The Princess Bride: Collector's Edition
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Starring Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin,
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Review by Betsy Bozdech
"It's very hard to make a quality movie. Every time you come out with one, it's a miracle, because everything is conspiring against you."
Author/screenwriter William Goldman
"This is a special book..."
"Has it got any sports in it?"
"Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles."
"Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try and stay awake."
Grandfather (Peter Falk) and Grandson (Fred Savage)
Maybe as a reviewer I shouldn't admit this, but The Princess Bride is my favorite movie. It has been ever since I walked out of the theater in 1987, a huge grin on my face. I'd never seen anything like it before; for that matter, I haven't really seen anything like it since. What's not to like? Rhyming giants, swashbuckling heroes, pissy princes, maniacal Sicilians, meshuga miracle men, a beautiful (if somewhat dim) princess it's a fairy tale come to crazy, fractured life.
So when The Princess Bride finally debuted on DVD in the summer of 2000, I had to have it. Imagine my disappointment when I unwrapped the package, popped it in the player, and found a bare-bones disc with no extras (well, except the trailer, but we all know that doesn't really count). As Vizzini might say, "Inconceivable!" MGM released an excellent special edition disc barely a year later, which pleased the fan in me as much as it made me want to draft strongly worded letters to a few studio executives. And now the powers that be want us to shell out yet again for Sony's new two-disc Collector's Edition. If you already own the Special Edition, keep it the CE looks lovely and is packed with goodies, but most of them (including the two commentaries and the main retrospective featurette) were also on the SE. Unless you're a true completist, you won't be missing much.
But, of course, it's the film itself not the DVD bells and whistles that has attracted so many fans over the years. And it's not hard to see why. From the moment the Grandfather (Peter Falk) starts reading S. Morgenstern's action-packed story about Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her Westley (Cary Elwes) to his Grandson (Fred Savage), you know you're in for something different. As critic Joel Siegel said when the movie came out, The Princess Bride is "where Walt Disney meets Monty Python." It's got romance, adventure, rescues, and heroes, but it's also chock full of one-liners, anachronistic humor, vaudevillian jokes, and physical comedy. The resulting film is a delightful cross-genre comedy that entertains kids and adults alike (plus it stars André the Giant).
For those who haven't seen the film more times than they'd care to count, let me sum up: After the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright) hears that her true love Westley (Cary Elwes) has been killed by pirates, she agrees to marry the pompous, pompadoured Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), only to be kidnapped by Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Inigo (Mandy Patinkin), and Fezzik (André the Giant). She's rescued by a mysterious man in black, who, of course, turns out to be Westley. But after they successfully navigate the treacherous fire swamp, Buttercup surrenders herself to Humperdinck rather than risk Westley's life again. It's up to Inigo, Fezzik, and Westley with a little help from Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) and his wife Valerie (Carol Kane) to save Buttercup before the wedding and hunt down Humperdinck's trusted aide, the six-fingered Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), so Inigo can exact revenge on the man who killed his father.
It's a great story, and Rob Reiner did a wonderful job directing it. The special effects aren't much to write home about, but something about the cardboard-backdrop feel of some of the scenes works for the movie it's a book come to life, a fairy tale being read aloud, not reality. Besides, with a cast like this one, who's going to quibble about a few matte paintings here or there? There isn't a weak link to be found in this chain; even André the Giant's sometimes-unintelligible mumbling is excusable since he plays Fezzik so sweetly. The then-unknown Wright shines as the sought-after Buttercup and totally nails her English accent (it was years before I discovered she wasn't actually from Britain), and Elwes is the perfect embodiment of dashing, swashbuckling heroism. Patinkin has never been better than he is as Inigo, mixing revenge and loyalty to a T, and Crystal steals all his scenes as Max. Guest is quietly threatening as Rugen, and Sarandon gamely plays Humperdinck as a spoiled, over-confident coward. Last but not least, Brit comedian extraordinaire Peter Cook delivers a hilarious cameo as the speech-impaired Impressive Clergyman.
