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THE PRINCESS BRIDE
Blu-ray 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:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  October 30, 2018

“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 Criterion's new 4K upscaled digital transfer, 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 ****

The uncompressed 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 loaded extras package, starting with one of the nicest packages of the year...it's presented in a cloth bound book cover, complete with booklet, illustrations, and author/screenwriter William Goldman's own notes! 

On the disc itself, we have:

* Audio commentary from 1996 featuring director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman, producer Andrew Scheinman, and actors Billy Crystal and Peter Falk

* Edited 1987 audiobook reading of Goldman's novel The Princess Bride by Reiner

* New program about Goldman's screenplay

* New program about Goldman's tapestry based on the film

* Archival interviews with Reiner, Goldman, and actors Crystal, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Fred Savage, and Robin Wright

* New interview with art director Richard Holland

* Programs about makeup, fencing, and fairy tales

* On-set video diary filmed and narrated by Elwes

* Five behind-the-scenes videos with commentaries from 1996 by Reiner, Scheinman, and Crystal

* Trailer

Summary:

Criterion scores again with another 80s classic looking better than ever, and more fun than ever, on a dynamic Blu-ray release.  This is a no-brainer…absolutely and passionately recommended.

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