|Director: Rob Reiner|
|Screenplay: William Goldman (based on his novel)|
|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)|
|MPAA Rating: PG|
|Year of Release: 1987|
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 for playing a “meathead” on 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 ... (1989), 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 Criterion Collection Blu-ray|
|Audio||English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround|
|Supplements||Audio commentary from 1996 by director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman, producer Andrew Scheinman, and actors Billy Crystal and Peter FalkEdited 1987 audiobook reading of Goldman’s novel by ReinerNew program about Goldman’s screenplayNew program about Goldman’s tapestry based on his novelArchival interviews with Reiner, Goldman, and actors Crystal, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Fred Savage, and Robin WrightNew interview with art director Richard HollandPrograms about makeup, fencing, and fairy talesOn-set video diary filmed and narrated by ElwesFive behind-the-scenes videos with commentaries from 1996 by Reiner, Scheinman, and CrystalTwo trailers and four TV spotsIllustrated, clothbound book featuring an essay by author Sloane Crosley and Goldman’s introduction to his script from his collection Four Screenplays|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||November 2, 2018|
|Criterion’s Blu-ray boasts a new 4K transfer from the original 35mm camera negative that was restored using as reference Criterion’s 1997 laserdisc master, which was supervised and approved by associate producer Steve Nicolaides. Compared to the previously available 20th Century Fox Blu-ray, the image is slightly brighter and more detailed, with stronger and richer colors. Great care was obviously taken to maintain the film’s celluloid origin, as there is a nice presence of grain throughout. No signs of age or wear are present anywhere. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack appears to be the same as the one on the Fox Blu-ray. 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. |
As if often the case with Criterion’s releases of popular, mainstream titles that already had a number of previous releases, the supplements on their edition of The Princess Bride is a mix of the old and the new—and there is a lot. The oldest supplements—an audio commentary by director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman, producer Andrew Scheinman, and actors Billy Crystal and Peter Falk; an edited audio book reading of Goldman’s novel by Reiner; and five short videos shot during production with optional commentaries by producer Andrew Scheinman, Crystal, or Reiner—were originally included on Criterion’s 1997 Special Edition laser disc release. Most of the other supplements, which were produced between 2001 and 2012, previously appeared on various DVD and Blu-ray releases. “True Love” is a featurette that reunited Reiner and actors Carey Elwes and Robin Wright for the film’s 25th anniversary. “As You Wish” is a retrospective documentary produced in 2001 that features interviews with Reiner, Goldman, Crystal, Elwes, Wright, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, and Fred Savage. We also get a number of additional featurettes. “The Princess Bride: The Untold Tales” contains then-new interviews with stars Wright, Patinkin, Guest, Savage, and Sarandon reminiscing 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,” which includes an interview with L.A. swordmaster Robert Goodwin; “Fairy Tales and Folklore,” in which fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes talks about how the film adheres to and spoofs classic fairy tale conventions; “Miraculous Make-Up,” which features interviews with Crystal and make-up artist Peter Montagna about the creation of the Miracle Max make-up; and a brief compilation of footage shot by Elwes during the film’s production with narration by him and Wright.
New to Criterion’s edition is “Pure Enchantment,” a 17-minute video interview with writer and adjunct professor of screenwriter Loren-Paul Caplin about the career of William Goldman and his unique approach to screenwriting. There is also a 7-minute featurette about a tapestry that Goldman commissioned made up of his favorite scenes from his novel. It is a fun piece, but also a poignant one, especially when he talks about his last time seeing Andre the Giant. “Fairy Tale Reality” is a new 12-minute interview with art director Richard Holland about how he created the unique fantasy world depicted in the film, with special emphasis on Vizzini’s ship and the torture machine in the Pit of Despair. There are two trailers (one for the U.S. and one for foreign markets) and four TV spots. The disc is encased in an illustrated, clothbound book that includes an essay by author Sloane Crosley and Goldman’s introduction to his script from his collection Four Screenplays
Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick
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