Friday, February 25, 2011
#36 The Princess Bride (1987)
The Princess Bride (1987)
"Let me sum up. Buttercup is marry' Humperdinck in a little less than half an hour. So all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding, steal the princess, make our escape... after I kill Count Rugen."
It’s hard to admit, but I was unaware of Rob Reiner’s classic “The Princess Bride” until fairly recently. Oh sure I knew all the famous quotes by heart, and I probably even watched the movie a couple times in various classes during Middle and High School. But I was never actually aware of what I was quoting when I was making these references. I think I first discovered the movie either Senior year in High School or last year, and it wasn’t until 3 weeks before my first “official” viewing of this movie that I had ever actually watched the movie all the way through, from start to finish. It is something I am grandly disappointed in, but at the same time, this sort of thing is conceptually the reason for this list. Take away the blog, mission statements, book full of movie notes, and (ill kept) deadlines, this list of mine is fundamentally about me seeing those seminal classics that my derision of film in my younger days had caused me to miss out on, and because of this, most of these movies I have never heard of, or else only been vaguely aware of in the past. I think this is what gives strength to my blog; most of these classic must-see films are new ground to me, and so I come into them with essentially no opinion, helping me to see these movies through a clear lens. All ranting aside, I am delighted that I finally managed to watch this movie; it was certainly one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen off of this list so far.
The movie opens with a sick kid in Chicago. He is home from school, and to keep him company, his mother has invited his grandfather over. The kid is disappointed by this, disliking his Grandfather and his antiquated style and nature. This disposition changes immediately, however, when the Grandfather presents the child with a present. Excitedly, the kid opens the gift, only to discover that it is a book. The grandfather reveals, however, that this book is special; having been passed down through the family for generations. The grandfather offers to read the story to the kid, and, reluctantly, he agrees. The grandfather then tells the story of a beautiful noblewoman, named Buttercup, who fell in love with her servant Wesley. Their happy tryst is soon broken up, however, when Wesley has to go away, and while sailing to his destination is intercepted, and presumed to have been killed by, the fearsome Dread Pirate Roberts. Time passes, and Buttercup is now engaged to the Prince of the realm, Prince Humperdinck. Days before the marriage is to take place, however, Buttercup is kidnapped by a rambunctious group of mercenaries, who plan to kill Buttercup in order to instigate war with the neighboring country. The mercenaries, who are composed of Vizzini (the brains), Inigo Montoya (a skilled swordsman), and Fezzik (the brawns) soon reach the neighboring country, but are pursued by a mysterious masked man. This man manages to defeat Inigo, Fezzik, and Vizzini in various (humorous) tests of abilities, and finally reaches his prize of Buttercup. At this point he reveals himself to be Wesley in disguise, and the two set off to live together. Prince Humperdinck has other plans, however, as he is in hot pursuit of Wesley, eventually catching up to him. Buttercup is “rescued” and Wesley is imprisoned and tortured. Some time passes, and after Humperdinck learns the true identity of Wesley, has him killed, while also revealing that he doesn’t love Buttercup at all, and is just using her as an excuse to instigate war. The now master less Inigo Montoya and Fezzik, having discovered this, set off together to find Wesley (Inigo also desires to kill “The Man with 6 Fingers on his Right Hand”, who he discovers is in the employ of Humperdinck). They find the corpse of Wesley, but, after taking him to a miracle worker, discover him to be only “mostly dead”, and so he is revived. Together, the three storms the castle, rescue Buttercup, and both kill the 6 fingered man and humiliate Humperdinck, before finally making their escape, into the sunset. The Grandfather finishes his story, resulting in the kid becoming more appreciative of his grandfather and books (as well as kissing).
The acting in this movie all around is excellent. Cary Elwes is fantastic as Wesley. His flippant delivery and matter of fact lines combine for a very hilarious, but equally lovable, compelling, and sentimental character. Mandy Patinkin (who I saw in Dead Like Me long before I saw this movie) was simply superb. Like Wesley, he was charming and lovable, while also stirring and inspirational. The twinkle in his eyes when he gives his monologue about the death of his father was touching, and his duel with the 6-fingered man is a Crowning Moment of Awesome if ever I’ve seen one. Robin Wright as Buttercup was decent enough. She pulls of haughty in the beginning, and her transition to love for Wesley was convincing, although she doesn’t really have any presence, and seems to me to be more of an object than an active participant of the film. I thought the portions of the film where she holds out hope that Wesley will come for her (after he is captured by Humperdinck) to be particularly flat. Andre the Giant, who plays Fezzik, was alright, but then again, he didn’t really need to be anything spectacular, but all the same he was lovable, and he had great chemistry with Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya. Wallace Sheen who played Vizzini was excellent as well. His monologue when he has a battle of wits to the death with Wesley is a classic. Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck) and Christopher Guest (Count Tyrone a.k.a. The 6-Fingered Man) were very good. I really liked their characters, especially Humperdinck. Sarandon really pulled off the sly, clever, genre-savvy villain well. He was deceptive, always alert, and yet at the same time extraordinarily haughty, and Sarandon does an excellent job conveying these characteristics in every scene he is in. I especially liked Sarandon showing Humperdinck’s vanity showing through when he discovers the depth of Buttercup’s love for Wesley. Equally fantastic were Fred Savage as the kid and Peter Falk as the grandfather. They were absolutely adorable together, and had a wonderful chemistry that engages you from the very start of the film.
