I have been waiting for the right time to review this film. I did not feel until today that I was truly ready to say all I had to say about director Rob Reiner's unforgettable staple of 1980s pop culture. When I first saw The Princess Bride, I was only 7 years old, and hardly cognizant of film as anything but a pastime. While I remember the movie as being enjoyable, I did not have anywhere near as strong a liking or appreciation for it as I do now. I certainly did not remember the film as a theater-going experience, and recently, I got the chance to view it, on the big screen, with at least fifty others in attendance at a midnight screening.
Personally, I am one of those people who, by nature, absorbs memorable quotes, and by that token, the entirety of The Princess Bride is fair game. As I sat there watching, I could always hear somebody, if not more than one person, at least whispering along with the movie under his or her breath. Meanwhile, I noticed that there was a wide disparity of age groups. There were pre-teens, teens, people in their twenties, thirties, and some that looked well past forty. If the showing had not been at midnight, I do not doubt that there would have been pre-pre-teens as well.
With a screenplay written by William Goldman (based on his book), The Princess Bride is a classic, familiar story of a princess, her true love, and the forces that come between them. As is evidenced by those in attendance, this is a story for all ages. The manner in which this fairytale part of the story is executed by Goldman and Reiner is memorable enough to make this a great film. As any fan of the movie will tell you, however, it is the film's whimsical, irreverent, pervasive tongue-in-cheek antics that make it an unqualified masterpiece.
If you hang around people who love this film, do not be surprised if they react to unbelievable situations with the exclamation, "Inconceivable!" Likewise, if you tell them to just wait a minute, don't be thrown aback when they suddenly sport a Spanish accent in saying, "I hate waiting." And if you suddenly, from out of nowhere, hear, "Hello.my name is Inigo Montoya.you killed my father.prepare to die," don't worry. It's not your fault, and you're not going to die.
While The Princess Bride has the sort of satirical edge more geared towards adults, the film is equally effective as a pure fairytale, and for this reason, there is a little something for everyone. In addition, the film enacts a self-referential tribute to the power and beauty of fairytale stories, even in the current age in which many consider them archaic and obsolete.
A sick grandson (Fred Savage), who is spending his time mindlessly playing video games (of the nostalgic Atari 8-bit type), gets a visit from his grandfather (portrayed through a wonderful performance from Peter Falk). To the grandson's dismay, his elder has brought a book to read to him. When he expresses disapproval at his grandfather's old-fashioned ways, the grandfather's response is, "When I was your age, television was called books." Even this quote stands out as resonant and memorable.
The grandson starts out expressing skepticism and boredom, but of course, as the reading of the story progresses, this gradually gives way to captivation and praise. Buttercup (Robin Wright, in her breakthrough role) is a fair-haired, stunningly gorgeous maiden who has been engaged to the smug, cowardly Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), the prince who rules over the land of Florin. She of course does not love him, and she has been without joy since her true love, a farm boy named Wesley (Cary Elwes), was reportedly murdered on the seas.
Of course, without Wesley, there is no story of true love, and we know that he must miraculously return to her someday. This happens through an extraordinary, and increasingly hilarious, set of circumstances. A group of three bandits kidnap Buttercup with the intent of killing her to precipitate a war between Florin and its enemy, Guilder. These three are (in order of increasing stature) the intellectually pompous Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), the Spanish swordsman Inigo (Mandy Patinkin), and the big-hearted slow-witted giant Fezzik (the late Andre the Giant, in one of the most no-brainer casting decisions in all of film history).
During the kidnapping, however, a mysterious man in black closes in on the trail of the three abductors, and it is this man who takes on each of the three one by one in battles of skill, strength, smarts, and of course, deliciously witty repartee. There is something unusually extraordinary about these battles, however.
With the exception of Vezzini, the abductors are not villains as we might initially perceive them to be. The marvelously choreographed swordplay between the man in black and Inigo, and the hilarious absurdity of the handfight with Fezzik, are not at all about winning or losing. They embody a
sense of honor, sportsmanship, and nobility that is rarely exemplified in competition (both fictional and real).
Inigo, Fezzik, and the man in black do not display their skills pretentiously or flauntingly. Instead, they take a strong sense of inner pride in the subtle mastery of their arts. As a result, when we see them engage in competition, there is not a sense of enmity, but a wonderful air of camaraderie.
Also included in the mix are a sadistic count (Christopher Guest) with an odd physical characteristic and a penchant for pain, an albino (Mel Smith) with a stuffy throat, the deadly wrath of an R.O.U.S., and a clergyman (Peter Cook) who makes Elmer Fudd seem eloquently spoken. Most memorable, perhaps, is the appearance of Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as the miracle-man Max and his wife. It has been reported that in the middle of filming this scene, Reiner was forced to leave the set, because Crystal's improvisations were causing him to laugh to the point of being sick.
Regarding the film's casting, every single choice, without exception, is absolute perfection. Cary Elwes not only easily looks the part of a daring, ingenious hero, but as an actor, he has an incredible gift for a subtle mixture of drama and comedy, one that easily coincides with the film's sensibilities. Robin Wright easily essays the role of the headstrong princess, endlessly devoted to her love (with a convincing British accent, despite her American origins).
For the scene of swordplay, Elwes and Patinkin had to study fencing for months, which is impressive, but on-screen, I had no trouble believing that they were characters who had studied for at least several years. Despite his limited acting ability, wrestler Andre the Giant is perfect for the role of Fezzik, and something would be lost with any other actor in his place. And of course, Wallace Shawn is endlessly amusing to watch as the diminutive, perpetually exasperated Vezzini.
We also don't have to hear Christopher Guest and Chris Sarandon speak any lines to know they are portraying villains. The arrogance, callousness, and sliminess are readily apparent in their facial and bodily expressions.
When all is said and done, we have witnessed a wide variety of hilarity, captivating acts of love and heroism, and of course, one of the most satisfying acts of retribution ever put on film (one that immortalizes the film's most famous quote and chooses just the right time and placement for the film's sole swear word).
For someone who watches this film for the first time, and quickly catches on to the film's capricious mix of reverence and satire, the film is a marvel to watch simply for the knowledge that you do not know what will come next. Will there be a touching moment? A reflective one? An act of bravado? Or will our expectations be subverted in an act of comical subterfuge? The answer: any of them will do, as the film has a delectable variety of all of them.
From start to finish, The Princess Bride is a transcendent, magical experience that constantly elicits uproarious laughter and simultaneously immerses the audience in a rich, magnificent, and almost nostalgic world of folklore that, after the end credits roll, seems timeless and undying. In the years since its release in 1987, it has grown into a cult film of legendary status, and judging by the wide variety of ages I witnessed at the screening (as well as the endless barrage of quoting), it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that the film will endure for many years to come.