The Princess Bride (1987)

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in The Best of the Best | 0 comments

Princess1

Disclaimer: Sword fighting and, yes, there is some kissing.

Those who consider Casablanca among the greatest films ever made often cite its uncanny blending of genres. It’s at once a passionate romance, a thrilling gangster noir, and a political war drama – and it works! Combining genres is a double-edged sword that’s wielded often, and found too heavy almost as frequently. On one side it’s a great way to expand accessibility and appeal to several audience groups (leading to box office receipts). But on the other, you’re risking the quality of each genre and reputation with the audience (leading to box office flop). In order to work, each genre needs to be balanced, well written, and entertaining for the reasons that that consumer group came to love it in the first place. Casablanca is one of a few top-shelf films that did pull it off, against the odds, and became a classic. The Princess Bride is undoubtedly another.

It’s an action adventure, a romantic melodrama, and a witty comedy. And not only is each handled with amazing poise, but it even goes so far as to point out the delicate ground it’s walking on and the pratfalls in its path. And even more, they cockily laugh in its face and dare viewers not to like it.

The audience is represented by none other than child superstar Fred Savage, who is sick in bed playing video games when his grandfather (played by Peter Falk, metaphorically representing the filmmakers/writers) comes to bring him (us) a gift. The gift is a book (the film we’re about to see), and Savage (us) immediately has skepticism.

“A book?” he says, disappointed.

“That’s right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick and I used to read it to your father. And today, I’m gonna read it to you,” the grandfather explains.

Grandpa (the filmmakers/writers) has recognized how old this formula is and is presenting it to prove it’s not out-dated, as we’re assumed to expect.

“Has it got any sports in it?” Savage then queries.

“Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles …” grandpa confidently rattles off.

“Doesn’t sound too bad. I’ll try to stay awake,” Savage snidely retorts.

And that’s just fine, in the filmmakers’ eyes. You can go ahead and cling to your pessimism. Because it’ll be gone in no time.

The story involves two lovers named Princess2Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) who are separated when an evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) steals Buttercup following Westley’s capture by ruthless pirates. Humperdinck wants to make Buttercup his wife, but a group of misfit goons, including a kind giant named Fezzik (Andre the Giant), a revenge-seeking swordsman named Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and witless leader Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) kidnap her to begin a war between rival kingdoms of Guilder and Florin. Starting wars is, as Vizzini says, “a prestigious line of work with a long and glorious tradition.” After Westley returns, apparently undead and promoted to a pirate leader, he vies for the claim of his love and the story continues as an involved action/adventure tale.

The aural and visual delivery of Bride is one of the film’s true charms, as it exists solely in the experience of the boy, who no doubt molds the images from his grandfather’s vocal delivery and the word choices of the book he’s reading to him. It’s a fascinating and intriguing way to experience the story (The Neverending Story sort of used it, too), and one that may seem strange (since we don’t often see films unfold in the frame narrative fashion), yet it’s enticingly familiar, since it’s exactly how stories are meant to be delivered: as an experience.

The story isn’t for boys and isn’t for girls. It isn’t even for children – it’s for absolutely everyone. It doesn’t so much defy genre as envelop it. This is a classic romantic story outline with two lovers, separated by a prince, and involving moral/physical adventures. A countless number of films have used this basic premise, but The Princess Bride reinvented the overused genre with the help of William Goldman’s novel and Rob Reiner’s direction. They twist the stereotypical characters and their traits (kind giant, impotent prince, idiotic genius, etc.), simultaneously becoming a satire of its genres and one of the greatest examples of it.

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