I cannot think of a better film to see off the fun thrills of Halloween and usher in the magical months of November and December than Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. I was eight years old when the the film was released in 1987, and I watched it incessantly. The love story fable held just the right amount of adventure and whimsy to keep me enthralled. Over the years, the film has continued to grow with me. It’s magical. Now I have four sons of my own; I have shared this film with them and have been thrilled to see them charmed as well.
There are plenty of mediocre fairy tale films out there. I believe the power and the longevity of The Princess Bride is that it has confidence in itself and delights in its telling. Its very characters seem enchanted by the story they’re are part of. They in turn look to the audience and challenge us to listen, watch, and dare to remain untouched by the magic. With the assurance of a Shakespearean player, they proceed, winking at us, knowing they will have us in the end.
Indeed, he film begins by making this act of persuasive confidence explicitly part of the movie. The Princess Bride doesn’t begin in the magical realm of Florin. Rather, we are in the bedroom of a sick child, played by Fred Savage. Home for the day, with video games to keep him company, he is annoyed when his Grandfather, played by the inimitable Peter Falk, comes to read him a book called The Princess Bride. The grandson is skeptical.
Grandson: A book?
Grandpa: That’s right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. 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 gonna read it to you.
Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?
Not fully reassured by his grandpa’s answer to that question, he promises he’ll try to stay awake.
This framing device, as charming as it is, is not enough to make the film soar, though. The story had better live up to the grandpa’s promise and the film has to follow suit.
The story itself could be considered simple. In the mythical land of Florin, a farm boy named Westley (played by Carey Elwes) and peasant girl named Buttercup (Robin Wright) fall in love. When Westley goes out to seek his fortune, they promise to be reunited and stay together forever.
Unfortunately, the Dread Pirate Roberts attacks the ship Westley was on. Famously, the Dread Pirate Roberts leaves no survivors. Buttercup vows to never love again.
That does not free her from others who are attracted to her beauty. The corrupt Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) chooses her as his wife and plans his wedding on the day of Florin’s 500th anniversary. Though attracted to her beauty, Humperdinck does not love Buttercup. He only sees her as another pawn he can use to amass whatever power he seeks. His ultimate plan? To murder her, frame the neighboring country of Gildur, and start a war. Can true love conquer all?
Most of this is conveyed in the first few minutes of the film, which somehow manages to speedily take us from one adventure and fun character to another yet gives us time to know and care for the characters we meet along the way. Again, the characters seems delighted to be in the story, and the same cane be said of the cast. Aside from the cast I have already mentioned above, we’ve got Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max sparring with Carol Kane’s Valerie; we have Christopher Guest’s evil Count Rugen and his Albino, played by Mel Smith; we have the memorable cameos of Margery Mason’s The Ancient Booer, Peter Cook’s The Impressive Clergyman, and Willougby Gray’s kind King; and, rounding out the central cast, we have Wallace Shawn’s insufferable Vizzini, Mandy Patinkin’s vengeful Inigo Montoya, and Andre the Giant’s loving Fezzik.
Sadly, many of the cast members have since passed away. It’s wonderful, though, to see them having such a good time in these roles.
I also want to highlight some of the ways the film transports the audience into this fun adventure. First, the dialogue is witty and, as we’ve seen over the past thirty years, very quotable. I love the playfully irreverent moments when the film and characters at once don’t take the story too seriously but also show just how much they treasure it. For example, when Wesley promises Buttercup he will return to her she asks how he can be sure. He looks at her and says, “This is true love. You think this happens every day?”
I also love the setting, which looks gorgeously vibrant on the new Blu-ray released by The Criterion Collection, which used a new 4K digital restoration.
And I love the music by Mark Knopfler. It’s got a lot of light charm as well, and the main theme, called “Storybook Love,” also conveys in its first lines the desire to share the magic of a simple love story with those we treasure: “Come my love, I’ll tell you a tale.”
As I said above, I have shared this film with my four sons. I find such a desire interesting and kind of inexplicable. Why does the Grandpa want to share The Princess Bride with his sick grandson? What kind of connections does this represent or form? What kind of love is that, when you want to take something from your heart and pass it on?
A few years ago, one of the executives of The Criterion Collection stated in an interview that The Princess Bride was his favorite film, but he didn’t know if they’d ever release an edition of it because they like to add something special to their releases, and The Princess Bride had been treated well in prior releases. Thankfully the company found a way to share their passion once again. The Blu-ray edition of The Princess Bride is made to look and feel like a cloth-bound story book. Inside the physical packaging, the essays are laid out amidst lovely illustrations from the film. It’s unique; I cannot think of another Blu-ray release like it. And on the disc itself we get loads of fun extras, including the 1987 audiobook reading by Reiner himself. Even though I’ve already got a Blu-ray copy of the film on the shelf, this Criterion Collection release was always going to replace it.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, I hope my loving praise as well as the loving attention The Criterion Collection laid on it will lead you to sit up and try to stay awake. I think you’ll love it as well.