It’s Day 2 of the Decades Blogathon – ‘7’ edition – hosted by yours truly and Tom from Thomas J. For those who don’t know (where have you been?!), the blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the seventh year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and I’m delighted to feature Ethan from ED, who is reviewing one of my favourite films, 1987’s fantasy classic The Princess Bride. Take it away!
Since the invention of the movie, there have only been five films that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. The Princess Bride left them all behind.
Set in some sort of European country named Florin, in a time period where everything seems simultaneously medieval and Renaissance live Buttercup and Westley; both commoners, though Westley is more common somehow. In an arrangement that doesn’t quite make sense, the lovely but petty Buttercup torments Westley by ordering him to perform random chores for her as she refuses to say his name, mocking him with the slur of “Farm Boy” instead. Because Buttercup is so beautiful, and because Westley apparently has Stockholm syndrome, he loves Buttercup and constantly does her bidding, ever with the reply, “As you wish.” After Westley stares at her especially longingly one day, Buttercup realises that when he says, “As you wish,” he’s really saying, “I love you”. Pretty soon, she realises that she loves him back, because he is quiet, does what he’s told and has some ridiculous things going on with the hair on his head and face. Tiny blonde mustache anyone?
Anyway, Westley soon realises that you can’t live on love alone. It doesn’t taste quite as good as it feels. He goes off to find his fortune, and perhaps his manhood so he can give Buttercup a run for her money. “I fear I’ll never see you again,” Buttercup cries. “Of course you will,” Westley says. “This is true love. You think this happens every day?” See, love, like life, always finds a way. That’s what I always say. Of course, because he’s one unlucky landlubber, Westley’s ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts. And since, as everyone knows, the Dread Pirate Roberts takes no prisoners, Buttercup gets the sad, sad news that Westley has perished, struck down in his prime. Fortunately for love, Westley might be cleverer than Buttercup thinks.
Five years pass, and now Buttercup has become involved in politics. She’s in an arranged marriage as part of some elaborate stunt by the aptly named Prince Humperdink to marry a commoner and gain the love of his people. Just like some strange person named Humperdink, don’t you think? What were his parents thinking? Actually, he’s able to do whatever the heck he wants, because the king is a blathering idiot, though a nice one it seems, and the queen is rather clueless. There also might be a few other cards up Humperdink’s slimy sleeve.
With all this craziness going on, Buttercup needs time to think, so she rides deep into the wilderness without the protection of the Florin Secret Service. Come on guys. Step up your game. She soon regrets this rash decision, though, when three men – one a dwarf-like man who thinks he’s a genius but can’t always use English accurately; one a regular sized Spanish swashbuckler hell-bent on revenge against a six fingered man; and one a giant who likes to make rhymes and is kind of kindly but also just thankful to be employed – kidnap Buttercup for a devious purpose: war. This is only the beginning of the Princess-to-Be’s troubles, however, for soon she will be pursued by such things as shrieking eels, man-sized rats, and the Dread Pirate Roberts himself. Also pretty soon, we find that we may have good reason to be very interested in that mask wearing Dread Pirate, an extremely resourceful person.
All this story, of course, takes place in a storybook world, in a fairytale. The movie begins with a video game, a world in its own right of a more modern kind, being played by a bedridden boy whose mother recruits his grandfather for babysitting duties. The kid’s not too fond of this because grandpa’s old fashion, and that’s just not cool. “When I was your age, television was called books,” Grandpa tells Grandson, at which time he produces a book of his own that he proceeds to read, though his grandson protests at first. “Is this a kissing book?” the kid asks. Well, yes, it will have kissing, most of it awkward. But the grandson becomes more and more interested when the action and adventure come to play.
“This is a special book,” Grandpa says. “It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father, and today, I’m going to read it to you.” Grandpa knows that fairy tales hold a special, escapist sort of otherworldly power, and though he reads with some cynicism in his voice, he reads with joy and fondness too. After all, don’t we all need a little adventure and imagination in our lives?
Without a doubt, The Princess Bride is one of the most fun and hilarious swashbucklers of the past 30 years. Rob Reiner, who has directed some of my all time favorite movies (When Harry Met Sally, Misery, The Bucket List) directed this film beautifully and cleverly, aided by his cinematographer Adrien Biddle – who had previously worked on Aliens with James Cameron and would go on to direct the cinematography for such films as Willow and V for Vendetta – and guided by a wonderfully smart screenplay by William Goldman, who also wrote the novel of the same name and several great movies, including Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men. Every scene contains several memorable and quotable lines. And of course, the whole affair was crowned by composer and guitarist Mark Knopfler, whose quirky, romantic arrangements and entrancing guitar notes reel us right in and pitch perfectly match the movie’s tone.
Now, a great director and a fantastic script are, by themselves, pretty much useless without actors who can easily translate the script’s rhythm and fall in line with the director’s vision. If The Princess Bride had anything, it certainly had talented actors, ranging from hysterically comical to humorously grave. Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin as Westley and Inigo Montoya successfully pulled off faux-serious performances that are comedic and exciting, not quite winking at the camera but obviously having immense fun, and imbued their performances with an exciting physicality. Chris Sarandon and Wallace Shawn as Prince Humperdink and Vizzini the Sicilian hammed it up in a way that hits the nail right on the head. On the other hand, Robin Wright as Buttercup and Christopher Guest as Count Rugen were stoic yet perfect. Peter Falk had a fantastic voice for the narration and sounds just like an elderly, eccentric grandfather reading to his grandson, Fred Savage, who was what he needed to be as the sick kid. Andre the Giant as Fezzik turned in a comedy role from a WWE star that most would have thought inconceivable until Dave Bautista in Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Rock in almost everything. And of course, who can forget the side-splitting cameos from Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, Carol Kane as I’m-not-a-witch-I’m-your-wife, Peter Cook as the speech-challenged clergyman who cannot pronounce “R”s or “L”s, and Mel Smith as an albino assistant torturer.
Going back to the screenplay and direction, Reiner and Goldman walked a tight rope here, and they did so successfully. The Princess Bride is a lovingly ribbing satire of all those sword and sorcery type movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, but it stays away from becoming a ridiculous and forgettable spoof. The jokes come at you fast, but each one lands and makes sense. As I said before, the performances were all spot on for what they needed to be, and other technical things like the scenery (both sets and locations), action, and special effects, though also funny and produced on a somewhat small budget, are legitimately good and exciting. This is no accident. Both the special effects supervisor, Nick Allder, and the stunt coordinator, Peter Diamond, are Star Wars original trilogy alumni. The movie makes fun of those swashbuckling films of years gone by, but it is first and foremost an intriguing adventure, and then it’s also a delightful comedy.
Sadly, I never saw The Princess Bride as a child, which is a shame, because I would have loved the heck out of this movie! Two of my favorite fictional characters at that time were Robin Hood and Zorro, but because of The Princess Bride‘s name, I thought it was “too girly” and just never checked it out. In doing that, I missed the fun that The Princess Bride can have for kids. And that’s another great thing about it. It’s a family movie in the best of senses. Kids can soak up the adventure and adults can laugh at the humour. If you, like young me, have never seen The Princess Bride, I’m glad I didn’t give more away than I have, because you need to watch it right now. If you haven’t seen it in a while, the same. It never grows old.
What do you all think of The Princess Bride? Like it, love it, loathe it? What’s your favorite scene? And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest. My favorite scene is the game of wits between Westley and Vizzini. That build up, the payoff, the way Cary Elwes and Wallace Shawn perform it. Just excellent. Comedy gold.