The Princess Bride Review
'The Princess Bride' wasn't so much released into the Cinemas back in 1987 as it was sneaked out. It had only modest success at the time but thereafter it became a very closely guarded secret, only to be discovered by a loyal few who would gather in darkened corners to mention its name. It wasn't treated very well on DVD in the UK either, as it was kicked out with a non-anamorphic transfer - and a pretty poor one at that. Those in search of this buried treasure had to travel far from these shores to purchase the American Special Edition DVD with its decent anamorphic transfer - and guess what? The movie was made in Britain's own Shepperton Studios - the freelancer's paradise!
Despite the aforementioned attempts to sink this movie, like the Dread Pirate Roberts, it keeps coming back. You just can't keep a good movie down.
Only now, twenty two years later, is it being released on Blu-ray with a high definition transfer that gives this cult movie the respect it deserves.
It's not a big film in the modern day Hollywood tradition like 'Pirates of the Carribean'. There are no massive star names attached to it. You'll spend some time recognizing British comedy actors (Mel Smith, Peter Cook) in small parts as well as some (now) well known American stars like Billy Crystal hidden under make-up. What it has is an immense charm all of its own. It's witty, fresh and funny as well as being a gentle send up of all fairy stories.
Based on William Goldman's screenplay of his 1973 book, 'The Princess Bride' was directed with restraint by Rob ('Stand By Me', 'When Harry Met Sally') Reiner.
The music was composed by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits (who also wrote the music for Bill Forsyth's 'Local Hero') and the song 'Storybook Love' used over the end titles, was nominated for the best original song at the 60th Academy Awards.
The movie begins with a young boy played by Fred Savage (remember 'The Wonder Years'?) sick at home in bed. His kindly grandfather (Peter Falk) brings him a book and reads the story to him. The story is narrated in part by the grandfather with objections from the young boy whenever there's a kissing scene.
The tale is told of the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright) who lives in the country of Florin and who falls in love with farmhand Westley (Cary Elwes) whose reply to her every demand is “As you wish.” Westley leaves to seek his fortune so they can be married , but as time goes by is presumed to have been murdered by the Dread Pirate Roberts. A disconsolate Buttercup is reluctantly engaged to Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), heir to the throne of Florin.
Before the wedding, Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of outlaws: the Sicilian criminal genius Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), the Spanish fencing master Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and the gigantic Turkish wrestler Fezzik (André the Giant). They are pursued by a masked man in black. Inigo, who is seeking revenge on a six-fingered man who killed his father, duels the man in black but is knocked unconscious and thus defeated. Later the man in black wrestles Fezzik and chokes the giant until he blacks out. The man in black then catches up with Vizzini, who is holding Buttercup hostage, and proposes a battle of wits. Vizzini is tricked into drinking poison, and subsequently dies.
The story continues as the man in black rescues Buttercup and together they face the perils of the fire swamp, the Rodents of Unusual Size, not to mention the attempts by Prince Humperdinck to do away with Westley.
Mandy Patinkin is excellent in the role of Inigo whose catchphrase is, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”
You'll remember this speech long after you've seen the movie.
Throughout various swordfights and attempts to kill people, he maintains a professional politeness which is very amusing.
Inigo Montoya: You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you.
Westley: You too seem a decent fellow. I hate to die.
The quirkiness of the dialogue keeps the level of humour even throughout the whole movie and you're convinced that it must be taking the mickey out of something you've seen before, but you just can't put your finger on it.
Along the way, Westley is rendered 'mostly dead' by a life sucking machine and is taken to Miracle Max (Billy Crystal in heavy make-up) for a cure.
Max lifts Westley's limp arm and drops it like a stone. “I've seen worse!” he proclaims.
Carol Kane (also in ageing makeup) plays Max's wife, Valerie, and the pair have a hilariously vindictive slanging match, the likes of which many a married couple would be proud.
Much of the movie is studio bound with location work shot in Derbyshire. As it was made in the days before CGI, there are several matte paintings used to show castles and countryside that did not actually exist. Today's audiences may well think they look a bit fake, but back in the 1980's if you didn't have the budget to construct lavish sets, the option was to have a scenic artist paint them onto a 6 foot square sheet of plate glass and film through it. This was an art form all of its own and one that I greatly admired.
As for André the Giant , there was no prosthetic make up required as he was, in fact, a giant - who sadly died in 1993. He was a very gentle man who said his favourite place in the whole of the UK was the film studio, as nobody stared at him there.
At the end of the movie the young boy, looking considerably better, concedes that it was a pretty good story and that he'd allow his Grandfather to read it to him again the next day.
“As you wish.” is the grandfather's kindly reply before the movie fades to black and the end titles roll.