In 1983, Spielberg was riding high with nine Oscar nominations for “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (his team would take home four statues that year). At the same time, a little-known German filmmaker named Wolfgang Petersen traveled to the United States for his hyper-suspenseful submarine thriller “Das Boot,” which was up for six Academy Awards.
The two directors met and became friends, with Spielberg soliciting Petersen for opinions on where in Europe to shoot “Schindler’s List.” With a bond formed, Petersen decided to approach Spielberg about a German-produced film called “The Neverending Story,” hoping to get his thoughts on bringing the fantasy film to an American audience. Spielberg agreed, and a partnership formed that until our exclusive interview with Petersen, is little known.
“I asked him when ‘The Neverending Story’ came out if I [could] show it to him here before I released it in the United States with Warner Bros., and if he thinks I should maybe give it a little bit of a different pacing for America.” Petersen told MTV News. “So he looked at it and he said he had some really interesting suggestions for some cuts. To give it a little bit more pace and a little faster.”
With Spielberg’s assistance, the American version of “The Neverending Story” became seven minutes shorter than its European counterpart.
“There were little snippets, bits and pieces here and there,” said Petersen. “Nothing major. Nothing that’s like ‘take the entire sequence out.’ It was just a polish kind of thing. A pacing thing; a few seconds here, a few things here.”
Spielberg credited his editing technique to a certain bearded collaborator. “He said he really learned it from George Lucas because Lucas was always good in pacing, to make it a little faster, and make it a little snappier,” Petersen said. “That’s sort of the school he went through with Lucas.
“He said it’s always good [to show] someone else that you trust and have a good professional way of handling things, whereas you don’t see it anymore [because] you were so involved. So just show it to a friend. And that’s what we did.”
With the new American cut finished, Petersen had a special gift for Spielberg. “He got the Auryn, the thing that Atreyu has around his neck. This glowing thing,” Petersen said. “I gave him the prop as a present and a thank you.”
Check back tomorrow for even more “Neverending Story” revelations from our exclusive interview with Wolfgang Petersen. And pick up “The Neverending Story” now on Blu-ray.