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The Perfect, Funny Fairy Story
The Princess Bride (DVD)
Member Name: missrarr
The Princess Bride (DVD)
Advantages: Fun, romantic, quirky and beautifully acted
Disadvantages: No such thing!
The Princess Bride is a cult classic film that you either get or you don't; those who get it tend to love it for the rest of their lives, and I'm firmly in that camp ever since my mother introduced it to me when I was young and ill once, years ago.
So, as I seem to have been taken down by yet another bout of a recurring illness I just can't shake, I decided to save myself from the monotonous torture of daytime TV and treat myself to a viewing.
Based on a fabulous, and funny, book by William Goldman, the film opens not as you would expect for a fantasy tale, immediately in a woodland or other mystical place, but in the bedroom of a young boy who is housebound, ill himself. His mother interrupts his computer game to tell him that his grandfather had come to visit while he was ill, and in walks Columbo - er, Peter Falk. The boy in question - Fred Savage from The Wonder Years - had initially asked his mother to tell him to leave him alone, being a typical child and dreading being forced to spend time with his older relative, but it was too late, his grandfather wasn't taking no for an answer...and he had brought with him a book which he insisted upon reading to his grandson.
So we become introduced to the fairy story that is The Princess Bride - with sword fights, monsters, royalty, potions and tales of revenge and love, focusing around the most beautiful girl in all the land and the boy who loves her - as Peter Falk begins to read the book and narrate the story.
Buttercup, for all beautiful, was the spoilt daughter of farmers who had living on their land a farm boy called Westley. Buttercup never lowered herself to speak his name, calling him just "Farm Boy" and ordering him around relentlessly.
But, as it so often does in reality as much as fairy stories, one day Buttercup came to realise that the answer she always received from Westley - "as you wish" - was his way of saying that he loved her. And she came to realise that she loved him too.
Promising to return to her - "this is true love - do you think this happens every day?", asks Cary Elwes, in one of the asides that reflect the humour of the original book and also allow his acting range and character to indulge in a little sly humour that breaks through the saccharine tale, a key ingredient to making this story one that is loved by adults and kids alike - he leaves Buttercup to find his fortune so that they could marry, leaving Buttercup morose and then, ultimately, devastated, as news reached home that Westley's ship had been taken by the Dread Pirate Roberts, an infamous pirate known for never taking prisoners and leaving no victim alive. Devastated, Buttercup vows that she will never love again, and it seems that the young story of true love is over.
Years later, still the most beautiful girl in the land, Buttercup accepts a marriage proposal from Prince Humperdinck, who realises that he must find a bride as his ailing father, the King, will not be alive for much longer. Buttercup has no love for her future husband, still pining in her heart for Westley, but sees no reason not to accept.
After the scene is set, we meet three of the strongest characters in the film, the humorous hired criminals who become part of a plot in which the Princess Bride is to be used as a tool of political conflict by becoming a victim of a kidnap and murder that would be blamed on another country.
The three hired to execute the plan were the "genius" Vizzini, the drifting Spaniard Inigo Montoya, and the hulking giant Fezzik, a useful took of violence but truly a soft, gentle creature who has felt misunderstood from a young age and who likes to communicate with his only friend, Inigo, in verse.
These three, led by the arrogant and delusional Vizzini, kidnap Buttercup as she enjoys her one pleasure in life, the daily ride on her horse, and set sail apparently unnoticed. Until Vizzini realises that their vessel seems to be being followed by another ship as they sail through the night.
The fantasy elements start to come into play here, as Buttercup throws herself into the water and nearly become a victim of the shrieking eels, only to be rescued by one of her abductors, the giant Fezzik - little consolation when she knows their ultimate intention is to kill her. The party make their way to an ominous upright cliff where Fezzik carries all three of his companions up a rope, only to realise that their pursuer, a mysterious figure in black, has made inroads into their lead and will not be dissuaded from chasing them, and Buttercup starts to wonder if she has two people meaning her harm whilst the 'genius' Vizzini leaves his Spaniard swordsman and his giant as obstacles to keep the man in black away from the valuable Princess. Thus the true pursuit of the man in black after the Princess begins, as Prince Humperdinck joins the hunt for the princess and the true reason for her abduction becomes apparent.
