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Princess Bride, The
We can generally agree that when it comes to movies that you will stop other things to do, The Princess Bride has to be up there, right? It's been out for a couple of decades now, there are a ton of lines and moments in it that millions quote to this day, and the story is such that everyone suspends their belief. It has romance, it has humor, it has action, it's got everything, told rather comfortably and compelling. What more could you ask?
William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) adapted his novel into a screenplay which Rob Reiner (The Bucket List) directed. A young boy (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years) is sick in bed, and his grandfather (Peter Falk, Made) reads a story to him much to his dismay. It's a story about Buttercup (Robin Wright, House of Cards), a girl chosen for an arranged marriage with a nefarious prince. Her boyfriend Westley (Cary Elwes, Robin Hood: Men in Tights) is her true love but he cannot be found. As it turns out Westley is hiding under a mask to try and recapture his true love, going through an army, a giant and a Italian with a lisp, among other obstacles.
The casting of all involved combined with their execution of Goldman's script is sublime, but I think one of the things that make it work is that the supporting players know to do just that. In the context of the story, they don't chew on the scenery, and Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest, who play the Prince and Count, respectively, are keenly aware of this, letting the characters' actions speak for themselves. Mandy Patinkin plays Inigo and Andre the Giant is Fezzik, two individuals hired by Vizzini, and all are convincing and quirky without having to overdo it. The only ones who really there to chew on scenery are Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, who play a married couple of some age and mystical powers. Their purpose in the story is brief, so Reiner lets them play, and it works as well. Crystal cites wanting to look like his grandmother in the prosthetics, and in between that and "Have fun storming the castle," it all works.
The decision to incorporate cutaways to the Grandfather and Grandson combined with the structure of the story brings the viewer into the bed with the grandson. Sounds weird, but you are drawn in early on, and you can poke your skeptical holes of logic into the story along with the Grandson, or not as the case may be. More than that it's the bedtime story YOU experienced as a kid. Maybe perhaps not that exact story, but it's one that's deliberately paced, filled with performances from actors who stay within their respective characters' pathos, meeting the standard of the protagonist or antagonist, having their own vulnerabilities, with well-timed yucks from players in the ensemble who know how to deliver them.
Whatever is associated to The Princess Bride by those who are devotees of it, for me it's a story that anyone growing up can relate to. Not from a story perspective per se but from a delivery standpoint. Anyone can remember that proverbial bedtime story, either delivering it or receiving it, and the film brings us back to that, with a group of actors with an enormous belief in the story and its direction that it results in a timeless sensibility for kids and adults alike. That Criterion is doing the Blu-ray can only be good things.
Criterion gives The Princess Bride a new 4K transfer and used the laserdisc Criterion produced in 1997, with the Blu-ray looking gorgeous. Exteriors of the countryside look fantastic with quality color reproduction (Vizzinni confronting the masked man among one example), and image detail that looks a touch multidimensional to boot. Flesh tones are natural and black levels consistent during the moments when necessary. Film grain is present, consistent and a little subtle through the film and the overall Blu-ray turns out to be a treat.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround does what's called upon from it. The film's score is light and doesn't pack a lot of oomph in the soundstage, and there is little for the subwoofer to do over the course of the film. Channel panning when horses run (or during the fencing sequence) is present and fairly convincing. Given that there isn't much for the soundtrack to do, it's a good, but not mind-blowing experience.
In the 20 years since Criterion's laserdisc, several versions of the film have been released on the Fox label, and this version of the disc borrows bits from each. The separate commentaries from Goldman and Reiner are cast aside for favor of the 1997 commentary with both, along with Crystal, Falk and producer Andrew Scheinman, edited together. Goldman's novel, narrated by Reiner in audiobook form is the second audio track. The latter helps illustrate the differences between novel and film, while the former gets into challenges on putting such a story together while Reiner discusses the casting and meeting of various actors. Reiner discusses his work process and Crystal provides some onset recall, as well as Scheinman. Goldman focuses on the story and gets into some historical recollection as well. It's a very good track that is a worthy complement to the film.
Next up is "True Love" (14:59), a discussion with Reiner, Elwes and Wright recorded for the 2012 release that gets into sine recollections and anecdotes of those no longer with us, and some of the funny stories of normal folk recognition they get now. A couple of new pieces are here; "Pure Enchantment" (17:17) is a critical look at Goldman's screenplay and an examination of what makes it good and why it is good. "The Tapestry" (6:26) looks at the fabric artwork that Goldman commissioned from the movie/book and which hung on his wall. "As You Wish," "The Untold Story," "Miraculous Makeup," "The Art of Fencing," "Fairy Tales and Folklore" and Cary Elwes' Video Diary appeared on the 2009 release, and the five quick behind the scenes segments were also done in 1997. "Fairy Tale Reality" looks at the visbual style of the film and is also a new extra. The disc is presented nicely in digibook form with two essays, one of which from Goldman, and looks nice.
With all of the variants of The Princess Bride on video disc these days, is the Criterion one the one to beat? On the plus side you have a new 4K transfer and the extras that were retained would appear to be the most entertaining. On the minus side, the lack of ALL of the extras (the separate commentary tracks for one thing) would seem to lack the tag of an exhaustive version of the film fans clamor for. If you're willing to make the sacrifice, the transfer, extras and packaging are pretty good pluses, less so if you already have a Blu-ray release and double-dipping is your choice. Otherwise, a solid, but not top shelf release of a prized film.