What is there left to be said about The Princess Bride that hasn't already been said? A modern day classic, this film is one of those rare treats where very young children and adults can watch it and both have a very enjoyable time. It's a comic fairy tale that is both larger than life and yet intimate. A film that, as the grandfather announces at the beginning, has "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, [and] miracles." Oh yeah, and it's funny. Laugh out loud funny. Now MGM has released this wonderful adventure on Blu-ray and I'm happy to report that it looks wonderful, much better than it has ever looked on home video, and has a fairly complete set of extras making it a great disc to add to any collection.
The story, in case you're one of the few who hasn't seen the film already, centers on a simple farm girl, Buttercup. She lived a pastoral life on her family's land that was worked by a farm hand, Westley. Buttercup took great joy in ordering Westley around and giving him more work to do, but as time past she realized that she loved him, and he loved her too.
Vowing to send for her when he had made his fortune, Westley set out for the new world by sea, only to be killed when his ship was boarded by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup took the news rather badly and vowed to never love again.
But sorrow brought out the best in Buttercup's complexion and she was soon regarded as the most beautiful maiden in the land. The countries prince, Humperdinck, takes notice and decides to marry the young lass. She has no feelings for the prince but consents anyway.
Just before their marriage Buttercup is kidnapped by three men: an expert swordsman, a huge muscle bound man who is described as a "land mass", and a Sicilian genius. They've been hired by Humperdinck to take the princess and carry her to the neighboring country and kill her so he can use her death as an excuse to invade. While carrying out his orders, the trio discovers that they are, inconceivably, being followed by a man in a black mask. Incredibly strong, intelligent, and cunning, the masked man somehow manages to gain on the criminals, but what is his objective?
From the Shrieking Eels and the swordfight on the Cliffs of Insanity to the flight through the
I read the book long before the movie was made, and the first time I saw it I wasn't expecting much. Most film adaptations are only pale imitations of the book they're based on but this movie is the rare exception. Goldman, an Academy Award winning screenwriter knew exactly how to adapt his novel. Somewhat ironically, the best parts in the book are not the highlights of the movie. The sword fight on the Cliffs of Insanity was a bit more exciting in my head, and much more humorous since the man in black's mask only covered the top half of his head. (In the book it covered all of his face so he had to describe his expressions to his opponent.) The sections where the book dragged a bit were some of the best bits in the film however. The visit to Miracle Max's being one part that stands out.
A lot of the reason the film is so enjoyable all these years later is for the perfect casting. The lead actors all do a wonderful job, but even the small parts have top-rated talent who manage to steal their scenes. As mentioned earlier, Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal, is uproariously funny and gives one of the best performances in the film. The priest is played by Peter Cook who gives it his all, and Christopher Guest is brilliant as the six-fingered Count. An amazing cast all around.
The Blu-ray Disc:
This disc comes in a standard Blu-ray case. As Disney has been doing lately, MGM has included a DVD copy of the film too.
The AVC encoded 1.85:1 image looks very good. Better than I was expecting in fact. The first things that you notice about the transfer are the gorgeous greens of the forest and countryside and the warm earth tones of the farm. The colors are vivid and bright without looking like they've been artificially boosted. Flesh tones look particularly realistic and pleasing. The colorful costumes in the court and at the wedding pop nicely.
The level of detail is very good with close ups being particularly impressive. Background features are sharp and that makes scenes like Miracle Max's home even more interesting to watch. A few long shots were a bit softer than I was hoping but that's a minor quibble.
Digitally the movie also looks good. There is a fine amount of grain present which thankfully hasn't been eliminated with noise reduction or any other digital trickery. There was a touch of banding in a couple of scenes but it was minor. Aliasing, blocking, and other compression flaws and not present.
This film comes with a nice DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This has never been a film to test the limits of your sound system, but the mix here is effective. Most of the action takes place in the front of the soundstage though the rears are used very effectively in some scenes. When Buttercup is in the water being attacked by Shrieking Eels, for example, the creatures can be heard circling the room as they swim around in the darkness on the screen. Similarly there are some nice surround effects in the fire swamp, but overall the front does most of the work. The dialog is clear and easy to understand (with the exception of Andre who sometimes mumbles his lines) and the music had a nice range.
This film has seen its share of DVD releases. It's been released on DVD no less than four different times, each one with a different assortment of bonus material. (Of course.) This Blu-ray release collects the best of those earlier extras and includes them on the disc only omitting a few lesser items.
First off there are two commentary tracks, one by director Rob Reiner and the second by writer William Goldman. While both tracks drag in places and have more than enough dead air time, they're both worth listening to and are filled with some great anecdotes and behind the scenes stories. Reiner's is a bit more technical as he talks about making the film, the budget concerns, and working with the actors. I enjoyed Goldman's track a bit more. He talks about the genesis of the book that the movie was based on, earlier attempts to bring the book to the screen, and his thoughts about the finished product.
The rest of the video features, with the exception of the trailer, are presented in 480i/p and have been ported over from earlier editions, but they are still nice to view anyway, though they offer little replay value. The Art of Fencing has an expert on swords and sword play talk about the fight scenes and the history of the weapons.
Next up is As You Wish, The Story of the Princess Bride. This nearly half-hour featurette has the cast and crew talking about the movie and its creation and has a nice tribute to Andre the Giant. That's followed by Cary Elwes Video Diary, about three minutes worth of behind the scenes home video.
The Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Pirate of the Seven Seas is a comic look at pirates and if Roberts had a real-life counterpart. After that is Fairytales and Folklore, where the cast looks back on the film and discusses why it has lasted so long. Love is Like a Storybook lasts a bit over 15 minutes and features scholars talking about fairytales and how this film can be considered part of the genre.
The disc wraps up with Miraculous Makeup, a look at how Billy Crystal was transformed into the aged Miracle Max, Princess Bride: The Untold Tales where the cast reminisces some more (worth watching for Mandy Patinkin's story about crying when he saw the first rough cut of the film) and the theatrical trailer.
While there isn't anything new or exciting on this disc, it does contain the best bonus material from the earlier four releases and as such there really isn't much more to tell.
This is one of those rare films where everything miraculously comes together just right and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A fun and entertaining film that both young children and adults can enjoy, it belongs in every movie collection. This Blu-ray disc makes the film look better than it ever has before and it includes all of the quality extras from the previous editions. That makes this an easy disc to highly recommend.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.