For me, The Princess Bride always fell into that category of movies I
wanted see but just never got around to viewing. It didn't exactly set the
world on fire during its theatrical run in 1987; as I recall, both reviews
and business were fairly tepid.
However, the film's reputation has grown immeasurably since that time, and
it now seems to be something of a classic of the genre. The DVD certainly
was eagerly anticipated by many people, so the time appeared ripe for me to
check out this little fable.
Based on my first viewing, I'd agree that TPB is an entertaining
movie, though I'm not sure it deserves its stellar reputation. It certainly
was charming and fun and clever, but I don't know if I'd call it "great".
Of course, this isn't the first time I've been underwhelmed by a film
directed by Rob Reiner. Some of his movies aren't very good, and no number
of repeated viewings will make them better. However, the case of This Is
Spinal Tap remains etched in my mind, even though it's been 16 years
since I first saw it.
When I first watched TIST, I didn't think much of it. It offered a
few laughs, but that was about it. Nonetheless, I took it in again when it
hit video, and found my interest increasing. Eventually, TIST would
become one of my absolute favorite movies; I consider it possibly the
funniest film ever made.
I honestly doubt The Princess Bride has that kind of potential, but
I'd still give it a positive rating. It tells a pretty typical fairytale
plot, with lovers who are separated and all the fantastic efforts our hero
has to make to regain his lady, but it offers some whimsical twists on the
genre that makes it distinct.
Not tremendously distinct, mind you, as the film often reminded me of
pictures like Time Bandits, though TPB is much less pointed and edgy than
that movie. Still, similarities exist in that both take a slightly tongue
in cheek viewpoint of their fantasy origins. In the case of TPB,
however, the action tries less to be wicked and more to be magical.
To a degree, it succeeds. I can't say I was "swept away" by the story, but
I found it entertaining. Reiner manages to move it along at a decent pace
and keep the film balanced; none of the varying elements - whether
adventure, romance, or comedy - ever dominate to the exclusion of the
others. The fantasy story is framed by shots of an old dude (Peter Falk)
reading the tale to his grandson (Fred Savage). That device could have
become tiresome and cloying, and while I honestly could have lived without
it, I found it worked acceptably well.
One of the more pleasant surprises I took from TPB related to the
quality of the performances - most were quite good. Cary Elwes made a
terrifically dashing hero, a factor his work has lost over the years as he's
turned into something of a schlub. Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest
both are fine as our conniving villains, and Mandy Patinkin was almost a
revelation as Inigo Montoya; I've absolutely loathed Patinkin for years, but
he seemed absolutely fantastic in this role. His performance was witty,
thrilling and poignant, and you just don't know how much I hate to
admit that about something Patinkin did. But I have to acknowledge it: he's
the best thing about this movie.
The above-cited actors got the spirit of the piece right; they combined
earnestness with the correct measure of campiness. Patinkin's acting seemed
to channel Father Guido Sarducci via Tony Montana in Scarface; I half-expected him to introduce me to his little friend.
As over the top as some of this could be, it fit nicely into the tenor of
However, not all of the performance shine. Wright seems drab and lifeless
as Princess Buttercup; she's a decently-attractive woman (though I admit she
doesn't do a lot for me) but her acting lacked any spirit. Although I like
Wallace Shawn, something about his performance here was genuinely
irritating. Granted, it was supposed to be that way, as his character is
more-than-slightly arrogant and obnoxious. However, Shawn's work rubbed me
the wrong way, and I really wish he'd toned down the schtick.
Finally, André the Giant fit his role in a physical sense, but the guy
couldn't act to save his life (which may be why he's no longer with us).
>From his stiff presence to his insanely-inarticulate speech - André makes
Mushmouth on Fat Albert sound like Olivier - the Giant is a bust. I
guess when you need a huge dude for your movie, you don't have many choices,
but André reached his peak when he played Sasquatch on The Secret of
Despite some of those performances, the good outweighs the bad in The
Princess Bride. It's a charming and delightful little film that offers
a fun and generally inoffensive experience.
The Princess Bride appears in both its original theatrical aspect
ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this
double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has not been
enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was viewed for this
article. While the movie looks very good for the most part, a few niggling
flaws keep it from being genuinely fine.
Sharpness generally seems pretty crisp and clear, but mild softness
interferes with the image from time to time; this is nothing severe, but
occasional shots were less well-defined than I'd like. