'Hollywood of Germany' - moviemaking ingenuity on display
Munich, West Germany
To the Germans, it's as if Artoo-Deetoo and See-Threepio went on display the week ''Star Wars'' opened. Just outside the city limits here, Bavaria Studios, nicknamed the Hollywood of Germany, has recently unveiled the ingenious, otherworldly sci-fi creatures from ''Die Unendliche Geschichte'' (''The Never Ending Story''). The film, released in German theaters in April (and opening in the United States this week), is the most expensive in German history, costing $25 million.
Not surprisingly these studios, where this film was produced (for the German company Neue Constantin Film Productions), have been cashing in handsomely by letting the public file by the lovable creatures for $4 a peek. And these are only the latest of many attractions that have brought some 300,000 visitors to the studios since they opened to in 1981.
Bavaria Studios was founded in 1919 in a peaceful, wooded lot along the Isar River just south of Munich and eventually became a favorite location-shooting studio for films about Germany because of its rich Bavarian countryside.
Filming here really took off in the early 1970s, when Rainer Werner Fassbinder, one of Germany's most famous filmmakers and first of the New German Cinema directors, filmed nearly 10 pictures here.
Today, thanks to the notoriety brought by directors Ingmar Bergman, Billy Wilder (''Fedora''), Bob Fosse (''Cabaret''), and others, Bavaria Studios has blossomed into Europe's largest and most modern film studio. Eight hundred employees turn out about 100 hours of film each year.
The two-hour, $4 tour leads through the various sets, including a US military fort in the Old West with a gorge that looks as though Indians may attack at any minute. The 1886 town used for the German TV series ''Rote Erde'' (''Red Soil'') is here, complete with coal mine. The Berlin street constructed for and used by Bergman's ''The Serpent's Egg'' has been used for dozens of films since 1976. Rental of the street runs $5,000 to $10,000 a day, depending on how much of it is used and what alterations must be made to its facade.
Ever since Wolfgang Petersen's ''Das Boot'' was one of the top-grossing foreign films in history, the five submarines of various sizes used in that film are a major attraction - as is the shallow cement pool where many of the sea scenes were filmed. (The coastline of Spain, for example, was painted on a cement wall next to the pool, and mist, wind, and waves were created by machines.)
Visitors can walk through the 60-yard-long model used for interior shots: bunk beds, engine room, kitchen, portals, and all. And if you thought the movie was claustrophobic, you should try this set. The interior model is meant to remain on display, but occasionally may be rented out, the guide explains. Cost:
''The Never Ending Story'' is a tale about a trip by a young boy into Fantasia - a land of all mankind's dreams, hopes, and wishes. Here in Germany, the film surpassed ''E.T.'' and ''Return of the Jedi'' for the most patrons in an opening week: over 1 million.
The creatures from the film - created by England's Brian Johnson, who won an Oscar for visual effects in ''Alien'' - can be seen in a small corrugated metal hut next to the famous Studio Four-Five where Stanley Kubrick filmed ''Paths of Glory.''
Once inside the hut, you'll see two incarnations of Falkor, ''The Never Ending Story's'' beneficent, flying white dragon (various sizes for different shots). Tour guides lift young children onto the furry, sequined back of one and demonstrate the blue-screen technique that makes it appear to fly over mountains , forests, and cities.
Although the lots, sets, and technical paraphernalia are all on view at Bavaria Studios, it is the production crew behind the whole operation that has drawn the most kudos in recent years. ''I never heard the word impossible spoken at Bavaria,'' says Ingmar Bergman. ''The enthusiasm increases in proportion to the difficulty of the task.'' And Billy Wilder says, ''If they were classifying studios in the Guide Michelin, Bavaria would definitely rate three stars.''