Not Exactly a Review: The Princess Bride

It’s a bit funny for me to write a review of The Princess Bride, considering it’s a favorite film in our household, one which gets watched often and can be quoted in large chunks.  But until this past weekend I had never seen it in the theaters, unless my parents took me as a three year old when it originally came out (which I doubt).  It’s obviously a cult classic, and I watched it for years on TV before ever purchasing a copy of it.  I’ve read the book, and I have a tendency to take name tags which say “Hello, my name is…” at the top and filling in the rest of the tag with “Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”  So how can I even possibly review a film I adore, which I’ve seen countless times?  Instead, you’re going to get some scattered thoughts about the film, particularly what it was like seeing it on the screen for the first time.

– It’s a bit unfortunate, but there are a lot of things that simply don’t hold up very well on the big screen.  It’s hard to compare it to other films in the genre from the time, as I haven’t seen many of those on the big screen, but even on its own it looks a bit cheap.  It’s obvious that it was on the lower end of the budget scale (Willow, which came out one year later, had a budget more than twice that of The Princess Bride, and as such its production design looks much better).  In particular, the set at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity, where Westley and Inigo have their duel, looked almost silly.  The rocks they’re standing on bend and compress, obviously made of foam instead of stone, and they bounce and move far too easily.  The costumes look more like something you’d see at your local renaissance faire, rather than what we’re accustomed to on the big screen.  The Fire Swamp, however, still looks very good after 26 years.  And the makeup, particularly on Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, is still great.

– The music is a bit of a mixed bag.  I love Mark Knopfler’s score for The Princess Bride, which perfectly captures the tone of the film and the emotion of the individual scenes.  It’s such a dated score that I feel bad for criticizing it, but it’s so synthesizer heavy that it sounds a bit silly as it attempts to fill a movie theater.  It’s really a lovely score, especially the acoustic guitar segments, but the difference between listening at home and listening in a theater was extreme.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change a thing about it (or the movie at all), but it stuck out to me during the screening.

– Rob Reiner has made some excellent movies (Stand By MeSpinal TapWhen Harry Met SallyMisery, etc.), but his direction of The Princess Bride never struck me on TV as being particularly interesting.  But on the big screen I really got a sense of how much he trusted his actors, leaving the cinematography simple in order to focus on the performances.  The location shots also stand out, with some gorgeous scenery across the UK and Ireland.

– And oh, those performances.  Obviously the cast and the script are what have made The Princess Bride such a beloved movie, but the performances really shine on the big screen.  Beyond just the delivery of the lines, which is always pitch perfect, when their faces are 20 feet tall you can really feel and see the emotion they’re putting into their roles.  Reiner uses a lot of closeups of faces, and it magnifies the personalities of the characters.  Wallace Shawn is more menacing on the big screen than he could ever hope to be on TV.  But Robin Wright and Cary Elwes really shine.  They’re both quality actors, with lots of roles that I love (I’m especially fond of Wright in Forrest Gump and Elwes in Twister), but they do so much with their eyes in The Princess Bride.  There’s a moment where Buttercup is telling a disguised Westley about her love for him, while they rest after he has dispatched of Fezzik, Inigo and Vizzini, where she pauses after her description of the man she loved.  It’s something I never picked up on before, but the camera lingers on her for an especially long span before she returns to her story, venomously accusing Westley of murdering himself.  During that moment, she stares off into the distance, and you can really see in her eyes how haunted she is by the supposed loss of Westley.  It’s the sort of look that doesn’t come across well on TV, but really stands out on the big screen.  There are a lot of those moments, where the actors are conveying a lot of emotion with their eyes, and I’ll be sure to watch for it the next time I watch at home.

– Also, can we talk for a minute about how sexy Buttercup and Westley are together?  Holy crap!  It’s not something that hit me in all my viewings as much as it did this time.  There are so many smoldering looks, particularly during the intro as they fall in love and later once Westley reveals himself to her.  They have such a good chemistry, and they just look so good onscreen.

– There’s a little moment when Peter Falk, as Grandpa, stands to leave in the middle of the story, as the Grandson, Fred Savage, tries to stop him.  And as Fred Savage is telling him to wait, he reaches out a hand and grabs at Peter Falk’s hand and the book in a way that’s really cute and sweet.  It’s another thing I hadn’t noticed before, but you should keep an eye out for it.  It’s such a natural little movement.

– I was thinking about it after the film, and while I normally don’t have much interest in revenge stories, Inigo’s triumph over Count Rugen is still my favorite moment.  I don’t know why his story appeals to me when other revenge stories don’t.  Of course, the final confrontation is one of those perfectly filmed scenes, where performance, editing, cinematography, writing and music all come together just right.  I’m sure that will be a Friday Favorite of mine one of these days.

In the end, I can’t say my opinion on The Princess Bride was changed much by seeing it on the big screen.  I’m glad I did, as I really enjoyed it and it’s fun to see something you’re familiar with for the first time with an audience.  It’s nice to know that other people laugh and applaud at the same things I do.  I picked up on a few things that I miss on a smaller screen, but the essence of the film and what draws me to it were unchanged by the experience.  It’s still a one-of-a-kind film, filled with humor and heart, both delightfully quirky and hopelessly romantic.  It has the perfect cast (I could write for weeks on just Andre the Giant), and a unique tone that sets it apart.  I don’t know that I’d feel the need to seek it out again on the big screen, but it will continue to remain in constant rotation at home.

4 thoughts on “Not Exactly a Review: The Princess Bride

  1. I totally understand the difficulty in reviewing a film you truly love but this is a really interesting piece. I’ve never really thought what it is like to see a film you love on the big screen for the first time because it so rarely happens that way round.

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  2. I had not thought much about the effect of seeing something you’re familiar with on a small screen seen on a large one (usually, it’s the other way around… large screen epic squashed into small screen). Good insights. Great film.

    And you can’t read that line (even on a nametag) without hearing Mandy Patinkin’s voice.

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