15 January 2008

The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride A Family Classic

By Kristin Battestella

Any eighties baby needs no introduction for Rob Reiner’s 1987 fantasy classic The Princess Bride. The jokes, the true love, the corn was quirky then-but Buttercup, Westley, and the R.O.U.S.s (that’s Rodents of Unusual Sizes) are great fun for today’s families.

Farm boy Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright) are in love, but five years after Westley was supposedly killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup has been chosen to marry Prince Humperdinck of Florin (Chris Sarandon). Trying to start a war with nearby Guilder, the witty Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) kidnaps Princess Buttercup with the help of swordmaster Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and strongman Fezzik (Andre the Giant). A mystery man in black bests her captors, and after Buttercup is rescued, Inigo and Fezzik join with Westley. Along with avenging Inigo’s father’s death at the hands of the six fingered Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), the trio must save Buttercup from marrying Humperdinck.

Well, I couldn’t give everything away. Every child should sit down and see The Princess Bride with an unspoiled mind. Girls will love the fantasy and I dare say romance, but certainly there’s action and swords and fights for the boys. Based on the book by William Goldman The Princess Bride opens with a contemporary Grandpa (Peter Falk, of Columbo fame) visiting his sick Grandson, played by Wonder Years alum Fred Savage. Grandpa reads The Princess Bride aloud, and thus the story begins.

The ensemble cast fits perfectly with the unusual yet enchanting The Princess Bride. In the nineties, Cary Elwes often found himself typecast in the jerk type roles, as in Hot Shots! and the more serious The Crush. The role of Westley, however, has remained his most recognizable-with the exception of the similar spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights. On my recent viewing (I got the DVD for Christmas!) I was surprised by how much Elwes looks like Errol Flynn here. Young fans won’t know who that is, but older fans will enjoy the nod to the swashbuckling days of old. So many modern actors can’t pull off period looking parts. Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, Message in a Bottle) looks the princess. Chris Sarandon (Fright Night, Bordello of Blood ) looks the sleeze. Both have tried other roles, but again, The Princess Bride is perhaps their most iconic part.

The presence of script, talent, and direction come together here. Other movies have tried the funny fantasy tale and not worked. Reiner’s charm is evident here, and his Hollywood pull allowed for the cameos by Peter Cook as the nasal Priest, Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, and Carole Kane as his crone wife Valerie. Again, today this could be a toe towards stunt casting, but not in The Princess Bride. It’s perfectly acceptable that such quirky peoples would populate the world onscreen. Had Goldman not done the screenplay, this probably wouldn’t have worked. Thankfully, all the characters make a fine blend of fanciful stereotypes-but with a twist.

The weakest point of the cast acting-wise is of course Andre the Giant. His dialogue is tough to understand without subtitles. It was kind of odd to watch The Princess Bride on DVD for the first time. At last I know what Fezzik is saying! Andre’s low voice and mumbles may be tough for some, but it takes nothing away from Fezzik’s charm. He is as Andre the Giant was- big yet fun and lovable. Some of his lines, in fact are delivered with great wit and tongue and cheek fun. Sure, the big names here had nothing to lose by appearing in a family film, but the newcomers had everything to loose. Yet all carry the same level of fun and sincerity to the movie.

Of course, the cast of The Princess Bride had a lot of humor with which to work. The all around silliness, the on time one-liners, and the anachronistic punch lines give everyone onscreen and off something to chuckle at. The R.O.U.S.s, the six fingered man, the eels. Say “Inconceivable!” to any movie buff and they know it’s The Princess Bride. Reiner and Goldman strike the perfect blend of out right comedy-both subtle and slapstick-romance and kisses, homage to old time fantasy stories, and the ability to laugh at itself. At key times in the story, we switch back to the Grandson contesting the events his Grandpa is reading him. They argue over action and kisses-just like we would MST3K a bad or old movie.

The Princess Bride showcases some lovely outdoor locales and more authentic looking costumes than most medieval fantasy. Of course, some of the ship sequences, rock facades, and other fantasy locales are unabashedly hokey. In an odd way, this keeps The Princess Bride timeless. Kids that would laugh at obviously Styrofoam rocks after seeing effects powerhouses like The Lord of the Rings-just tell them it was meant to look that way, and suddenly, anything hokey is acceptable. This leap of faith allows the movie to continue to its unbelievable and humorous end.

Modest swordfights and a few lip locks are nothing for parents to worry about when considering The Princess Bride for family night. Fans of old will laugh again and again, and the joy of spreading quality film to the next generation is always worth the fun and adventure. Of several DVD editions, The Special Edition is the superior set. Darling behind the scenes features, trailers, and photo galleries here are more inclusive than subsequent releases.

The Princess Bride is the perfect blend for young and old. Such quality family fantasy fun is tough to find in today’s movies. Affordable yet worth every penny, The Princess Bride is a must for any family who loves charm, adventure, and a good time.


Antimatter said...

Nice review, I think the Princess Bride is an absolute classic, and eminently quotable!

One complaint though, not enough love for Mandy Patinkin's Inigo Montoya; the guy's a scene stealer!

Kristin Battestella said...

Thanks for stopping by!

Yes, I was getting long on words and didn't get to fully quote, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." There just isn't any real life opportunities when you can *really* say that, thankfully!

Great mix of real life emotion and sincerity mixed in with heroics. The special features on my dvd also talk much about Patinkin's losing his real life father. Touching all around.

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