1987; Director: Rob Reiner; Writer: William Goldman
With Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Peter Falk, Fred Savage
Paramount Home Video
Available Nov. 13, List Price $19.98
It's fairy-tale time again. So gather round, kids of all ages, as swashbuckling Westley (Elwes) sets out to rescue the impossibly beautiful Buttercup (Wright) from a kingdom full of dastards. To do this, he will outduel the expert swordsman Inigo Montoya (Patinkin), outwit the scheming Sicilian Vizzini (Shawn), outthink the six-fingered Count (Guest) and outwrestle a rodent of unusual size. Buttercup will survive an attack by a swarm of shrieking eels and an attempt on her honor by wicked Prince Humperdinck (Sarandon), whom Westley will climactically engage in a fight "to the pain." The air will billow with bombastic insults ("You hippopotamic land mass!") and a record-breaking number of comic speech impediments.
The Princess Bride occupies the "once upon a time" of storybooks. Those four words carried a cautionary moral: that in the past, things were more exciting and romantic than they could ever be now. Youth is a prince who dreams that anything is possible, and maturity is a peasant with the wisdom to acknowledge that almost nothing is. Only at the pristine beginning of our lives can we believe in happy endings.
In writing the script (based on his novel), Goldman realized that the trick for any modern would-be Grimm is to blend the warring moods of fantasy and cynicism. The story must create a land of outsize heroes and villains yet comment ironically on the unhappy state of a land that needs the one and has too many of the other. The tone must be grandly facetious to accommodate skeptics as well as believers. All this was not lost on the Shrek team, whose movies are deeply indebted to The Princess Bride (as was the recent Stardust). Goldman, a keen chronicler of the movie industry, said that, in Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." But he, Reiner and the cast did, this time. In creating a spoof with real feelings, they got it right first, and best.
I'd enumerate some of the film's deathless dialogue, but there's too much good stuff. All right, just one: "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." No, two: "Inconceivable! I do not think it means what you think it means." For others, go to the Internet Movie Database entry for The Princess Bride and clock on "memorable quotes."
This "20th Anniversary Collector's Edition" has no commentary track; maybe Paramount is waiting for the 25th anniversary edition to reconvene Reiner, Crystal and Guest, all prime spielers. (Then again, there are no trailers for mandatory watching.) But among the 25 mins. of extras are recollections by Guest, Patinkin, Sarandon, Wright (now Wright Penn) and Fred Savage, who played the child the story is told to. All the actors testify that the movie has amused and touched kids, their parents, everybody. Guest observes that his son is part of the magic: "His friends come over, and he shows them the sword and the six-fingered glove. And that's a pretty big coup. And the glove still fits."
Patinkin gets some wonder in his voice when he says, "I never dreamed I would get to be in a movie like this." And then this famously emotional actor gets visibly and audibly verklempt. But that's OK. Patinkin is reminding us that this fractured fairy tale is also a soaring, swooning love story.
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