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MGM Studios DVD presents
Westley: "You're that smart?"
DVD ReviewRob Reiner is responsible for two of my most-watched films of the past twenty years: This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and The Princess Bride (1987). Unlike This Is Spinal Tap's slightly older demographic, The Princess Bride is that cinematic oddity that appeals as strongly to children as it does to adults. It is a perfectly charming fantasy tale, with enough action to satisfy the boys, enough romance to satisfy the girls, and more than enough clever humor to completely win over everyone else. Based on author William Goldman's 1973 book of the same name, The Princess Bride is a winner all the way around.
The story begins with a grandfather (Peter Falk) reading the title book to his somewhat reluctant young grandson (a very young Fred Savage). The grandson's concerns about it being a "kissing book" are soon put to rest as the story unfolds. The Princess Bride, as narrated by the grandfather, tells of the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright), and her unspoken love for strapping young farm hand Westley (Cary Elwes). After finally pledging their undying love to each other, Westley sets sail to make his way in the world, only to be killed (off screen, during the narration) by the dread pirate Roberts.
Flash forward a few years and Buttercup is slated to marry the slimy Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Still grieving for her lost love Westley, Buttercup is suddenly kidnapped by a trio of bandits, led by a wonderfully caustic Sicilian con man named Vizzini (Wallace Shawn). His two henchmen are Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), a master swordsman with his own agenda, and a hulking gentle giant named Fessik (Andre The Giant).
The Princess Bride barrels along magically, all the while hurling a memorable array of bizarre characters (an albino dungeon master) and unusual situations (the Cliffs Of Insanity) out like confetti. I will admit to not having read Goldman's original book, but his sharp screenplay is full of some incredibly quotable dialogue.
"You mean you'll put down your rock and I'll put down my sword and we'll kill each other like civilized people?"
The glue that really holds everything together is the flawless casting. The more times I see The Princess Bride, the harder it is for me to imagine anyone else filling these wonderful roles. As the most beautiful woman in all the land, Robin Wright seems the perfect choice as Buttercup. With a lilting British accent, Wright captures the character of the love struck princess. Elwes is perfect as the dashing Westley, and he plays him to a tee, with the matinee confidence of a young Errol Flynn. As Inigo, Patinkin tosses his heavy Spanish accent around convincingly, and his sword-fighting skills are first rate, to boot. Shawn's Vizzini almost steals the film with some of the best lines, and his battle of wits sequence with the dread pirate Roberts is a piece of timeless comedy. Without boring you too much more with my rambling exultations, rest assured that the rest of the key players (Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Andre The Giant, Billy Crystal) all carry their weight solidly, as well. For a film that so deftly dances between humor and drama, it is the seemingly perfect cast of The Princess Bride that makes this film pure magic.
Over the years, Rob Reiner has proven himself be a very talented filmmaker. Who would have thought Meathead had it in him? Sure, he laid an egg with North, but as a rule his career as director is full of popular, mass appeal titles. Stand By Me. When Harry Met Sally. Misery. A Few Good Men. With The Princess Bride, Reiner has helmed what has become a sort of cult classic, and like This Is Spinal Tap, has assembled a film that is a total pleasure to watch. Over and over and over.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: For this special edition, MGM has released The Princess Bride in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Overall, this is a beauty. Colors are soft and realistic, with consistently natural flesh tones. Strong contrast and solid shadow depth throughout. Some minor compression issues do little to mar the viewing experience, in my opinion.
The Princess Bride has never looked better.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: A very respectable 5.1 mix is provided by MGM. Mark Knopfler's unusual and beautiful score swells and soars, and fills the rear channels nicely, despite an overall minimal appearance of other ambient effects. Sound effects come across full and rich, and are never overpowered by the score. Dialogue is crisp, and is always clear. The molasses thick accents of Andre The Giant and Mandy Patinkin sound especially sharp.
A 2.0 Spanish mix is also provided.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1: Director Rob Reiner
2: Author William Goldman
"As You Wish" Documentary (27m:14s)
Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, this brand new documentary nicely straddles the fence between shameless puff piece and fond cast reminiscences. "As You Wish" features recent interviews with Rob Reiner, William Goldman, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest and Chris Sarandon as they recall their experiences working on the film. In addition to scenes from The Princess Bride, there are a number of behind-the-scenes shots, as well.
Cary Elwes Video Diary (03m:55s)
This is a neat little oddity. It is a quick four minutes of behind-the-scenes video footage shot by Elwes during production of The Princess Bride. There are some nice shots of Robin Wright between takes during the eels sequence, as well as an interesting tale about the late Andre The Giant.
1987 "Making Of The Princess Bride" Featurette (06m:54s)
This goes over much of the same ground that is covered in the superior "As You Wish" piece. More behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, but far less structured than it could have been. It's interesting to compare cast comments from 1987 with comments from today.
1987 Featurette (07m:54s)
Essentially a grainy rehash of the other 1987 featurette, with much of the same background footage.
88 photos of production stills and behind-the-scenes. I liked that the images were categorized, which makes it much easier to get to those Robin Wright shots, and to bypass Rob Reiner's fuzzy mug.
The photo gallery categories are:
True Love (7)
Buttercup - Robin Wright-Penn (8)
Westley - Cary Elwes (5)
The Sicilian, The Spaniard and The Giant Turk (10)
The Villains (8)
Miracle Max - Billy Crystal (6)
The Grandfather - Peter Falk (3)
Rob Reiner (8)
Behind The Scenes (15)
Special FX (14)
Poster Art (4)
A 6-page booklet with more production info and photos is also included.
There are two solid, full-length scene-specific commentaries on The Princess Bride:SE
Commentary 1: Director Rob Reiner
Reiner talks shop, and his affection for this project is apparent. While he does comment on specific scenes, much of his talk is concerned with production-related issues. I don't know if I'm blinded by my appreciation of The Princess Bride, but I really found Reiner's commentary to be consistently informative.
Commentary 2: Author William Goldman
At first, Goldman might seem like an unusual choice for a solo commentary track. However, as the man responsible not only for The Princess Bride book, but the screenplay, his involvement is significant. Goldman conveys the problems encountered translating his book to the screen, and he can tell a good anecdote when he wants to. This track presents more of an overall perspective on the process, and is a nice compliment to Reiner's primarily production-specific comments.
MGM offers up two different versions of the theatrical trailer for The Princess Bride, one domestic and one foreign. It is interesting to note that the foreign trailer uses Peter Falk narration, while the domestic uses one of those jive, movie trailer announcers.
4 television spots of the glowing reviewer quote variety.
A respectable 28 chapter stops, English, French and Spanish subtitles round out what is a terrific batch of supplementals on an excellent film.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsThis is easily one of the most quotable films of the last twenty years. It's a completely charming fantasy chock full of humor, adventure and romance. I won't preach to the choir and attempt to convince anyone who is already a fan of The Princess Bride that they need to get this new special edition. They probably already had it pre-ordered months ago.
I can't imagine any home with kids NOT having The Princess Bride on the shelf. As a matter of fact, I can't imagine ANYONE not having this DVD in his or her collection.
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