The Princess Bride Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2000

Hold it, hold it! What is this? Are you trying to trick me? Where's the sports? Is this a kissing book?
Wait, just wait.
Well, when does it get good?
The Princess Bride box art

"The Princess Bride" opens with a kindly grandfather (played by Peter Falk of "Wings of Desire") visiting his grandson (Fred Savage of TV's "The Wonder Years"), who is bedridden by a mild illness. Though the grandson is doing fine, whiling away his sick day in bed playing Nintendo, the grandfather insists on reading a book to him-- mind you, not just any book, but a special book that has been handed down through the generations called "The Princess Bride". Unfortunately, the grandson is hardly interested in some dumb old book, especially ones with 'a lot of kissing in it'. However, as his grandfather lovingly reads the pages aloud, both the grandson and the audience are slowly but surely captivated by the fairy tale, to the point of hanging off every spoken word. And so begins Rob Reiner's "The Princess Bride", a whimsical and carefree film from 1987 that celebrates and pokes fun of every bedtime story that started with 'once upon a time' and ended with 'happily ever after'.

Hear this now... I will always come for you.
But how can you be sure?
This is true love-- you think this happens every day?

As narrated by the grandfather, the story is about the true love between fair maiden Buttercup (Robin Wright of "Message in a Bottle", in her debut role) and her quiet stable boy Westley (Cary Elwes of "Cradle Will Rock"). One day, Westley sets off on a long journey, leaving Buttercup with the promise to return and marry her after he has found his fortune. However, not long after, Buttercup receives word that Westley's ship has been attacked by pirates, leaving no survivors.

He didn't fall? Inconceivable!
You keep using that word... I do not think it means what you think it means.

Heartbroken, Buttercup goes into mourning for her lost love, and re-emerges five years later as the unwilling bride-to-be of the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon, recently seen on TV's "Felicity"). To make matters worse, Princess Buttercup ends up being kidnapped by a trio of kidnappers, an honor-bound swordsman named Iniego Mantoya (Mandy Patinkin of TV's "Chicago Hope") and a friendly giant (former wrestler André the Giant) led by a sneaky Sicilian named Vizzini bent on starting a war (Wallace Shawn, heard recently in "Toy Story 2").

I told you I would always come for you. Why didn't you wait for me?
Well... you were dead.
Death cannot stop true love... all it can do is delay it for a while.

Fortunately, Buttercup's true love, Westley, is still alive and has come back to rescue her. Of course, before the couple can be reunited in blessed matrimony, there are a number of interesting obstacles to overcome, such as the Rodents of Unusual Size (ROUS), screaming eels, the Pit of Despair, and Humperdinck's ruthless right hand man, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest of Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap").

You mock my pain!
Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

When veteran Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman ("Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid") was stuck for his next writing project, he asked his two daughters for suggestions. One said 'princesses' and the other said 'brides', and so the novel, followed by a screenplay, was born. Of course, in writing such a fairy tale, Goldman infused a healthy dose of his own cynicism into the proceedings. Similar to how Quentin Tarantino pulled apart the crime genre with "Pulp Fiction" or how Kevin Williamson revitalized the slasher movie with "Scream", the end result was a hilarious send-up to the conventions and contrivances of the fairy tale.

You mean you wish to surrender to me? Very well, I accept.

And while satires seem to be a dime-a-dozen these days (witness "Scary Movie"), what made "The Princess Bride" work was the attention paid to story and character, such that the film still worked as a genuine entry in the genre. While some spoofs usually serve as a backdrop for a laundry list of unrelated gags, "The Princess Bride" stays true to the storyform it mocks, populated with engaging and likable characters that have interesting (and often very funny) things to say.

You are wonderful!
Thank you, I've worked hard to become so.
I admit it, you are better than I am.
Then why are you smiling?
Because I know something you don't know.
And what is that?
I... am not left-handed!
You are a amazing!
I ought to be, after twenty years.
Oh, there's something I ought to tell you.
Tell me.
I'm not left-handed either.

Anyone who has seen "The Princess Bride" will probably have difficulty trying to pick their one favorite scene. There's the initial duel between Westley and Iniego, whose swordplay pales in comparison to their verbal sparring, followed by Westley trying to out-think Vizzini in a battle of wits. Then there's the dangerous trip through the Fire Swamp, full of hazards that Westley hardly bats an eye at (until it's almost too late). Billy Crystal (who recently appeared in "Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle") and Carol Kane (who played herself in "Man on the Moon") have memorable turns as an aged apothecary and his nagging wife, while Monty Python's Peter Cook is vintage as the 'Impressive Clergyman'. There's a lot to like in this film, and even thirteen years later, "The Princess Bride" is still fresh and funny.

Give us the gate key!
I have no gate key.
Fezzik, tear his arms off!
Oh... you mean THIS gate key.

"The Princess Bride" evokes the wonder of fairy tales, with its swashbuckling derring-do, damsels-in-distress, evil monsters, and generous portions of romance thrown in for good measure, making it accessible to even the youngest moviegoer. However, "The Princess Bride" is also an adult-friendly nudge-nudge-wink-wink commentary on the genre, chock full of comic gems without descending into toilet humor. If you're old enough to remember this classic farce, maybe it's time to get yourself reacquainted (or your kids acquainted) with one of the better films that came out of the Eighties.

Grandpa, maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow?
As you wish.

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.

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