By Kyle Wooldridge
Due to Rob Reiner’s lifetime achievement award, Heartland held special retrospective screenings of two of his all-time classics, Stand by Me and The Princess Bride. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to watch The Princess Bride and hear Rob Reiner talk about the film afterwards. In honor of this retrospective screening, as well as the film’s 30th anniversary this year, I’m going to give a review of this 1987 classic.
The Princess Bride (if you haven’t seen it since its release three decades ago) is a story about a grandfather reading his favorite book to his sick grandson. The plot of the film primarily follows the action of the book: Westley (played by Cary Elwes), tries to rescue his love, Princess Buttercup (played by Robin Wright), from kidnappers and an evil prince who is trying to marry her and kill her to start a war with the rival country. The film occasionally cuts from the story itself to check in on the grandfather and the sick child, weaving the two stories together.
What I love about The Princess Bride is just the overall charm of the movie. The grandfather and grandson storyline is cute, especially how the grandson pretends he doesn’t really want to hear the story as we see him slowly get more and more invested. There are lots of fun quips between characters, Fezzik and Inigo rhyme back and forth for a whole scene, and Inigo and Westley engage in the most cordial sword fight of all time. The way all the characters interact with each other very much reminds me of a fairy tale. Their interactions don’t exactly feel realistic, but I think that is what makes it so charming. The characters feel very natural in spite of this fantastical approach in which they are written. To me, the reason the film feels so charming is because it feels like it was made with a genuine passion for filmmaking. It doesn’t feel like a movie just out for a cash-grab or prestigious awards. This film was made because everyone involved loves making films, and I think this shows through in every aspect.
There are many very funny moments in the film which really help play into its charming nature. The scene where Westley and Vizzini engage in a battle of wits has always stood out in my mind. The way in which Vizzini is absolutely certain he is outsmarting Westley is just really funny. Wallace Shawn does a great job playing Vizzini as a smarmy “smarter than everyone” character, and he is really able to showcase this in the scene. I also love Inigo and Westley’s sword fight on top of the Cliffs of Insanity. The fight is carefully choreographed in a way that is both intense and light-hearted. What is even more impressive about this sword fight is that no stunt doubles are used at all. Every shot of the sword fight has only Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. This really helps establish the fun chemistry between the two fighters and is a very impressive technical feat as well.
Another technical element that I think is done really well in The Princess Bride is the score. The music in this film isn’t done by a full orchestra or a professional choir or anything. It doesn’t immerse you in dramatic music or overpower the scenes. Instead, it sounds like it was done by one person. It sounds low-budget, but I still love it. I think every song fits its scene so well without distracting you from what is happening on the screen. I hate to overuse the word “charming” but honestly, it’s charming! The cute, low-quality-sounding score fits perfect with this cute, low-budget-looking movie (and I say “low-quality” and “low-budget” with as much love as possible).
While this film is both charming and funny, what I like the most about The Princess Bride is the way the story is told. At first viewing, it may seem a little strange that the film includes the grandfather and grandson and doesn’t just focus on the main story itself, but I think this is very important. This film isn’t about the story, but rather how it’s told. It’s a story about storytelling, and the impact a storyteller can have on a story. Without the grandfather, The Princess Bride is just words on a page, but he is able to bring these characters to life. He creates the quips, the charm, and all the fun and wonderful moments through how he presents the story. Who’s to say he’s even reading what is written in the book? He could be making the entire story up, but that’s not what matters, and I think that’s wonderful.
There is so much more I could say about The Princess Bride, but I’ll limit myself because I think I’ve said enough to get my point across. I also think I might have hit the limit for how many times I can say “charming” in a film review. All in all, The Princess Bride is the perfect cult film: it is full of heartfelt moments, memorable characters, fantastic plot elements, and many, many quotable lines. How anybody could dislike this film is simply INCONCEIVABLE!