As mentioned above, when The Princess Bride originally came out on DVD in the summer of 2000, it was a pretty bare-bones disc. The 2001 Special Edition improved upon that platter immensely, wisely dropping the full-frame transfer and showcasing the strong 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer instead (visually, the movie as aged quite well), as well as bulking up the features department with a printed booklet of production notes, two full-length commentaries, two vintage featurettes, the "As You Wish" retrospective featurette, four minutes of footage from Elwes' on-the-set video diary, TV spots, two trailers, and an extensive photo gallery divided into several sub-categories ("True Love," "The Villains," etc.).
The two-disc Collector's Edition retains all of the above (except the booklet, which has been replaced with the more-amusing "Fezzik's Guide to Florin" faux travel brochure) and adds only a brief, 10-question "Quotable Battle of Wits" trivia game and three decent-but-not-exciting featurettes: "Love Is Like a Storybook Story," which explores the film's place in the fairy tale genre; "Miraculous Make-Up," which looks at how Crystal was transformed into the curmudgeonly magician; and "Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas," which speculates on whether Goldman based his character on real-life pirate Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts. Except for a cleverly disguised in-joke for fans hidden in the latter, none of these new features adds all that much to the overall package.
It's the 27-minute "As You Wish" documentary (originally recorded for the SE) that's really worth watching. Almost everyone involved in the film is interviewed, and all recall making the movie as a great experience. Stories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes abound (André the Giant used to keep Wright's head warm with his huge hands), and everyone praises everyone else to the sky, with a special nod to André, who not only was "literally the only human on the planet who could play [Fezzik]" (Reiner), but by all accounts was a sweet, generous man and a joy to work with.
As for the recycled commentaries, Reiner's is better than some of the others he's recorded he chatters away excitedly for at least the first half hour before lapsing into his usual periods of silence. He's quick to praise all of his actors (he's especially proud of Elwes and Patinkin for learning to fence for their big swordfight) and seems to genuinely enjoy the movie; every other scene is "one of my favorites." Screenwriter William Goldman's track is also worth a listen, if just to hear the saga of how the movie almost got made several times before Reiner started filming. He claims not to have watched the movie since it came out in '87, and after awhile gets quite absorbed in it (so much so that it often feels like whoever was in the room with him while he recorded his commentary had to keep asking him questions and prompting him to talk, making it sound like an oddly one-sided interview). He and Reiner both address the film's relative lack of success at the box office before it turned into a hit on home video, blaming poor marketing ("When you have a movie that you like, and it doesn't find the audience you hoped for, it's heartbreaking," Goldman says). But both count the movie as one of their greatest achievements.
Audio options include digitally enhanced Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, plus Spanish and French tracks and English, French, and Spanish subtitles (the French track is the only one of these not also included in the SE).
So, that's the DVD in a nutshell. But since it wouldn't do to discuss The Princess Bride without mentioning a least a few of its often-quoted lines, to close, here's a quick list:
- "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." (According to Reiner in his commentary, that line, along with "I'll have what she's having" from When Harry Met Sally and "You can't handle the truth!" from A Few Good Men, is one of the three most-quoted lines from his movies.)
- "You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia.' But only slightly less well-known is this: 'Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.'" Vizzini
- "As you wish." Westley
- "Mawiage is what bwings us togevah today." Impressive Clergyman
- "Bye bye, boys! Have fun storming the castle!" Miracle Max
Ok, now it's time to go watch the movie and live happily ever after. (And, if you're near a bookstore, pick up Goldman's original novel, too; it's laugh-out-loud funny, and you won't be disappointed.)
- Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
- Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (SS-DL)
- Dolby Digital English 5.1, Spanish 2.0, French 2.0 Surround
- French, Spanish, English subtitles
- Commentaries by Rob Reiner and William Goldman
- "As You Wish" documentary
- "Love Is Like a Storybook Story: Fairy Tales and The Princess Bride" featurette
- "Miraculous Make-Up: Creating Miracle Max" featurette
- Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas" featurette
- Quotable Battle of Wits trivia game
- Two 1987 featurettes
- Cary Elwes video diary
- TV spots
- Theatrical and international trailers
- Photo gallery
- "Fezzik's Guide to Florin" printed booklet
- Dual-disc slimline keep-case with paperboard sleeve (two different versions, one featuring Westley, the other featuring Buttercup)
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