The Princess Bride [DVD]
Director : Rob Reiner
Screenplay : William Goldman (based on his novel)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1987
Stars : Cary Elwes (Westley), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), Christopher Guest (Count Tyrone Rugen), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Andre the Giant (Fezzik), Fred Savage (The Grandson), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Peter Falk (The Grandfather), Peter Cook (The Impressive Clergyman), Mel Smith (The Albino), Carol Kane (Valerie), Billy Crystal (Miracle Max)
Did any other mainstream Hollywood director have a better run in the mid- to late 1980s than Rob Reiner? This is, after all, a filmmaker who was known almost exclusively as a meathead from a long-running sitcom when he directed the hilarious rock mockumentary This is Spinal Tap (1984), then made it possible to use to the words “poignant” and “Stephen King” in the same sentence with Stand by Me (1986), and finished off the decade by directing When Harry Met Sally ..., the modern romantic comedy by which all others are judged.
During that run he also directed The Princess Bride, a charming and utterly disarming swashbuckling fairy tale that is also a smart, funny satire of swashbuckling fairy tales. The film has every reason to fail, but Reiner and his game cast hit each note just right, allowing us to chuckle at its silliness while getting caught up in it all the same. Framed as a storybook read to a video-game-and-sports-obsessed kid (Fred Savage) by his dotting and slightly curmudgeonly grandfather (Peter Faulk), The Princess Bride self-consciously hits all the high points: “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles …”
It all starts, of course, with true love. The romance is between Westley (Cary Elwes), a poor farm boy, and Buttercup (Robin Wright), the young woman who bosses him around before eventually realizing that she loves him. When Westley sets off to find his fortune and is reportedly killed by a pirate, Buttercup declares that she will never love again, even as she is forced into engagement with the duplicitous Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), who is the very epitome of smug, royal priggishness. It turns out that Westley is not dead, and he comes back to reclaim Buttercup's heart. But, rescuing the princess bride from Humperdinck, whose marital intentions are anything but noble, is hardly an easy task.
Screenwriter William Goldman, who adapted his own cleverly misleading source novel (which is presented as an abridged version of a fictional longer work by a nonexistent author), structures the film around our expectations, which he sometimes validates, but often undermines. We expect Westley and Buttercup to be reunited, and I don't think I'm giving anything away by suggesting that this particular expectation is not disappointed. However, who could expect the wonderfully cowardly reaction by Count Tyrone (Christopher Guest) when faced by Inigo Mantoya (Mandy Patinkin), the Spanish swordsman who has sought him for 20 years for killing his father? And who would also guess that the film's sweetest, most beguiling character would be a giant named Fezzik played by the late pro wrestler Andre the Giant? Similarly, the film jostles its tone with reckless glee, veering wildly from action-adventure (Westley and Buttercup's journey through the dangerous Fire Swamp) to deadpan comedy (Billy Crystal as the kvetching Miracle Max and Carol Kane as his nagging wife).
It would be easy to label The Princess Bride a “spoof” of children's fairy tales, but that is only one layer. Reiner and Goldman seem to have a deep love for the arch simplicity of the genre, with its pure good and pure evil duking it out against a fantastical backdrop. Tone is such a fragile commodity in the movies, and Reiner manages the delicate balancing act of making the movie simultaneously funny and exciting, gently parodic and utterly charming. He doesn't skimp on the action or the romance, but he also works in plenty of unexpected comedy, much of which involves the way people speak (Humperdinck's annoyingly perfect diction is countered by Ingio Montaya's thick Spanish accent, Fezzick's nearly impenetrable mush-mouth, and the lisping audacity of Wallace Shawn's overconfident Sicilian bandit Vizzini).
What holds The Princess Bride together, though, is idealism. There is a fundamental sweetness in the film's old-fashioned belief in the abiding power of “true love” that holds all its disparate parts together, including its modest sets and sometimes hokey special effects (which also give it a Saturday-matinee-from-the-1940s feel). Funny and often satirical as it is, The Princess Bride presents love without a hint of irony, which is why the grandson, despite making a sour face early on at the prospect that this might be a “kissing book,” doesn't mind so much by the end. He, like us, has been completely won over.
|The Princess Bride 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD|
|Distributor||MGM / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 13, 2007|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|This 20th Anniversary Special Edition features what appears to be the same anamorphic transfer from the previously available special editions discs. The image is sharp and clear, with excellent color and no signs of age or wear. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is also the same that was available on previous editions. It is not particularly dynamic, but it gives the musical score an added boost and makes good use of the surround channels at crucial moments.|
|When compared to my critical peers, I am usually pretty easy-going on double-dip DVDs, but this so-called “20th Anniversary Collector's Edition” of The Princess Bride is a real disappointment in that the meager new supplements provided don't warrant another purchase by those who have already bought one or both of the two previous special editions, and those getting it for the first time would be better off going with the older edition since none of the supplements included there are offered here (including multiple audio commentaries, retrospective documentaries, video journals during the production, and stills galleries). Despite the lofty title, there are only three new featurettes included, the longest of which runs 10 minutes. “Princess Bride: The Untold Tales” featurette contains new interviews with stars Robin Wright (now) Penn, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Fred Savage, and Christopher Sarandon. They reminisce about their good experiences making the film, paying particular attention to their work with the late Andre the Giant (Patinkin loved his experience so much he actually wells up talking about it). “The Art of Fencing” featurette includes an interview with L.A. swordmaster Robert Goodwin, and in “Fairy Tales and Folklore” fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes talks about how the film adheres to and spoofs classic fairy tale conventions. There is also a DVD game titled True Love and High Adventure, but it's about as lame as most DVD games are.|
Copyright © 2007 James Kendrick
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