The Princess Bride
(United States, 1987)
There are some movies you come to appreciate only after watching them many times. There are other movies that are enjoyable on the first showing, then rapidly lose their luster. Then there are those rare jewels like The Princess Bride, which entertain no matter how many times you see them. I loved this picture when I first saw it on a movie screen in 1987, and have never lost my affection for it. Over the years, I have owned four copies of it – on VHS (when that was my video mode of choice), on laserdisc, and twice on DVD (the "standard" edition and the "special" edition). The Princess Bride was not a huge box office hit when it was released during the early Fall of 1987, making back about twice its $16 million budget. It was mostly snubbed by the Oscars, earning a nomination only in the "Best Song" category. Over the years, however, it has developed a large, devout following on video. If a sequel was made (and I sincerely hope none is forthcoming, although I wouldn't mind seeing Inigo's adventures as the next Dread Pirate Roberts), it would probably out-earn the original by at least fivefold. I place The Princess Bride in much the same category as Time Bandits (another film in my Top 100) and Shrek (a film that just missed the Top 100) – fractured fairy tales that appeal to viewers of all ages and work on different levels as comedy/satires, fantasies, and action/adventure movies. The Princess Bride is one of those films guaranteed to bring a smile to the face and a quote to the lips.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The Princess Bride is constructed as a story-within-a-story, with the framing scenes occurring in the "real world" as a grandfather (Peter Falk) stops by to read a story to his sick grandson (Fred Savage). The primary narrative, which evolves as the grandfather reads it (and occasionally interrupts it to intersperse comments or skip over boring parts), takes place in the magical land of Florin, and tells of the true love between peasant girl Butercup (Robin Wright, years before marry Sean Penn) and stablehand Westley (Cary Elwes). After declaring their unending affection for each other, they are separated, and Westley is reported dead. Buttercup, cold-hearted and stone-faced after her loss, is chosen by the crown prince, Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), to be his bride. Humperdinck's motives, however, are not pure. He intends to arrange for Buttercup's abduction, frame rival country Guilder for her murder, and start a war with the backing of the common folk, who love their princess-to-be. To this end, he hires three rogues to capture Buttercup: the wily Sicilian Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), who fancies himself to be the smartest man in the world and has a fondness for the word "inconceivable;" the giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant), who is dumb, kind-hearted, and humungous; and the swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Pantankin), who is scouring the world in search of the six-fingered man who killed his beloved father. Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo kidnap Buttercup one day when she's out riding. Heading for the Guilder/Florin frontier, they spirit her away by boat. Hot on their trail is the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts. He pursues them to the Cliffs of Insanity, where he engages in a duel of steel with Inigo, a wrestling match with Fezzik, and a match of wits with Vizzini to win Buttercup. Once she is in his custody, he reveals himself to be Westley. Fleeing Humperdinck and his lackey, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), Buttercup and Westley enter the dreaded Fire Swamp, where the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size) are only one of the dangers. And, once they get out, there's still Humperdinck to deal with. Fortunately, Westley and Buttercup are not without allies. Fezzik and Inigo have joined them, and there's also help from a wizened old dwarf named Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), who harbors no love for Humperdinck or Rugen.
For those who crave features that can be enjoyed by every member of the family, there may be nothing better than The Princess Bride, which celebrates fairy tales and true love with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. This is what happens when stories of heroism and derring-do collide head-on with a Monty Python sensibility. Best of all, despite its satirical bent, The Princess Bride can still be enjoyed on the simpler level of the story of a princess being rescued by her one true love. Although children generally appreciate The Princess Bride's pseudo-fairy tale narrative and action-oriented approach, much of the dialogue is designed for adults. Since its release, The Princess Bride has often been copied, but never equaled. The word "brilliant" is often overused in the movie business, but this is one of those occasions when it is warranted. The Princess Bride is an unparalleled achievement – a modern classic that will be enjoyed for generations to come. It has been called the "Generation X's version of The Wizard of Oz," and, more than any other description, that comes the closest to identifying this movie's impact.
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