Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Princess Bride Film (and Disc) Review

Though my blogging friend Rachel (from Scientist Gone Wordy) and I have done a small number of what I've termed 'parallel posts' (separate reviews of a specific book and its accompanying film adaptation -- not to be confused with this 'parallel' post) this year, they've been solely from the science-fiction category. That'll change with this one, however. I'll review the 1987 film, The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner. My northern California colleague will set her hand (and mind) to William Goldman's source 1973 fantasy adventure novel of the same name. Coincidentally, I happened to pick up the Blu-ray Disc version of the film just before Rachel suggested it as parallel material. You see... great minds do think alike ;-). Her book review can be found here:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

A brief synopsis of the film: the motion picture opens to a school-age kid, the coughing bedridden variety, playing a vintage video game while he's home sick. All of this to the worry of his mother, and to the lament of his loving grandfather, who's shown up to read a chosen tale to his cherished grandson. The book is entitled The Princess Bride, and tells the classic and adventurous love story of Buttercup and her steadfast beau from childhood, Westley. How true love prevails, through some fantastic perils and danger, is the main story-line of the film.

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film are revealed in this review]
Grandson: "Has it got any sports in it?"
Grandpa: "Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..."
My Review: Originally, I saw this film the year it came out... on a date, in fact (but since it was before courtship with my lovely bride of more than 20 years, we'll quickly get off this tangent). What I adored about the film more than twenty years ago is still in effect. It contains a real spirit of adventure and fantasy along with its romance without it becoming a saccharine mess that you find in some fairy tales. The Princess Bride plays with the storybook convention without being insulting to the form (good thing since the film likely had a large following of kids in the audience when it first appeared, or later watching at home). That was some trick to entertain the youth, wink at the adults in the audience, and keep everyone interested. Rob Reiner accomplished this feat (following the screenplay written by the book's author) on only his fourth stint in the director's chair. He may have had some missteps later in his career (cough... North...cough), but this film wasn't one of them.

It was no surprise there that the material would be treated deftly by said William Goldman, too. He being an American playwright and novelist, WG is also a veteran Hollywood scribe that's had some famous screenwriting credits under his belt even before being handed his own novel for a conversion to film. His Adventures in the Screen Trade is likely considered mandatory reading for anyone even thinking of a career as a screenwriter. As well, a good many of his credits are some of my favorite films. From the seminal All The President's Men to the epic A Bridge Too Far. He's adapted Stephen King (Misery, and consulted on Dolores Claiborne) and even written for John Carpenter (Memoirs of an Invisible Man). He's covered different genres with The Stepford Wives, Chaplin, and The General's Daughter.  Indeed, he wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for one of the best westerns of all-time (which I covered somewhat last year). Previous to this, his own novel, Marathon Man, was also adapted by him. You have to give the man credit for not screwing up his own work.

The other aspect that works so well in the film is the cast. Everyone is given a chance to shine (even if it's only for a small bit or two). The fact that there was no 'A' list star (of the time) topping the bill helps to keep the story at the center. Nevertheless, having two comely blonde romantic leads kept with the fairy tale tradition being sent up here. I swear you couldn't find a more youthfully beautiful performer to center on. And, Robin Wright as Buttercup wasn't bad looking, either. I don't know if it was intended, but Cary Elwes made the women in the film seem like hags in comparison. Perhaps, this was his pinnacle (before Jigsaw got to him, or the excesses my friend Will noted with his review of Twister). I don't think I enjoyed him as much as his role here. Who knew he was so dexterous with a sword? If there's anyone else (besides Andre The Giant's turn as Fezzik) that drew me to them, it was perhaps Manny Patinkin as the Spaniard Inigo Montoya. There wasn't anyone more passionate than he.
Inigo Montoya: "Offer me anything I ask for."
Count Rugen: "Anything you want..."
Inigo Montoya: "I want my father back, you son of a bitch!"
And it is passion that is the key for this film. For all of the fun taken at bending the fairy tale propriety, the filmmakers never fracture it. Even as the grandfather (wonderfully played by Peter Falk) narrates the tale to his grandson (Fred Savage forever frozen in time at that cute age), he delivers it with the warmth of a doting grandpa. Love is at the core of the tale, and it is framed nicely by these two. Although it should be said, author Goldman didn't skimp on the darker aspects of the passion conveyed in the story. If you recall, many of the old fairy tales could be pretty horrific in their own right. As an example in the film, you see this with Inigo's main drive in searching for the six-finger man who murdered his father... and to avenge himself by the sword. That same Polydactyly-one gets to torture Westly for the sadistic thrill of it, and Prince Humperdinck stunningly inflicts a massively painful death on the beloved hero just because Buttercup dresses that male ego down as only a woman can. It's just some good old fashion fairy tale fanaticism and fervor being brought to bear. Bless 'em for keeping the kiddies up a night with those twists of the folk tale knife, I say.

