Storybook Love

22 Dec

Before the noughties’ rejuvenation of the genre with the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings‘ film franchises, pure fantasy movies were a much maligned species – in many ways the ugly sister of science fiction and graphic novel adaptations. Most of the attempts were aimed purely  at children or were so niche as to appeal to no one other than a die-hard audience (Dungeons and Dragons movies, I’m talking about you!). There were of course some shining exceptions to this trend, perhaps the best loved of them being Rob Reiner’s 1987 film The Princess Bride. Based on the 1973 novel by William Goldman (who also wrote the movie screenplay, thus ensuring its faithfulness to his original text) the film was heralded as a cult classic almost as soon as it was released. Full of wit, picaresque adventure, action, romance and magic, this was not your typical fantasy film. This is what has perhaps ensured its longevity and even today it regularly comes near the top of lists of romance and comedy as well as fantasy films.

From the beginning The Princess Bride benefits from a highly effective framing device. The story is presented in the film as a book being read by a grandfather to his sick grandson (great casting here, with the roles played by none other than Columbo actor Peter Falk as well as Fred Savage of Wonder Years fame). This helps to effectively preserve the novel’s narrative style. One of the joys of The Princess Bride is witnessing the child’s reaction to the story as told to him by his grandfather. He is initially sceptical about the ‘mushy’ romantic elements of the story, then gets more and more involved until he is berating his grandfather for ‘not telling it right’, when the tale starts to confound his expectations. We, as the audience, share the boy’s feelings at one point or another because in many ways, despite its fairy tale trappings, The Princess Bride is anything but a conventional story. For a start the three main heroes, the sometimes sinister, black-garbed, masked Westley; the intimidating giant Fezzik; and the vengeful Inigo at first sight seem more villainous than the apparently noble prince, who is the main antagonist. It soon becomes clear that fair seeming can hide foul intentions, however, and our heroes are really put through their paces – facing trials, injuries and even apparent death – before they can find the eponymous princess and save the day. All of this is of course great stuff if you’re an adult or a fantasy fan but for a child there are parts of the film that may well be unsettling. Not that that’s a bad thing of course – in fact I suspect that it’s likely to only make The Princess Bride seem even more appealing to many younger viewers.

There is just so much to admire about this film, from its impudent, tongue-in-cheek style to the occasionally over-the-top performances (especially from the villains Prince Humperdinck, Count Rugen and the self-styled ‘criminal genius’ Vizzini). There are even cameos from the well-known British comics Peter Cook as ‘The Impressive Clergyman’ and Mel Smith as Rugen’s assistant torturer ‘The Albino’, as well as Billy Crystal’s hilariously memorable turn as Miracle Max. It would be quite wrong, however, to think for a moment that The Princess Bride is played for laughs alone. As stated above the film is often scary and there is a real chemistry between the two leads, played by Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, which makes you believe in their romance despite all of the fantastical trappings. The cast and crew clearly took the production of the film incredibly seriously – as evidenced by the (quite real) fencing scenes, which took Elwes and Mandy Patinkin (as Inigo) weeks to prepare and film. I should say that this is another aspect of the film which makes it so appealing – the fact that again and again the film-makers rely on action, sets and acting to tell the story rather than relying on CGI, as is unfortunately all too common today. Crammed with adventure, true love, swordfights, pirates, casual villains and Rodents Of Unusual Size, The Princess Bride is an adorable comic classic. Although it proved to be only a modest success at the box office on its initial release, the film has done very well in home viewing and it’s easy to see why. If you haven’t watched it already, it really is a must-see – especially if you’re sick and don’t have a grandfather to drop by with a story to read…

8 Responses to “Storybook Love”

  1. The Heretic December 22, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    I love The Princess Brides. My friends and I have seen it so many times to the point we could recite the entire scene between Miracle Max and his wife.

  2. Tharcion December 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    The sword fight sequence at the top of the cliff still stands out as one of the better fencing matches I can think of. And the movie is educational: it teaches you what inconceivable doesn’t mean.

  3. IntrovertedAnalyst December 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    I LOVE THIS MOVIE. And I’m pretty sure I have the entire thing memorized. Give me a scene and a few seconds and I could recite it. There are so many fantastically quotable lines from this film, though the kicker for me always is going to be “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” XD

    • Stephanie December 22, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

      Exactly what I was going to say–so many brilliant one-liners. Lovelovelove this movie.

  4. ashsilverlock December 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Thanks everyone, nice to see so much love for the movie on here 🙂

  5. lynnsbooks June 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    I love this movie and the book – which I only read recently and was really happily surprised to discover how much the film has stuck to the original. Brilliant. Going to stop there before I start to gush!
    Lynn 😀


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