Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Review of The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride (1987)

Over the years, The Princess Bride has gained the unfair title of "chick flick", mainly due to the film's title. Despite this unfortunate characterization, it has also gained a large cult following and remains to this day one of the most popular and beloved fantasy films of all time. One should not be fooled by the film's title, because The Princess Bride has things to please both genders, and it is a universal movie that deserves to be loved by all. The film is, at its very essence, a fairytale, and it is a delightful fairytale. The film has action, it has sort of believable romance, it has extremely memorable characters, and most important of all, it has a good sense of humour which makes the trite story seem fresh and new.


Despite the fact that the film is a fairytale, it starts off in modern times with a sick boy (Fred Savage) having a story read to him by his grandfather. The boy is initially resistant to hear the story but he grows to enjoy it over the course of the film, as is made evident when we see him every once in a while clearly invested in the story. The story is about Buttercup (Robin Wright), a young woman raised on a farm who grows to fall in love with a farmhand named Wesley (Cary Elwes) who she had priorly mistreated. Every time she would demand something of him, he would only respond with "as you wish", the origin of one of the most popular lines from that movie. Wesley and Buttercup declare their love for one another, but Wesley does not have the money for marriage, so he goes off to find his fortune, planning to return.

Wesley's departure leaves Buttercup heartbroken, and this heartbreak is only exacerbated at news of Wesley's death at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts. We then fast forward to five years later where Buttercup has agreed to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), a seemingly harmless but foppish royal. Sometime before the wedding, she is kidnapped on her daily horse ride by three traveling bandits: Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), the boss, Fezzik (Andre the Giant), the brawn, and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), arguably the most popular and well-known character to come out of the movie. Montoya is a Spanish fencing expert with a desire to kill the six-fingered man who killed his father and gave him the twin scars on his cheeks when he was just a boy. Outside the Buttercup/Wesley romance, it is Montoya that gives the film it's heart, and the character gives us one of the most memorable lines of all time. Even those who haven't seen this movie have heard the line "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die".

The bandits take Buttercup to the Cliffs of Insanity, where they intend to kill her. However, hot on their trail is a masked man simply known as the Man in Black, as well as Humperdinck and a group of soldiers. The masked man fights Montoya and knocks out Fezzik to get to where Vizzini is holding Buttercup. After he tricks Vizzini into giving up Buttercup, he reveals to her that he is the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup responds by pushing him down a gorge and after he says "as you wish" in Wesley's characteristic fashion, she realizes that he is Wesley and throws herself down the gorge (which is weird, it wasn't particularly deep, she just could have walked down).

Wesley is taken away by Humperdinck and his sadistic vizier Count Rugen, who happens to have six fingers on his right hand. In the meantime, Buttercup prepares for her wedding to Humperdinck. It is revealed that Humperdinck is not as harmless as he seems, as he plans to murder Buttercup on their wedding night, framing the rival country of Guilder and thus being able to start a war, which is his true motive throughout the movie. We've seen the plot element of a woman being forced to marry a man she doesn't love, but this film does it a bit differently. Humperdinck is damned well aware that Buttercup doesn't love him, and he puts on a facade telling her that he will search for Westley (whom he had Count Rugen imprison and torture after the Cliffs of Insanity scene). He also tells Buttercup that she is free to go if Wesley is found, and even though the audience knows it is a blatant lie, it seems plenty sincere at the time.

The climax of the film takes place at the rushed wedding of Humperdinck and Buttercup, when Wesley, Fezzik, and Montoya storm the castle after a visit to Miracle Max (Billy Crystal, accompanied by Carol Kane as Valerie). What follows are some of the film's most memorable scenes, which I can't tell you for the sake of spoilers, but those who have seen the movie know what I'm talking about. This film has one of the most entertaining climaxes I have seen in any movie, and definitely one of my favourites. The pre-climax contains one of my favourite scenes with the scene-stealing Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, which contains some of the funniest lines.

The story, when one really thinks about it, really isn't that original, playing on very familiar tropes such as the damsel in distress, the climax being to stop a wedding, and the bland heroine forced to marry a man she doesn't love, as well as the classic revenge tale. These tropes were established in the adventure stories of old and they are still kind of used in movies today. Granted, I haven't read the book, so I have no idea how faithfully the film sticks to it, but The Princess Bride works the story well, and what saves it from being tired is its script. This film has an excellent script, and one of the greatest things about this film is that it has a sense of humour. It has dozens of memorable lines and some outright hilarious ones, most being spoken by either Andre the Giant, Cary Elwes, or Billy Crystal. Don't get me wrong, the others get some very funny lines as well, but it is mostly those three that get the humourous lines. Just to prove my point, I shall list a few.

