So I finally did it. I watched The Princess Bride at age 33 (obviously with a grain of salt, since the effects and graphics are pretty terrible). While watching, my mind was flooded with images of other movies in the era -- the comedy of Monty Python and the campiness of Labyrinth, combined with a dash of Willow. I could see how it fit into the '80s movie canon, and as the film progressed, I could also understand how legions of fans fell in love with this classic.
It dawned on me about halfway through the film that I was, indeed, Fred Savage's character: the sceptical kid having a fairy-tale story read to him, when all he'd rather be doing is playing video games. And also like his character, I felt the tides changing as I began to care about what happened to Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes).
If you, like me, haven't seen The Princess Bride yet -- which I anticipate to be about one or two of you, based on my office's reaction -- here are some reasons to give it a chance.
Nostalgic For The '80s? Here's The Remedy There's a certain innocence to the fantasy movies of the 1980s, like they haven't been tarnished by the heaviness and seriousness to come in the subsequent '90s and 2000s. Sure, characters undergo hardships and face adversity, but it almost always happens with the unsaid certainty that everything will be OK in time. Westley is killed by a pirate out at sea? Oh, it's all right, I'm sure he'll come back. Inigo Montoya (The Spaniard) is stabbed multiple times and is starting to bleed out? Bah, he'll be fine.
Everything from the costumes (Chris Sarandon's Prince Humperdinck's robe) to the character names (Vizzini, Fezzik) to the locales (The Cliffs of Insanity, The Fire Swamp) is so distinctly '80s I was having random flashbacks of sitting on my family's red-and-white polka-dotted Ikea couch watching The Smurfs. Nothing resurfaces childhood memories quite like the gritty graininess of this type of cinematography.
Cheesy Humour And Dialogue I can compare this easily to Monty Python, though I know the two are leagues apart. What's similar is the tone, and the type of humour. On one side of your brain, you're thinking, "What on Earth is this guy talking about?" and then before you know it, and before you can control it, you're laughing. Almost all of you knows it's stupid, but you still giggle. That's the power of this kind of movie.
So when Westley and Montoya are fencing for what seems like 10 minutes (it may very well be), exchanging barbs and matching wits, I knew this would never, ever happen in reality, but I found myself engaged and laughing at the two men and their endless banter. It was the same with Westley's wine/poison game -- nonstop back-and-forth, yet somehow hilarious.
Cary Elwes As Westley It is abundantly clear that Elwes absorbed absolutely everything about this role, and ran with it. He is masterfully funny as the dashing, debonair wiseass, and his charisma onscreen is palpable in every scene. A young Robin Wright has publicly admitted to having a major crush on Elwes during filming, and it's not hard to see why. I can envision an '80s audience of young women swooning as Elwes embraces Buttercup for "the most romantic kiss ever."
The Monsters: From R.O.U.S. To Eels Horrible, laughable effects -- about as bad as flying dog Falcor's head and body movements in NeverEnding Story -- don't detract from the movie. The R.O.U.S. (rodents of unusual size) look to be made of paper mache, but when one of them bites Westley, I actually flinched. (I know! Pathetic, right?) Same goes for the screaming eels in the swamp. What is it with '80s fantasy movies and their monsters that you shouldn't be scared of but still are? This all rolls up into the I-should-know-better-but-randomly-don't issue with the dialogue.
Happy Endings And Vengeance Above all, The Princess Bride is a timeless story featuring all the classic tropes: the kidnapped princess searching for true love, the misfit who overcomes all adversity to defeat the ultimate evil foe, the man on a lifelong mission willing to die for his cause, and the bumbling fool who ends up being crucial to the mission. Everything ends as it should; those who deserve happy endings get them, and those who seek vengeance get it.
This is the kind of story that can live on into eternity -- and that probably goes a long way in explaining its longevity. There is someone for everyone to identify with, even under the multiple layers of '80s cheese and bad graphics. For a premise so simplistic and formulaic, it captures a moment in time perfectly, even though it seems... inconceivable.
Enjoy "The Princess Bride" 25th Anniversary Edition, out now on Blu-Ray.