The Princess Bride: Special Edition
MGM 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!" So, while it's frustrating that MGM released a special edition disc barely a year later (a disheartening trend in the DVD biz), it's exciting, too. This is the kind of treatment the movie should have had from the beginning commentaries, documentaries, photo galleries. It's enough to make this superfan jump up and down with glee.
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." There's romance, adventure, rescues, and heroes, but there's also 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, a synopsis: 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, she 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 (yup, he's Susan's ex) gamely plays Humperdinck as a spoiled, over-confident coward. And last but not least, comedian extraordinaire Peter Cook delivers a hilarious cameo as the speech-impaired Impressive Clergyman.
As mentioned above, when The Princess Bride came out on DVD in the summer of 2000, it was a pretty bare-bones disc. One side featured a widescreen transfer; the other a 1.33:1 full-screen version. The special edition wisely drops the latter, sticking instead with the strong 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer visually, the movie as aged awfully well. Audio options include digitally enhanced Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, plus a Spanish mono track and English, French, and Spanish subtitles (the digital enhancement and the English captions are new).
But it's in the features department that the revamped disc really blows the other one out of its keep-case. Instead of just a trailer and "collectible booklet," the Special Edition offers two full-length commentaries, two short featurettes from 1987 and a new one made especially for the DVD, four minutes of footage from Elwes' on-the-set video diary, TV spots, two trailers, and an 88-picture photo gallery divided into 11 sub-categories ("True Love," "The Villains," etc.).
The TV spots and vintage featurettes are fun to watch from a nostalgia perspective, but the new, 27-minute "As You Wish" documentary is better overall. 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 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.
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
Now, go grab the DVD, give it a spin, and live happily ever after. (And, if you're near a bookstore, go ahead and pick up Goldman's original novel, too; it's laugh-out-loud funny, and you won't be disappointed.)
- Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
- Single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL)
- Dolby Digital English 5.1, Spanish 2.0
- French, Spanish, English subtitles
- Commentaries by Rob Reiner and William Goldman
- New "As You Wish" documentary
- Two 1987 featurettes
- Cary Elwes video diary
- TV spots
- Theatrical and international trailers
- Photo gallery
- Printed production notes
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