"Your friend is mostly dead. There's a difference between mostly dead and all dead"
"Have fun storming the castle"
"You seem a decent fellow, I'd hate to kill you.", "You seem a decent fellow, I'd hate to die"
"Mawiage. Mawiage is what bwings us hewe today"

This film definitely has one of the best scripts which definitely makes up for a, well not necessarily weak, but familiar story. The comedy blends excellently with the action, which is reminiscent of the swashbuckler films of old. In fact, I was reading an interview with Robin Wright during some sort of reunion article with the cast of the film, and she likened Cary Elwes to a blond Zorro. Her description is not far off, as Elwes in his Man in Black costume (paper thin disguise as it is) is pretty much a dead ringer for Zorro (the older incarnation as well as the later Banderas incarnation, the only one I am familiar with). There is a lot of swordplay in the film as well, often accompanied with witty one-liners, which is all well-executed. One has basic expectations of an adventure film, one of which is that they keep things exciting, and this film definitely exceeds all expectations set by the genre, making for a fun and intelligent movie.

The film also rises on the strength of its excellent cast. The first I would like to talk about is Robin Wright as Buttercup in her first major film role. She is probably the least interesting character in the movie, but I suppose that's kind of what the scriptwriter and the author of the book meant to do. After Wesley leaves, Buttercup becomes pretty much an empty shell and remains so until her beloved returns. Even afterwards, she remains pretty useless during the battle scenes, but it is all intentional, as Buttercup is supposed to be a damsel in distress. This does not make her bad from a feminist standpoint, because she gets some really good insults at Humperdinck, pointing out his feelings of inadequacy towards Westley. Wright gives a pretty good performance. She's not my favourite actress on Earth (having not particularly liked her in Forrest Gump either) but she is perfectly serviceable here. She and Elwes also have excellent chemistry, making the romance in the film likeable and not annoying like many movie romances are nowadays. We genuinely want to see Wesley and Buttercup get together by the end, and that definitely speaks to the quality of the film.

The rest of the cast, however, is extraordinary, and it is them (as well as the screenwriter) that the film truly belongs to. Cary Elwes is excellent as Westley (not to mention absolutely smouldering), especially as his Man in Black persona, where he gets many of the funny quips this movie is known for. I never paid much attention to Elwes in the past, and he doesn't seem to do much now outside of the Saw movies, but he is a genuinely good actor and gives truly a performance for the ages here. The three bandits are played by Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, and Mandy Patinkin. Wallace Shawn is an awesome comic relief actor in general, and it is because of this movie that the word "inconcievable" will be forever associated with his name. He gives an excellent performance from the short amount of time he was in the movie, and his character actually has an air of menace about him as well as humour. Andre the Giant is great as well, and this film can remain a time capsule of his life, seeing as he died five years after this was made. Any death is tragic and this one was no exception, but at least we have this film to remember. He got many of the great lines and his sheer brute strength was often the source for many jokes, especially since Cary Elwes beats him in battle.

The last of the bandits is Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin. Montoya is easily the most well-known character from the movie, mostly because of the line I mentioned earlier, but also because he is a genuinely interesting and sympathetic character. What made Patinkin's performance more convincing was that he drew from his own father's death, talking to Christopher Guest like he was the cancer that killed his real father. Now if that can't convince and make a character sympathetic, I don't know what will. Despite his other work (including Jason Gideon on Criminal Minds), Patinkin will probably be best known for this movie for the rest of his career. Sarandon and Guest give brilliant performances as the film's villains, and of course, there is the amazing Billy Crystal and Carol Kane as Max and Valerie, getting a good number of the humorous lines and playing extremely well off of eachother. They round off an excellent ensemble cast full of memorable performances.

All in all, one need not be fooled by the title of The Princess Bride, because the story has a sort of universality that transcends gender and age. I remember having seen this film before tonight, but now that I've seen it in full, I can say that it is one of my favourite movies, as well as one of the best and most intelligent fantasy/adventure movies of all time, reworking tired tropes to its advantage. Filled to the brim with great comedy, excellent adventure, lush scenery, likeable romance, and of course, extremely memorable characters, The Princess Bride is an instant classic and one of the cornerstone films of the 1980's (similar to E.T.). The film is also the best film of Rob Reiner by far, and just an awesome movie altogether. Those who haven't seen it should definitely see it as soon as possible, as it is essential viewing. In fact, I'm glad I own this movie now, so I can watch it countless times because quite frankly, the film deserves it.

9.5/10-  Must-See


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