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THE PRINCESS BRIDE
Buttercup Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, , Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant
Director:  Rob Reiner
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  June 13, 2006

“A few more steps, and we’ll be safe in the Fire Swamp!”

“We’ll never survive!”

“Nonsense!  You’re only saying that because no one ever has!”

Film ***1/2

The Princess Bride was a film that brought the fairy tale back to vivid life with a winning mixture of comedy, romance, adventure and fantasy.  It was the third film for director Rob Reiner, and though it was a bit slow at finding an audience at first, it’s a move whose reputation has blossomed over time by word of mouth and by adults sharing it with their kids to become one of the most beloved pictures of the past two decades.

Bookended by a simple narrative structure in which a grandfather (Peter Falk) reads his sick grandson (Fred Savage) a story that comes to take a life of its own.  That story is the romance between the beautiful Buttercup (Wright, in her first movie role) and Westley (Elwes)…a love tale interrupted by fate when he is reportedly murdered by pirates, and when she becomes the mournful fiancé to Prince Humperdinck (Sarandon).

Humperdinck’s designs on Buttercup are far more sinister than a mere marriage…he plans to use her as a pawn to start a war with a neighboring kingdom.  With the aid of the wicked Vizzini (Shawn) and his two noble and reluctant assistants, the Spaniard Inigo (Patinkin) and the giant Fezzik (Andre), he plots the kidnapping of his bride-to-be.  But the rumors of Westley’s death were greatly exaggerated; soon he returns to take up the chase, and reunited with his love and his two good hearted friends, he begins to unravel the prince’s sinister plot and turn the tables on him.

A fairy tale in the late 1980s might have seemed a risky venture…it would have been far too easy for a picture to fall into the traps of cheesy melodrama and audience disbelief, while at the same time, rather difficult to find a center of true magic and spirit.  The fact that The Princess Bride succeeds is owing to many sources:  the brilliant screenplay by William Goldman, based on his own novel, the sure footed direction of Rob Reiner, who allowed his characters a bit of humor by letting them in on the fun of the movie, and of course, the tremendous cast.

Elwes and Wright are perfect as the romantic couple.  Their chemistry and love for one another wins us over as it does the rather cynical heart of the young grandson, who finds himself caught up in their romance in spite of himself.  Mandy Patinkin brings warmth, humor and swashbuckling style to Inigo (as well as providing the film with one of its most quoted lines), and the lumbering, gentle Andre the Giant, despite some language difficulties and problems with reading, is lovable as Fezzik, the man whose large frame is eclipsed only by the size of his heart.

Equally good are the delightfully pompous Sarandon as Humperdinck, who injects his role with just the right amount of self-importance, and Christopher Guest as the villainous Count Rugen, who provides the picture with its best subplot.  Throw in brief but effective roles by Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, and you’ve got the magic of a true once-in-a-lifetime cast.

Oh, and I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful score by Mark Knopfler, who originally told Rob Reiner his condition for writing the music was that the director put the cap he wore in This Is Spinal Tap somewhere in the picture.  It ended up in the grandson’s bedroom…and later, in an open letter on the soundtrack CD, Knopfler told Reiner he was only kidding about it.

As The Princess Bride grew in popularity, it also became one of Hollywood’s most quoted films.  To this day, my friends and I occasionally trade lines with smiles on our faces.  You can walk up to just about anybody and say, “Hello, my name is Inigo Mantoya…” and that person will finish the line for you.  Everyone has a favorite…personally, when things are going badly, I’ve always liked to quip, “Why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?”.

Naturally, the way the film has infused itself into our popular culture is only proof of the status it has acquired.  The artists involved gave it their all, and the resulting film is funny, romantic, poetic, exciting and heartwarming.  It’s a true contemporary classic, and I have no doubt that it will always be remembered with great love and fondness by fans everywhere.

Video ****

The Princess Bride is beautifully rendered on DVD, capturing its magical world of colors and images quite perfectly.  Brightly lit outdoors are gorgeous and natural, with full palates of color coming across with integrity and containment.  Darker scenes, such as the Fire Swamp and the Pit of Despair, exhibit no grain or softness, and maintain detail despite sporadic lighting.  This disc was definitely worth the wait.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack is even better than expected, with this rich, digital remix giving the listening experience life and opening it up very nicely.  Musical cues get the benefit of multi-channel capabilities, as bits of orchestration emanate from the rear speakers for ambience.  Other scenes that call for effects make even better use of your system, such as the Shrieking Eels or some of the more clamorous sword fights.  Dynamic range is quite good throughout, and dialogue is clear and perfectly rendered. 

Features ****

This is a tremendous package, starting with TWO commentary tracks; one by director Rob Reiner, the other by writer William Goldman.  Both are enjoyable and informative.  There is a new documentary, “As You Wish”, featuring brand new cast and crew interviews and fond looks back at the movie (the most touching is the shared memories of Andre the Giant, whom everybody loved).  There are two older featurettes, one a making-of and one promotional, plus several trailers, and a really nice extra, an assemblage of footage shot by Cary Elwes during the production, with narration by himself and Robin Wright.

Rounding out is a trivia game, a vintage making-of documentary, a photo gallery, collectible booklet, and a 'historical analysis' on the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Summary:

I was upset at the original bare-bones, non-enhanced edition of The Princess Bride when it first hit shelves a while back; all is forgiven now.  The studio’s newest release is a great looking and sounding disc packaged with wonderful extras, finally giving the movie the DVD issue it truly deserved.  This is a no-brainer…absolutely and passionately recommended.

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