“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”
A little boy (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years) is sick, and his grandfather stops by to read him a story, even though the kid is more interested in sports and video games. The story involves Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright, Forrest Gump), her true love Westley (Cary Elwes, Saw), and the evil Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon, Fright Night), who wants the princess for himself. Along the way, Westley and Buttercup encounter a number of others on their journey, including a revenge-driven Spaniard (Mandy Patinkin, Dead Like Me), a gentle giant (Andre the Giant), a murderous genius Sicilian (Wallace Shawn, Clueless), and a curmudgeonly miracle man (Billy Crystal, City Slickers).
What on Earth can I possibly say about The Princess Bride that hasn’t already been said? The movie’s legions of fans are well deserved, and if you’ve never seen the movie, those fans are already on your case to see it. It’s a perfect storm of filmmaking, thanks to a witty yet heartfelt script from William Goldman (Marathon Man), great performances by all involved, gorgeous production values, and a beautiful score, all brought to the screen with deft direction by Rob Reiner (Misery). When you first watch the movie, you delight at the humor, the action, and the romance. See it a few times and you start quoting some of the memorable lines of dialogue. Now that you’re a fan, upon further viewings you start to notice all the little details and slight nuances, and then The Princess Bride is revealed as a truly remarkable film.
To better illustrate this, let’s skip over the movie’s so-often-quoted scenes and instead take a look at two of the less-talked-about scenes or characters, and see how they illustrate why the movie works as well as it does:
• The shrieking eels
One of the more “high fantasy” scenes in the movie is when Buttercup tries to escape her three captors, only to be confronted in the water by the ominous shrieking eels. First, the name “shrieking eels” is a great example of the movie’s humor. The script is filled with incongruous naming techniques, such as “Cliffs of Insanity,” or “Fire Swamp,” or “R.O.U.S.” It’s taking standard fairy tale and fantasy tropes and setting them on edge just enough to keep things different and interesting. We recognize this as a fantasy or fairy tale, but it’s just “off” enough so that we in the audience are in on the joke, and get to have as much fun with it as the creators are. Second, take note of the editing in the shrieking eels scene, and how it is constructed. We go from the action of Buttercup’s predicament into the frame story of the grandson and grandfather, and then back to Buttercup. The movie does with pitch-perfect comic timing, so that the jump into the frame is a huge laugh, and yet it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t kill the momentum of the overall scene. This sort of expert comedic timing can be seen throughout the film.
Yellin (Malcolm Storry, The Last of the Mohicans) is Prince Humperdink’s chief of security-type his official title is never given and his presence reflects on what type of character Humperdink is. Yellin is obviously intimidated by Humperdink—look for a subtle bit of physical comedy with the prince’s chair in the scene where Yellin is introduced—but later, when Yellin is seen leading men clearing out the thieves’ forest, Yellin is the intimidating one, ordering a thug to give the swordsman Inigo “some trouble.” Later, despite a lot of talk about how he’s the only one with the gate key, Yellin’s cowardly nature comes out when confronted by Westley, Inigo and Fezzik. Yellin’s cowardice is in line with Humperdink’s cowardice, and how it is hidden by a lot of bluster. This is true as well for Humperdink’s right hand man (heh) Count Rugen (Christopher Guest, Best in Show), who also hides his cowardly nature behind a smooth, cool exterior. This consistency among the film’s villains shows how strong the character work is, on both a script and acting level. This, then, extends to Westley and Buttercup’s courage, and Inigo and Fezzik’s good-heartedness.
The movie is a bona fide classic, charming everyone who sees it. The big question, then, is whether the Blu-ray is worth the upgrade, especially with multiple editions already out on DVD. The picture quality on this 1.85:1/1080p HD transfer is good, with skin tones and hair showing a lot of detail. The colors really pop, especially the lush greens in outdoor scenes, and how they contrast sharply with the red of Buttercup’s dress. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is good as well, especially when the score kicks in. We also get alternate language tracks in Dolby 2.0 Surround French and Spanish, with English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The other big deal about this release is a new two-part featurette created just for this Blu-ray. The first part is a roundtable discussion among Reiner, Elwes, and Wright, and their reminisces of the film. The second half has other cast members talking about the movie’s fame and fandom. From there, the rest of the extras have been ported over from previous DVDs. There are other featurettes about the film’s history, including two on swordfighting and makeup. An academic featurette about fairy tales is interesting, but the Dread Pirate Roberts mockumentary isn’t as amusing as it could have been. Two audio commentaries, one from Reiner and one from Goldman, have also been ported over. These are subdued tracks with a lot of pauses, but you get some good info if you’re patient. The film’s original theatrical trailer is also included.
In conclusion: It’s The Princess Bride. Does anything more really need to be said?