Last week I was in a lot of pain, and a couple of my fingers were taped together, which made it extremely difficult to type. I saw an orthopedic hand doctor on Wednesday, and he took one look at my X-rays and said that not only was the painful finger really messed up, but it looks like all of my fingers have severe arthritis. There’s almost no space between the joints, which means that my hands appear to belong to someone twice my age. The doctor advised me to pull the tape off my fingers and simply take Aleve for the pain until I can see another doctor specializing in rheumatology next month. So that’s what I am doing.
The show must go on, so rather than take a leave of absence, I’ll simply take Aleve and get down to business. And, appropriately enough, I’m going to talk about a character who has what appear to be “big, good, strong hands.” I swear this was the article I had scheduled to write last week when it became too painful to finish it. What a funny coincidence, huh?
The Neverending Story is full of great characters who left a lasting impression on me as a kid. Bastian, Atreyu, Falkor, the Childlike Empress, and even the little gnome professor and his abrasive wife (who remind me of Miracle Max and his not-a-witch wife from The Princess Bride) are all fun and interesting characters. But the one who stands head and shoulders above them in terms of being memorable is Rock Biter. He’s only on-screen for a small fraction of the film’s run time, and he doesn’t have much of an impact on the story, but he somehow manages to leave a big impression in that short time. So much so that he is one of the few characters to appear in both of the sequels. Let’s see if we can figure out why.
Introduction to Fantasia
Why does the book Bastian reads begin the way it does? The first thing we see is something immense loudly crushing everything in its path as it hurriedly moves through a dark forest. We soon discover that it’s a gentle giant called Rock Biter, and he comes across two other creatures called Teeny Weeny and Night Hob. From the moment we hear Rock Biter’s gravelly voice, we can tell he’s a likable character. He’s so polite and kind, even as he puts everyone around in him in harm’s way. It’s a remarkable feat that his character can come across as both childlike and world-weary, dangerous and reassuring, and powerful and vulnerable at the same time. In addition, this scene helps us understand the incredible size difference between these characters by its use of camera angles, forced perspective, and impressive model work. Rock Biter always seems to move and speak slower and with more weight than everyone else, lending even more believability to his status as a towering giant.
No Time to Waste
We spend a good five minutes with these three characters, watching them eat, rest, and get to know each other. But it’s not wasted time. The reason the story begins this way is to show us that this isn’t like any world we’re familiar with. If we had met Atreyu or the Childlike Empress first, we could have gotten the wrong idea that these are all Earthlings like Bastian because they look like normal children. Instead, the three we meet first are unique-looking creatures who come from different parts of a magical world called Fantasia. We’re never given any background on Teeny Weeny or Night Hob, but we do get a glimpse into Rock Biter’s tragic past.
Revealing the Conflict
Rock Biter is the one who introduces the story’s central conflict, and he does it in a few well-chosen words about his home. There’s a terrible Nothing destroying the far reaches of Fantasia, and the three soon discover that they are all on the same mission: to beg the Childlike Empress to stop it and save them. With this realization, they get ready to leave at once and complete their journey to the Ivory Tower. Rock Biter dawdles for a moment because he wants to grab a few tasty rocks for the road. But before he can do that, we get a taste of things to come when the Nothing rears its ugly head and begins to destroy the very forest he’s in. I know it’s just a puppet, but something about Rock Biter’s eyes in this moment is so expressive, revealing the fear and dread in his heart as he watches his world get torn apart. Thankfully, he manages to outrun the Nothing for now and catch up with Teeny Weeny.
Rock Biter never actually fulfills his mission. He and Teeny Weeny wait at the base of the Ivory Tower while only Night Hob makes it to the top. It turns out that none of them needed to say anything because the Childlike Empress’s representative tells a variety of magical creatures from Fantasia that she is well aware of the danger they are facing. However, she won’t be able to save them because the Nothing is killing her along with her kingdom. That’s when she calls upon the services of a great warrior named Atreyu. Everyone is shocked at first to learn that he is just a child, but it’s all a test set up by the Empress to shake their preconceived notions and show Bastian that one little boy can be quite important in the grand scheme of things. As Atreyu sets out on his quest to find a way to defeat the Nothing, he briefly passes by Teeny Weeny, Night Hob, and Rock Biter who wish him well. And that’s all we see of them for the next 50 minutes.
A Larger World
Near the end of Atreyu’s quest, he falls off his luck dragon Falkor midflight and ends up on a lonely beach surrounded by rocks. While leaning sadly against one of them, Atreyu is shocked to hear it utter a moan of pain, and he realizes he was leaning against Rock Biter. Even though this is a sad scene, the sudden appearance of Rock Biter is a welcome surprise. He has a terrible tale of woe and again conveys a lot of deep meaning in just a few words. He describes his failed attempt to hold onto his small companions. They were engulfed by the Nothing, and he will be, too, because he’s given up hope of finding safety or redemption. This scene speaks volumes about his personality, and it also opens up the world of Fantasia immensely. We realize that even though we’ve been following Atreyu, there are also many other stories taking place concurrently. Neverending stories, if you will. The book this film is based on cleverly hints at these untold adventures by simply stating, “But that’s another story,” whenever a side character leaves to do his own thing.
One Last Glimpse
When Bastian finally embraces his role in the story he’s been reading and gives the Childlike Empress a new name, he finds himself inside the story. He has the power to restore Fantasia to its former greatness by making endless wishes that increase his hopes and dreams, which is what Fantasia is made of. His first wish is to soar through the sky on Falkor. It’s definitely a moment that cheers us up, but what really makes us sure that everything is right in the world is when we see Teeny Weeny, Night Hob, and good old Rock Biter safe and sound. When Bastian spots them, he happily comments, “It’s like the Nothing never was!” Indeed, these side characters who didn’t have a pivotal part to play in the story nevertheless serve an essential role in reassuring the audience that all is right in the world just by their presence. It’s especially heartwarming to see Rock Biter joyously wave at Bastian because this is one of the few times we get to see him looking happy. It’s like night and day from the last time we saw him.
Why He Leaves an Impression
Despite his limited screen time, Rock Biter is a memorable character because:
- He is our introduction to Fantasia and the Nothing.
- There’s a contradictory sense of security and danger when he’s around.
- He’s warm and friendly like a child, but he’s also world-weary and sad.
- His voice is unique, almost sounding like it’s made of stone.
- He hints at a larger world by relating his off-screen experience with his friends to Atreyu.
- His restoration at the end is comforting and essential.
I will always remember Rock Biter as he was in the first film. I could talk about how the two sequels botched him completely, but that’s another story.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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