The Princess Bride Review
It seems to me that the more convenient our culture becomes, the more that everything we can choose from becomes homogenised, unexceptional and lacking care. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of words, written or spoken. Here on the internet, how a thing is said or described can become soulless as mere functionality overwhelms style. I mean by this that people's opinions are often stark and without real explanation other than something is excellent if we like it or rubbish because we don't. It is becoming unfashionable to describe experience richly or to seek to evoke something in the person reading your words other than shades of approval.
Adventure films also seem to have given up on words and have camouflaged the verbal vacuum with lots of action and supposedly characterful performances. Jack Sparrow talks dull nonsense in a funny voice and runs off quickly to do something that will make us forget his dull mumblings, and that's good box office. Meanwhile the audience's souls shrink and our collective ear for the poetic shrivels up from lack of use.
I say this because I adore a film that understands the value of dialogue. What makes my heart soar is hearing a clever bon-mot, or turns of phrase that show wit and intelligence. Conversations that snap back and forth as repartee, or lines that remind you of whatever dream you'd forgotten living the responsible life that you do. Remember Bacall and Bogart in To Have and Have Not, recall the Android's dying soliloquy in Blade Runner, and then bathe in the golden light of the expressive, lyrical, and perspicacious The Princess Bride.
Written in the early 1970's and an un-realised dream for cinema until 1987, Goldman's words finally moved onto celluloid courtesy of Rob Reiner. The project was almost a hand-me-down from his father, and the very novelty of it pleased a director whose projects have always been diverse. A twenty million dollar budget was perhaps a little too low to translate all of the novel's set pieces faithfully, and the adaptation inevitably scaled down the sets and effects to fit the production.
Did these economies have to diminish the scope of the adventure? Did the elegance of this girl's own story recede into tackiness? Did someone make up for the smaller sets by narrowing their literary horizons? Did stars salaries eat up the small budget that they had, did big name actors slum it with a wink as it's only a kid's movie?
Well, no, no, no, no and no. Talented people did their jobs, the money proved enough, and everyone who took part into the film is proud of its place on their CVs. The young leads really do convince in their true love, and Cary Elwes becomes a Flynn/Fairbanks amalgam and causes you to wonder why he didn't swash his buckle more. Robin Wright is truly charming and spirited, and she makes this "kissing book" romantic but not lame brained. Christopher Guest inhabits the persona of Claude Rains as a henchman, Chris Sarandon is a regal buffoon, and Mandy Patinkin is the little swordsman who could. Other terrific actors deliver in small funny parts, and even Mark Knopfler's score turns up trumps.
Yet it is the raw material that shines through. Goldman composes words and speeches that enchant and entertain constantly. As the volume of unimpressive modern romantic comedies prove, writing words that move someone is not the same skill as getting them to laugh. Goldman never ceases to do both, and exposure to the one-liners and the romance he creates is like being inoculated against bad comedy or shallow lovers. You won't be satisfied with a Keith Richard impression and flat pack acting after Goldman casts his spell, and you'll crave the gift for dialogue of a Billy Wilder when romcomland catches up with you again.
Like his excellency and his confectionery pyramids, Goldman spoils us. He ruins the mediocre, the bearable wastes of time, and he will leave you desperate for his literate gift that speaks so well of beauty or of life. If, like me, you leave The Princess Bride in a post-coital daze after lexical ecstasy, you will stumble back into the real world and find yourself borrowing his lyrical clothes. When you find yourself looking into the eyes of that one you care for, you will never simply say "yes" again, but you will reply with amorous intent "as you wish".
Transfer and Sound
The new release is not an improvement on other releases in terms of sound options and the image. I compared it against my Australian disc of the film which does not have the extras of this release, but does possess a transfer which shows less obvious edge enhancement and colours seem truer to my eye. This is a film that should show a degree of grain, and will probably be a little soft, but my existing copy is a much more pleasing treatment even if this new version is nearer to the original aspect ratio. I include scans below of each release:
Australian R4 disc
The new release offers a single 5.1 mix with English subs optional. This seems to be the very same mix that we have reviewed twice before, my Australian disc possesses DTS and stereo surround options. It is clear enough and the dialogue is precise and audible in the mix, but the rear speakers are only used for effects and music. With a Blu-ray release promised, the A/V treatment of this "special edition" is hardly stellar.
Discs and Special Features
Strangely, this is a two disc set. I say that as the volume of the first 2-layer disc is 5.1GB and the second disc for the extras is a mere 2.4GB so all of the content could have sat on one dual layer disc. The first disc carries two commentaries with the main feature, one from the director and a second more interesting one from Goldman. Goldman talks about the false starts in getting his screenplay onto the silver screen, the changes of studio head and unfortunate failures which delayed the film for nearly 15 years. As the author of Adventures in the Screen Trade, he tells a few tales about the industry of cinema but his commentary is reasonably fluid and concentrates on some of the ways he adapted his novel because of budget issues and his own appreciation of the cast and director. Reiner spends much of his commentary watching the film and stating little of particular interest, as Eamonn says in his review this is not a commentary you will revisit much.
On the second disc, we get a menu which is a looped two second shot of a corridor for the film with the six extras listed upon it. First up is a half hour documentary which involves most of cast and crew remembering the film, shot at Shepperton and near Sheffield, which pitches the movie as a modern day Wizard of Oz. And again, I found Goldman's contributions most interesting with the admission that he wrote Andre the Giant's role with him in mind. The stories of casting Elwes and Billy Crystal's improvising are trotted out again, and the overall effect is rather comfortable and self-satisfied.
Two short featurettes come next from just after the film was released. Both include contributions from Reiner and cast, and some footage of shooting and explanation of effects. These are simple press pieces with little intrinsic interest.
Much better is Cary Elwes video from the shooting of the film which is narrated by him and Robin Wright and involves a lot of larking around. Some quiet, intimate shots with Andre the Giant are a particular highlight.
The international and theatrical trailers follow with a couple of minutes worth of TV spots on a single reel. A picture gallery of almost 40 images from the film and publicity shots completes the set.
Not really worth an upgrade, I am afraid. This is a tremendous piece of writing and a very successful film that remains a personal favourite.