Story” literary agent AVA in Munich, Germany. “And part of the specialness of the book is that you can go back to it at different ages in your life and find different levels of meaning. So how wonderful that we have this opportunity to do a fresh perspective that will have new layers and meanings. We just believe that every generation deserves their own journey into Fantastica.”

“We’ve been completely overwhelmed with interest from the television and film industry in recent years,” added Gassman, the AVA exec who works with Michael Ende Productions alongside Ende’s longstanding editor and estate curator Hocke. “But it was only about four to five years ago when we felt it was right to go back to Fantastica with new, fresher attention. So then we looked at hundreds and hundreds of requests and just thought, let’s see if we find a potential partner amongst them that is so compelling that they make us jump into the boat with them and go on this crazy adventure. But we knew we had to do it right and find the right partner, and luckily See-Saw was amongst them.”

MUNICH, GERMANY - March 20:  Ralph Gassmann, Roman Hocke and Iain Canning photographed as Michael Ende Productions and See-Saw Films have announced plans to develop a film adaptation of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. (Photo by Nathan Zentveld/Getty Images for See-Saw Films)
Ralph Gassmann, Roman Hocke and Iain Canning

For See-Saw, “The Neverending Story” — a much bigger and more elaborate piece of material than it’s used to handling — marks the next step up for the London and Sydney-based company, first founded in 2008 and made famous in 2011 with its Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” (adapted by the late David Seidler from his own stage play).

“Emile and I have always been very clear that, if we were going to move forward on our journey, it had to be something really special that we were passionate about and connected to emotionally, so when this opportunity came about we just thought: this would be so magical,” Canning said. “Over our 15 years we’ve been very careful — whether it be for ‘The King’s Speech’ and the audience that loved that or ‘Lion’ and the audience that loved that, or ‘Heartstopper’ or ‘Slow Horses’ — about making quality material and that audience responding to it. This is such an opportunity to bring all that skillset together and do a full quadrant spectacle of a film.”

“The Neverending Story” also brings Canning back to a conversation he had in See-Saw’s very early days, before “The King’s Speech,” when he was asked which project he would most like to produce. “I said, do you know what, I’d really, really love to adapt ‘The Neverending Story,'” he explains. “I was reminded of this recently, so it just feels in a way that the 15-year journey of See-Saw in terms of going from book to screen has led up to here.”

The next task for the newly-formed partnership of See-Saw and Michael Ende Productions will be to find the right creative team to bring the novel to life before packaging the project and seeking out distribution partners.

“The journey, in many ways, starts now,” Canning said. “There’s been a lot of anticipation from people who love this story about what the next steps would be. For us, we now need to speak to writers and directors and hear their passion for the material.”

Much of the details about the production — including the exact number of films to be made — will depend on the creatives assembled. But Canning said that the wildly colorful locations Ende described in “The Neverending Story” — including the so-called Ivory Tower, Goab the Desert of Colors, Silver Mountains, Spook City, Silver Lake and the Swamps of Sadness (where Atréyu’s horse Artax famously drowns) — lend the shoot to being an “international global production.” He added that they would also look to maintain a connection to the book’s heritage by shooting some scenes in Germany (much of the 1984 film was actually shot in the Bavaria Studios in Munich).

THE NEVERENDING STORY, Noah Hathaway, 1984, © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection
THE NEVERENDING STORY, Noah Hathaway, 1984, © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Although producers may be looking for a modern day adaptation of “The Neverending Story,” news of its return to screens lands during something of a renaissance for ’80s nostalgia, led by shows such as “Stranger Things.” It was actually “Stranger Things” that saw “The Neverending Story” recently back in the headlines, with Moroder’s famed synth theme from the first feature adaptation — a film Ende famously disavowed for deviating too far from his original story — being performed on the show and subsequently going viral online.

Alongside both Michael Ende Productions and See-Saw, executive producers on the new films will include the L.A.-based former Endeavor Content exec Lorenzo De Maio and Ende’s executor von Gronau as well as See-Saw’s CEO Simon Gillis and creative director Helen Gregory. Gillis and De Maio will spearhead taking “The Neverending Story” back out to the market once packaged. The rights deal was negotiated by von Gronau on behalf of Michael Ende Productions and Gillis and attorney Stephen Saltzman of Fieldfisher, on behalf of See-Saw.

For Hocke, whose career began with Ende in the early 1980s and who worked closely with him for almost two decades until he died in 1995, the new “The Neverending Story” adaption is not just the perfect opportunity to “make a new monument” for the author, but to celebrate the art and importance of storytelling.

“We need stories like we need the air to breathe and water to survive. They give our inner worlds quality and with this quality we make decisions of quality. Stories make the world better,” he said. “And ‘The Neverending Story’ is the story of all stories.”

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