The Princess Bride is one of those film adaptations that plays with a convention, but ultimately reaffirms it, without too much dismay from the audience. The film can be enjoyable as hell, especially if you've seen it enough times to repeat the endlessly quotable dialogue author William Goldman is known for. Add to this, it has a subversive style that may push a few boundaries, but still firmly locates it within the context of the fairy tale genre. I mean "The Pit of Despair" and "The Cliffs of Insanity" along with true love conquers all? It's "inconceivable"! Honest-to-goodness, for the longest time my daughter refused to watch this film (unlike her older brother). This time however, for the purposes of my review, we talked her into joining me (for my umpteenth time, I reckon). Naturally, she loved it by the time it reached its finale. Of course, her mother still hates the film. I wonder why that is?
Grandson: "Grandpa, maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow."
Grandpa: "As you wish."
The Disc: the Blu-ray Disc for the film arrived in 2009 and is easily the best disc rendition, so far. I say that because, outside of the Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series, the studios has milked The Princess Bride (and the buying public) with a number of disc versions. I've counted (1) the original barebones DVD, (2) the first Special Edition (the one I had previously), (3 & 4) the Dread Pirate and Buttercup editions (same disc, different DVD covers), and (5) the 20th Anniversary edition. This sixth version delivers the best combination of picture, sound, and with all of the extra features from the previous discs.


  1. This is a great review of a film that was an "instant" classic. You're right on every single point. I remember that after reading the book (yes, all those years ago!) I didn't want to see a film made of it because I was so sure H'wood would screw it up. Whoa, was I wrong, and I'm happy to say so.

  2. I'm happy you enjoyed it, Naomi. I know you're a big William Goldman fan (as I), and it was certainly an 'instant' classic the day the film opened in '87. I never get tired of watching it (and now I have a new fan of the movie in the family). Thanks so much.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly about the success of the convention of this story in the film. I also think you make such a good point on how many types of audiences the movie can successfully engage and satisfy!

    Ditto on the cast! I think it's perfect (and Billy Crystal didn't bother me as he did Naomi but maybe b/c I saw the movie first so had nothing in my head already)! Actually, I can't imagine this film with any other cast and the hubby and I are always saying, why aren't there more films with Patinkin????

    And ROFLOL re Elwes leaving the ladies in the dust! It's so true! What a great observation. Admittedly, his chin has always bothered me but otherwise... just perfect!

    I think the great script makes the cast look even better but, as you pointed out, the attitude the cast has really ices the cake here. It's obvious they are coming to the material with just the right amount of everything needed for such a tale and it's so enjoyable.

    I also liked the dark parts of the story and it was one of the things that translated very well from book to screen.

    "The Princess Bride is one of those film adaptations that plays with a convention, but ultimately reaffirms it, without too much dismay from the audience."

    This is just so dead-on right and wholly sums up why this movie is so wonderful. And after thinking about this a bit more I realized why the book didn't work for me: it did not reaffirm the convention. It was clear from the book that Goldman knew the convention backwards and forwards but no affirmation to be found. I leave further book comments to my reply over on my blog though...

    Great review, Michael! You hit on so many of the things that make this film so much fun to watch again and again. I'm so glad we did this one and I loved having an excuse to watch the movie yet again.

  4. This film has stood the test of time because it's so great. I don't think I know anyone who has only seen it once. Kids and adults. Well... there is my daughter, but she's already planning on re-watching it soon so I can still say that ;) .

    The Princess Bride was a great selection for this series, Rachel. And you're right about Patinkin. Remember him in Chicago Hope? Kudos for a fine book review, too. Thanks so much, Rachel.

  5. Great writeup.  I always love this movie.  I've been wanting to get my sis to watch it.  I know she'll love it.

  6. Awesome, indepth review of this great film. It's an enduring classic and the fact that we're still talking about it after all these years is proof of its legacy. Just so many great scenes and memorable lines of dialogue. Friends of mine and I used to quote from it endlessly.

    Also, thanks for including the info the myriad of DVD releases. I'd have to check but I believe I have the 20th anniversary edition.

  7. Yep. If they watch it, it is definitely habit-forming  ;) .

    Thanks, Keith.

  8. Very kind of you to say, J.D. And every time I re-watch it, I'm repeating its lines for days. Thanks so much, my friend.

  9. "Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."  

    Great review of one mine and my husband's favorite movies!!!!  It's near perfect and will age very well.

  10. True story:  a girlfriend in Ohio went to see Patinkin at some event.  When she approached for his autograph, she said, "Allo, my name is Melinda (last name). I am your biggest fan; prepare to sign."  According to her, he got a kick out of it.  

  11. Thank you, Christine.

  12. I'm sure Patinkin got a kick out of it... I sure did  :-D . Great story. Thanks.