The directing in this film is spectacular. Rob Reiner is a prolific director, and in this film he is clearly in his element. The cinematography is quite good, but more in an “Adventures of Robin Hood” way as opposed to a “Citizen Kane” kind of way. That is to say, the camera work is good, but it’s not an important player, it is merely effective in displaying the scene and showing the proper proscribed tone and feeling desired. The pacing in this film is simply fantastic. The movie grabs you in from the moment the grandfather enters, and from there the movie moves along quickly, always maintaining an upbeat attitude which keeps you entertained and enraptured the whole way through; the movie never really bogs down. The writing in really this film’s crowning achievement. What I especially like is the way in which writer William Goldman manages to write a script that is absolutely hilarious, without making the movie a comedy, strictly speaking. The movie doesn’t get so bogged down in its own absurdity that the plot and characters are left to the wayside as, say, Duck Soup or Monty Python does. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing that the latter movies do that, just that for The Princess Bride, this is extremely effective. I also quite like the manner in which the story is told and the fact that it is told to a captive audience. Goldman does a superb job of using the interruptions of the kid to serve as a way of creating tension and further engaging the audience. I also like that the movie’s plot operates on several levels; on top of the main plot of the love between Buttercup and Wesley, there is also the story of Inigo’s drive to avenge his father by killing the 6-fingered man, as well as the profound change which the kid undergoes as he becomes enraptured by the story. This multiplicity of plots does not lead to a bogging of the movie, and in general is very effectively carried out; you are equally engaged in all three stories. Perhaps the strongest point of the film is its dialogue, which is superb. There are so many great lines in this film that I could probably fill up a good portion of this review simply listing them off. It is this great quotability which has created the immense popularity, particularly online, of this film.
One thing I was particularly struck by in this film is its style. Rob Reiner does a splendid job of blending various comedic styles of other prominent comedy filmmakers into one hilarious movie. In particular I noted while watching this movie that it appears to be a combination of the fast paced dialogue of The Marx Brothers, with the absurd and spontaneous humor of Monty Python, with a dash of the distinctive style of Mel Brooks, and finally, with a little touch of Rob Reiner himself to make this movie the fantastic classic that it is. You can see elements of each popping up here and there and it is just splendid to see such diverse styles mixed so artfully. I loved every minute of it.
Finally, I liked the themes expressed in this film. While the film is absurd, compelling, and devilishly hilarious, it simultaneously has wonderful and heartwarming themes which connect it. The first is the idea of legacy, which is expressed several times throughout the film, starting at the beginning: the book, which, the grandfather says, has been read from father to sick son for generations in their family. Then there’s also the legacy of the Dread Pirate Roberts, who, Wesley reveals, had retired long before he himself took the moniker. Instead, he reveals, one Dread Pirate Roberts passes the title on to a successor just prior to his retirement, just so the new Dread Pirate gains the benefit of an established reputation, rather than having to make one for himself. The second and more prominent theme is that of an appreciation for older media and lifestyle. The kid at the beginning of the film is addicted to video games and sports, and is visibly irritated when he finds out that his grandfather gave him a book. However, by the end the kid is enraptured by the book, and develops a newfound appreciation for the more antiquated things in life, something I think many people in today’s world could stand to develop.
I think for many people, the inclusion of this movie as one of the 1081 greatest movies ever made (as of February, 2010) to be a no-brainer, but for the sake of the blog, let’s identify why this movie is on the list. This movie is on the list because it was directed by Rob Reiner. As I implied previously, he is a prolific director who can claim credit for two other films on this list. Additionally, this movie is on the list for its incredible cultural impact. It seems rather fitting that this movie, one about a kid finding alternative forms of entertainment whilst confined indoors would eventually become a staple of rainy-day, sick-day, or substitute showing in school and home environments. I think I must have seen the first hour of this film (without realizing the name of the movie) at least a good 10 times in various classes of the course of primary education. Moreover, this film is tremendously popular as a source of quotations and references. Finally, and most crucially to me, is the writing. This film is a superb blend of multiple styles of comedy with romance and action and adventure. I think the grandfather phrases it best: “[The story has] fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles,” and it is the seamless blending of all of these elements into one grandiose story which has earned this movie a spot on my greatest movies list.