a critiQal film review The Princess Bride (1987)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: In Florin, a farmboy named Wesley (Elwes) and a beautiful young woman named Buttercup (Wright) fall in love. Wesley leaves to seek his fortune so they can marry. When Wesley is killed in a pirate attack, Buttercup is desolate. Five years later, she agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck (Sarandon), heir to the throne of Florin. Before the wedding, she is kidnapped by three outlaws: a Sicilian genius (Shawn); a swordmaster (Patinkin) and a Turkish wrestler (Andre the Giant). But a mysterious man in black is on their trail...

747 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 44s)

Looking for another older movie to review, we decided to peruse NetFlix® to see what they had to offer. Surprisingly, The Princess Bride popped up almost immediately.

Not having seen this Cary Elwes/Robin Wright swashbuckler in awhile, it seemed the perfect choice. Would this quirky adventure story be just as fun today? Or had time tarnished it’s image a bit too much?

Cary Elwes, who would go on to play second fiddle to Charlie Sheen in Hot Shots, Bill Paxton in Twister (1996), and Jim Carrey in Liar Liar (1997) (not to mention Jigsaw in Saw (2004)), takes the lead in The Princess Bride. While it wasn’t his first role, it’s the first most people saw of him, but viewers won’t remember that after viewing his performance. He takes on the role of leading man easily, shouldering a lot of the responsibility of the film’s success with a nonchalance that, sadly, wouldn’t be realized again with such a large cast (except in spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but does that count?). Whether he’s playing the farm boy or the daring pirate, he seems at ease in each and every scene, and viewers will cheer him on as the film progresses.

Robin Wright, in her first starring role (and long before she married Sean Penn), gives a decent – if vapid – performance as Buttercup. Since she’s more the hero’s goal than her own person, most of her actions seem dimwitted, if not downright stupid. While those actions help keep the storyline going, they still make her out to be rather silly – and the role doesn’t really give her a chance to become much more than the damsel in distress.

Chris Sarandon, as the evil Prince Humperdinck, is also a ridiculous character, playing both dumb and evil with ease. His character is also rather thinly fleshed out, as would easily be a throwaway if not for his “main villain” status.

While the other primary characters don’t help Elwes out much, the secondary characters more than make up for that. Christopher Guest (of This is Spinal Tap fame) is malicious as Count Rogen, playing up the evil with a raised eyebrow and a glint in his eye. Mandy Patinkin (“Criminal Minds” (TV)) is a standout as the revenge-seeking Inigo Montoya as well. Andre the Giant and Wallace Shawn also have a bit of fun in the film, playing a friendly bruiser and a dumb genius with aplomb. Peter Falk (Columbo (TV)) and Fred Savage (The Wonder Years (TV)) are perfectly cast as well, lending a true grandfather/grandson relationship vibe to the story.

The storyline, like any good book, starts out simple and expands from there. While the beginning love affair between Elwes and Wright is corny almost beyond belief, it sets up the rest of the film, which breaks out of the mold viewers are expecting to bring an adventure full of humor and heart. Whether it’s young Savage complaining about the “kissing” bits, Patinkin and Andre rhyming, or Wallace Shawn’s shouts of “Inconceivable!” followed by Patinkin chiming in “I do not think that means what you think it means”, The Princess Bride finds unexpected humor in the rather dour storyline.

Without that humor keeping the film light-hearted, the storyline – most of which centers around Humperdinck’s plans to murder Buttercup and incite a war with a nearby city – could have been played much more seriously. Thankfully, the film – and director Rob Reiner – stays true to the whimsical book, playing the film as a fun adventure rather than a dour thriller.

Thankfully, even most of the special effects have withstood the test of time, as the filmmakers obviously decided to go with puppets rather than the fledgling CGI of the day. True, this does beget a sequence with a ROUSS (Rodent of Unusual Size) that looks like Elwes is fighting a deranged Muppet. But, since that’s how it looked originally, time hasn’t actually tarnished that scene at all.

With a cast of secondary characters giving iconic performances, help from a few tertiary characters (including a barely-recognizable Billy Crystal and Carol Kane) and Cary Elwes leading by example, Rob Reiner pulls out the best in his actors, turning the fun novel by William Goldman (who also wrote the screenplay) into a fun adventure for the whole family.

There’s a reason that The Princess Bride remains such a fond memory for many viewers. Check it out today, and enjoy it with your favorite brand of popcorn.

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