Buttercup remains a slightly spoilt brat but beneath that façade it becomes obvious that her love for Westley had never died, but that what had initially been her brattish arrogance that led her to call him just "Farm Boy" had matured into a broken hearted wall around her, behind which she felt safe enough to enter into a loveless marriage with the odious, arrogant Prince Humperdinck. When she finally encounters the man in black herself, he taunts her swift recovery from her supposed true love and her explosive reaction underlines that her feelings of true love to Westley would never leave her. Believing herself to have been abducted, now for the second time, by the Dread Pirate Roberts, she professes the depth of her love and is mocked as a liar by her captor, who claims to remember the victim she accuses him of killing, and the heartbreak of Buttercup is beautifully and quietly portrayed as he talks of how nobly Westley died.
Filmed in 1987, this is one of the first significant roles for Robin Wright, briefly known as Robin Wright-Penn when married to Sean Penn, and she plays Buttercup beautifully, in some ways restrained by the character of a female in a fairy story but also showing fire and courage and - whilst her character is a fundamentally quite silly one - Wright's acting ability shows the love she feels for Westley throughout, allowing a subtle humour in the comparison between her character's slightly daftness and the cliché of fairy story heroines.
I'm torn in reviewing this as it is hard to do so comprehensively without putting in potential fundamental spoilers; therefore if you would like to stop reading now then thank you for your time and I appreciate you reading this.
Obviously there would be little film here if Westley had truly been lost to pirates, so his returning character, after years of being believed dead, is a stronger, mature, more rounded one, far removed from the Farm Boy he had once been but still beautiful and still completely dedicated to his true love, who he has returned for only to hear that she is imminently to marry the prince. Once he realises that Buttercup never stopped loving him, he pursues rescuing her from the marriage but finds himself tested to the limit, initially by his love's abductors but then from the armies of the Prince. As their love story becomes ever more hopeless, the strength of the author's characterisation (throughout, this is true to the book) and the combined talents of the scripts, sets and the beautiful acting of Cary Elwes makes Westley a dashing, amusing and dry witted hero who you cannot help but want to win out and who ultimately wins the assistance and companionship of the two men left with strict orders to kill him, the Spaniard Inigo and gentle giant Fezzik.
Inigo is a master swordsman who had dedicated his life to the pursuit and destruction of the man who murdered his father, a brilliant sword maker, stealing his finest work in the process. He studied for years to become a master swordsman but in doing so became jaded and lost hope in his hunt for the man who had six fingers on one hand, turning instead to duelling for money and drinking until recruited at his lowest point to perform the role of a hired criminal for the cowardly "genius" Vizzini. Montoya's friendship with Fezzik, clearly a gentle creature at heart but easily led and in need of constant instruction, who was hired as a criminal 'heavy' to complete Vizzini's team.
Fezzik is a sweet character who does not belong with Vizzini, although he and Montoya team up again later in the film. Lost without direction from others and a shy soul, he is not cut out for the abuse he takes from Vizzini (who included the phrase "land mass" in his many insults screamed at the loyal giant) but finds the chance for redemption when he allies with others later in the film. The comic chemistry between Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant is one of the most charming aspects of this film, and with both characters fairly flawed and daft in their own rights, their subsequent chemistry with the dry, dashing Cary Elwes as Westley is a brilliant mix as they unite against their true enemy and pursue the happy ending required of any fairy story - one that becomes highly unlikely once Westley is finally captured and winds up dead at the hands of Prince Humperdinck, who assures his bride that her love has merely been returned to his ship and, should he return before the wedding night, he, the Prince, would step aside and let love take its course.
