Sunday, June 9, 2013

Inconceivable!

Film: The Princess Bride
Format: LogoTV on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I started this project, I knew that eventually I would get to my 1,000th review. For this sort of a milestone, I wanted something special, something I knew I loved. In that sense, I’ve been saving The Princess Bride since I started for just this moment. It’s not in my top-5 or top-10 of greatest films, but it’s at or near the top in terms of movies that make me happy, that make me appreciate the fact that movies exist. I can’t watch it without smiling the whole time.

For the three people who haven’t seen this, here’s a quick synopsis: the entire story is framed by a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading a story to his sick grandson (Fred Savage). At first, the grandson is not interested at all, but as the story goes on, he becomes more and more involved in the story. This framing story intrudes now and then, but never in a way that damages the story itself.

And what a story it is! A farm boy named Westley (Cary Elwes) leaves home to seek his fortune so that he can marry his true love, Buttercup (Robin Wright), but is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and slain. After five years, Buttercup consents to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Soon after, she is kidnapped by three men: a giant named Fezzik (Andre the Giant), a drunken Spanish swordsman named Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and a scheming mastermind named Vizzini (Wallace Shawn). These men are pursued by a mysterious man in black, who is himself pursued by Humperdinck and his assistant Count Rugen (Christopher Guest).

Ah, but there’s so much here that can’t be covered by a synopsis. There is so much pure joy in this film that I’m at a complete loss to describe it. Nothing I can say about The Princess Bride can ever match the pure, unadulterated joy of watching it unfold. But, I’m going to try.

First, let’s start with the actors. Robin Wright, in her first major role, is absolutely lovely as Buttercup. Cary Elwes could not have been more perfectly cast in the role of Westley. He’s a reincarnation of Errol Flynn, dashing and charming, and at his swashbuckling best, and as we learn in the second half, very talented at physical comedy. But that scratches just the surface. Mandy Patinkin is perhaps the most memorable character in the film as the man driven by the desire to revenge the murder of his father. If nothing else, his repeated line, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” is one of the film’s biggest takeaways. Wallace Shawn is at his manic best. Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest are both menacing and comically menacing, a difficult balancing act. The short appearances from Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as Miracle Max and his wife are real treats. But it is Andre the Giant who is the biggest surprise. He is surprisingly funny, and while a little hard to understand on a couple of lines, he’s a marvelously effective actor.

Second, there’s the script. It’s genius, because it’s at that perfect point where adults see so much of the humor, but very young kids only see the adventure story. It is really, really funny, but it’s funny in a way that will go over kids’ heads without them really understanding why the adults are smiling. Sure, there are parts that kids will laugh at (the clergyman with the speech impediment comes to mind), but in general, kids under 10 will see this as a wonderful fantasy adventure more than anything else.

Third is the action. The premium scene here is the swordfight between Inigo and the man in black. It’s also the perfect moment of spotting the difference between the two levels on which the film works. On the one hand, it’s a great sword fight, the kind rarely seen outside of Robin Hood movies. On the other hand, the dialogue here is sparkling and funny as hell. My favorite moment in the film comes when Inigo asks for the man in black’s identity, is told no, and shrugs in acceptance. The final 10 minutes of the film are stand-up-and-cheer fun.

Finally, there is the framing story, which is more than just a convenience here. Primarily, it allows for the obvious nature of many of the sets, that are so obviously sets and matte paintings. The ship chase, for instance, looks not the slightest like the real thing, but it doesn’t have to. We know it’s a story, so we don’t really need it to look like the real thing. It should look something like a kid’s imagination, and it does. Second, the framing story itself is no less sweet than the main story here. If, as a parent, or as someone who remembers his or her grandparents fondly, you do not break into a massive smile at the final exchange between the grandfather and grandson, you are absolutely heartless.

I’ve got nothing else to say here. The Princess Bride is one of the most joy-filled and fun films ever made. It’s great for anyone of any age. I love it unabashedly, and I genuinely feel sorry for those who don’t get it.

Why to watch The Princess Bride: It’s pure joy transferred to film.
Why not to watch: There is not a single reason to not watch this as often as possible.

12 comments:

  1. COMPLETELY agree. Wonderful film. Filled with great, sparkling moments and performances. One of the rare films that makes me tear up at the end every single time.

    Andre the Giant is the heart of this movie. He's so absolutely warm and likable, his performance couldn't be improved upon by any more experienced actor.

    The movie does take a (very slight) dip in quality once Wallace Shawn's manic energy and incredible dialogue is removed, but that's a credit to Shawn's performance, not a dig at the film.

    Love it.

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  2. Hey, congrats on hitting #1000!

    Great review, and I appreciated your focus on the sword fight between Inigo and the Man in Black. As I routinely mention on my own blog, I'm a fight choreography junkie, and it's just not that often that I get to see some nimble, down-home, European-style fencing. Both actors' performances in that scene were stunning (especially the off-hand fencing that begins the fight), and a big hats-off to the fight choreographer, whose name escapes me right now.

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  3. Looooove this movie! I actually like it better than the book, too. The book gives more background on some of the characters, but I think the film pulls off the dialogue a little better than the book (there's just some tweaks to it that work better). And the book feels very hateful, almost, and has a pretty downer ending.

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  4. Congratulations! And an emphatic YES to everything you said. I know precisely what you mean about this movie making you happy. It makes me happy too. I'll get legitimately excited about the prospect of hearing certain lines or seeing certain scenes. Yes, I get happy when I watch this. Yay!!

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  5. Thanks, all.

    My wife is the sort of person who can't remember if she's seen a film half the time. I had to remind her tonight that she'd seen The Wedding Crashers, for instance. She watched this with me and quoted about half of it. That never happens, but with The Princess Bride, it does.

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  6. "Ah, but there’s so much here that can’t be covered by a synopsis. There is so much pure joy in this film that I’m at a complete loss to describe it." In other words: "Let me explain... no there is too much. Let me sum up."
    RetroHound.com

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    1. I can't believe I didn't go there with that.

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  7. "The Princess Bride is one of the most joy-filled and fun films ever made. It’s great for anyone of any age. I love it unabashedly, and I genuinely feel sorry for those who don’t get it."

    I completely agree. I actually worked with a woman who hated this movie. She's the only one I've ever met who felt that way. She's also the only person I've met who hated Field of Dreams, too, so make of that what you will.

    I was wondering if you were saving this for a milestone review. Congrats on reaching 1,000. You couldn't have picked a better one, in my opinion. As you know, I would pick this as my favorite movie of all time, if I was forced to do so.

    I do have to disagree with one commenter on the book. I've read it multiple times and it is also very enjoyable. In fact, it was my love for the book that made me so excited when I found out a movie of it was going to be coming out.

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  8. @Chip--I haven't read the book, so I can't comment. I think there are better movies in the world than this one, but I can't think of many that make my happier in general.

    @Anon--thanks!

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  9. I'm still not infatuated with this film, and am a bit bewildered by the constant love directed towards it.

    But hey, I'm just glad to read your writing again. Hope you're well.

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    1. We'll have to agree to disagree on it. For me, it's all about trying to see this in part through the eyes of a child who doesn't see the jokes. It works really well on that level, but also as something like a spoof.

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