The Princess Bride - a re-post from my old site
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon
There are some movies that I appreciate on a pseudo-intellectual, pretentious level. I like these movies. I like them a lot. The way someone likes a really good, interesting college lecture. And there are some movies that I honest to god truly love, regardless of what the content of the film is. I honest to god truly love The Princess Bride.
A modern-day grandfather (Falk) reads a fairytale to his sick grandson (Fred Savage). The story he tells his grandson is of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Wright) who loves the handsome and virtuous Westley (Elwes), but she believes him killed by pirates. She is engaged to the evil Prince Humperdinck (Sarandon). In order for true love to prevail, duels must be engaged in, giants must be fought, and evil must be vanquished. As the grandfather says, “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!”
I rewatched The Princess Bride recently in preparation for writing this piece, and it was the first time I had actively watched it in easily five years, if not longer. One of the marks of a great film (or a favorite film) is how it makes you feel; five minutes in, I physically felt my chest welling up with joy. I had a smile plastered on my face. I was so HAPPY because I was watching it. How on earth can you quantify that feeling? How do you explain that? The pure, unadulterated joy a film can bring? Whatever it is, The Princess Bride has it in spades.
A great deal of the reason the film works for me is its basic narrative structure: a grandfather reading a fairytale to his son. This allows the film to get away with all kinds of crazy nonsense that would be much more difficult to pass off if the story were presented as pure fact. It is as if Reiner is saying, “Look, this is a story, folks. A fairytale story. Don’t expect realism. It’s not real! It’s a fairytale!” It lets me, as an audience member, buy in to the outrageous and fantastic elements; it really helps push along suspension of disbelief.
Additionally, I adore the fact that the film was shot almost entirely on soundstages. I love the very obvious set work. It makes it more imaginary, reinforcing the fact that it’s taking place in some mythical faraway land. The artifice works, it works SO well. I love the slightly cheesy sets with the obvious matte paintings. It’s as if the sets are the illustrated pictures from the book the grandfather is reading. Everything is so idealized – the idealized cliff, the boat, the castle, the Pit of Despair – none of these are real things, so why should they resemble anything remotely real? They SHOULD look like a set!
I love the romance in the film. I love that the film spends about thirty seconds setting up this epic love between Buttercup and Westley, yet DAMMIT, I believe it! I totally buy in to their burning passion (mostly thanks to the hot-as-hell scene where he hands her that water pitcher and whispers “As you wish”), which is absolutely vital because it’s the driving force for the rest of the film. I like that the fairytale isn’t about them falling in love with each other; rather, it’s about how far they would go to fight for their love. It’s a refreshing change of pace.
Apart from the romance, I love all the swashbuckling in this film. The duel – oh, the duel between Inigo Montoya (Patinkin), a Spaniard hell bent on avenging his father’s death, and the Dread Pirate Roberts is beyond breathtaking. The late Bob Anderson choreographed the fencing sequences. He’s the same guy who did Star Wars and was Errol Flynn’s stunt double way back in the day. The film just drips of Errol Flynn, even down to Westley’s little moustache. There’s such a classic sensibility to the fight sequences.
Along with all the swooning and swashbuckling is a healthy dose of humor. This is a funny movie. Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) just chews up the scenery every chance he gets and amuses me to no end. Billy Crystal as Miracle Max is a classic touch of comedy. Andre the Giant as Fezzik is surprisingly amusing in his droll delivery of lines. It’s a very, very funny film.
And the dialogue! This film is right up there with the greats in terms of quotability. I mean, everyone and their mother knows “Inconceivable!”, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die”, and “Have fun storming the castle!” Beyond that, though, I found myself, despite not having seen the film in years, quoting along with lines like, “The first is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well known is never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” “I only dog paddle.” “There will never be a need.” “For now, rest well, dream of large women.” “I’ve known too many Spaniards.” “Oh, you mean this gate key.” I love the dialogue. Apparently, I know about half of it.
Ultimately, though, what I love most about the film is its passion. The characters in the fairytale are so wholesome in their delivery, so devoted to their roles, you feel the heart and soul of the film in every scene. There seems to be so much love in the film, not just between Buttercup and Westley, but in the very making of the film. It glows. It warms your heart. At the very least, it warms my heart.
Maybe if you hadn’t seen The Princess Bride until you were a cynical fortysomething, you wouldn’t love it the way I do (and the way most people seem to). Having seen this as a child, though, I fell in love with it on first viewing, and it really keeps getting better with subsequent viewings. As the grandfather says, it has everything. It easily out-fairytales all other fairytale films.
Arbitrary rating: 10/10