Vizzini, the screaming mad Sicilian criminal who considered himself a genius, is clearly really anything but, a man wrapped up in his own delusion but still a brilliant comic turn from Wallace Shawn. Other star turns are Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, Mel Smith from Smith and Jones, and Peter Cook as "The Impressive Clergyman", while Inigo Montoya is stunned to realise that not only has this mess he has become embroiled in has also finally led him to the man he has pursued since his childhood, Count Rugen, chillingly portrayed by Christopher Guest, and Chris Sarandon does a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the arrogant, boorish, devious Prince.
Throughout the story there are interludes from Peter Falk and his grandson, with the child initially dreading being read a love story, but as these asides progress and Peter Falk tries to leave the child to rest, he begs his grandfather to continue and they bond through the telling of the tale. This use of a modern approach to the story adds to the humour and stops the film from being a flat-out, saccharine fairy tale, and also puts it in a similar vein to films such as Labyrinth with a modern, real-world contrast.
Back to the tale itself. One day I will have to review the book as it is a wonderful, wonderful tale and it's brilliantly, humorously written. One thing I love is that this film, apart from the asides with the modern boy and his grandfather, is very true to the book, something I find important in film adaptations.
The story itself is both simple - one of true love, ever so slightly sending up the genre whilst still being fond and loyal to it - whilst also involving all you would want - deception, revenge, love, loss, betrayal and impossible obstacles to true love. All the actors play their roles with brilliance and abandon, enjoying the slightly irreverent sarcasm in the humour of the script (this is a subtle send up, not a modern abomination like Team America or similar!) which makes this watchable by all the family without being too sappy for an adult audience. There are some quite dark tones in it although nowhere near as dark as something such as Legend, so kids could happily watch this. I loved it as a child and have adored how, as I have viewed it again and again, I have not been disappointed, merely found new subtleties to the humour and been able to appreciate it in an entirely new way.
The characterisation is strong and whilst there are some clichés - the revenge-driven swordsman, the evil count and corrupt prince - these again fit with the fact that this film is meant to be fun, enjoyable and amusing, not redefine a genre.
Patinkin and Andre the Giant were inspired casting, the former a hot-headed reactionary Spanish cliché but still with gravitas and depth from the actor and Andre the Giant, a true giant and not just someone made to appear so with clever filming and CGI, brings a lumbering gentleness that could not be created by special effects. Their friendship is touching, and their mutual reliance on one another gives the impression of a lifelong comradeship.
Elwes is brilliant as Westley, dashing and gorgeous, funny and dry in his wit and brave, whilst Buttercup is fabulously portrayed by Wright, allowing her character occasional descents into borderline stupidity and 'girliness' without being a character you could resent and the chemistry between the two is perfect - she is a bit daft and hopelessly female, although not irritatingly so, and Westley is the capable, brave man who adores her. Their characters bounce off one another brilliantly, as does Westley's strength and indefatigable humour against the sometimes hopeless erratic character of Montoya and the gentle sweet, bumbling nature of the giant.
Prince Humperdinck is thoroughly unlikeable but amusing, and as his true nature becomes apparently it adds another level to the plot of the film, one in which Count Rugen, the murderer of Montoya's father and the man with six fingers on his right hand, in heavily involved. The scene sets itself for the showdown between good and evil, and the script throughout is humorous, lightly sarcastic at times and despite this loses nothing in the way of the overall plot in pursuit of cheap laughs.
***WHERE TO GET A COPY?***
£4.37 on DVD via Amazon. Blueray also available and this can also be found in multi-pack DVD collections (such as one including Legend and Willow).
I love this film and look forward to the day that I can introduce my own children to it. They may well hate it - and I have tried to introduce it to others before but at the end of the day, if this isn't your thing then it isn't. But I find anyone who likes this film grows to love it, and it's enduring popularity is something that I hope will not end with my generation. I also dearly hope that this never becomes victim of a dreaded modern remake, because the performances by all involved are so impossible to improve upon that I think any such attempt would ruin the magic to which I have become so fond.
A credit also to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straights fame, who was responsible for a flawless soundtrack true to fairy tales but also gorgeous to listen to.
I recommend this wholeheartedly for anyone, and hope you love it as much as I do.
Summary: A brilliant fairy story interpretation for any generation