|Princess Bride, The (Special Edition)|
|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 04 September 2001|
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." The preceding statement is likely to elicit one of two reactions from listeners, either "Huh?" or "Ahhh, time to watch ‘The Princess Bride’ again!"
If you are back with Reaction # 1, here’s the scoop – "The Princess Bride" is a delightful, tongue-in-cheek 1987 filmic fairytale, based on William Goldman’s even more wonderful 1973 novel. Framed by the device of a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading his favorite book to his ailing young grandson (Fred Savage), "The Princess Bride" is full of comic derring-do and sly wordplay. In the mythical kingdom of Florin, true lovers Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright) are first separated by Westley’s poverty as he goes off to seek his fortune, and then by the machinations of evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and his cruel henchman Count Rugen (Christopher Guest). Thrown into the mix are a good-hearted giant (Andre the Giant) and the brilliant swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), who’s spent 20 years seeking his father’s murderer (see above).
"The Princess Bride" may have been a little too hip for the room at the time of its release. However, it has developed a cult following in the years since then – if you’ve heard people quoting the Montoya speech when playfully but sincerely expressing determination, or anybody’s seen you off with, "Have fun storming the castle!", this is the frame of reference.
And a thoroughly grand frame it is, too. Although it is scrupulously faithful to Goldman’s novel – Goldman adapted the screenplay himself and, as both the commentaries and the making-of featurettes attest, he was around for production as well – "Bride" also reflects the sensibilities of director Rob Reiner, who had recently come off "This Is Spinal Tap." It’s a stylistic marriage made in movie heaven. Reiner, Goldman and a sublime cast manage to at once send up the swashbuckler genre and bask in all its glories. There’s a swordfight between good guys Westley and Inigo that is hilarious and thrilling; there are grandiose battles of wits, endless tumbles down cliffs and a fantastically mismatched wrestling match. It’s also funny to see the very lordly English Elwes (whose accent tilts toward Americanization in the retrospective featurette) adapting himself to the slight Yiddish lilt in the dialogue: "This is true love, you think this happens every day?"
Reiner gives the movie the look of a ‘30s Technicolor spectacular – a lot of the soundstage shots do in fact look like exactly what they are, but the artifice is part of the point. We are continually reminded that this is a story being told, although the characters themselves never break the fourth wall; they are unaware of any reality except their own, and their screwy, peril-filled lives are urgent to them, just as the members of Spinal Tap take their tour very seriously.
Guest is so silkily nasty as Rugen that the uninitiated may not immediately recognize him as the same actor who plays Nigel Tufnel in "Tap" – the man is nothing if not versatile. Everybody here is just as completely on their game. Elwes does a world-class send-up of Errol Flynn at his most dashing. Wright gets the closest thing "Princess Bride" provides to a straight role, but she inhabits it with regal conviction and the ability to deliver punchlines with as sober an expression as the emotional declarations. Patinkin has a panache that proves him to be totally in synch with the material – he’s perfect.
The featurettes with the DVD are enthusiastic – there are four making-ofs if we count the footage shot and narrated by actor Elwes – even if they contain overlapping information. There are also a couple of nice bloopers and the editors had fun with the recently-shot, retrospective featurette, which uses moments from the actual movie to comment on production difficulties. It’s also pleasing to know that we are seeing Elwes and Patinkin, as opposed to stunt doubles, squaring off in all the shots where they’re actually fencing (albeit it’s somebody else doing the flying leaps and back flips). The commentaries by Reiner and author Goldman are likewise cheerful and informative, although both men seem to get caught up in watching the movie from time to time, as they occasionally lapse into silence.
All of this means that "The Princess Bride" DVD is well worth owning, even though it is not the most technically stunning disc out there. It’s not bad, by any means – the color reproduction, especially in the daylight scenes, is beautiful, with Buttercup’s orange-red gown a great focal point. (Funnily, the dress looks bright pink in the video making-of supplements.) Much of the film looks a bit dark, but this is faithful to the original, and if anyone doubts that the video folks lavished time and care on making the DVD transfer look good, check out the contrast of the film to that of the footage included in the trailer, which is bright, glaring and looks like a TV broadcast.
The 5.1 soundtrack is one of those remixes that simply spreads around sound from the mains into the rears. The closest the film comes to a true surround effect is in Chapter 11, when fire erupts in a swamp with nicely large, alarming booms. Otherwise, the track is pretty, with some appealingly smooth music in Mark Knopfler’s score to complement the various moods (although the lyrics added to the theme over the closing credits will make few "Greatest Hits" lists). The center-channel dialogue is reasonably clear, although it sometimes sinks slightly in the mix.
"The Princess Bride" is a winner, a fractured fable that kids itself from start to finish, yet somehow paradoxically has an integrity that draws us into its cockeyed universe rather than reminding us that it’s just a movie. In fact, it’s more than that – it’s a comedy/fantasy genre touchstone.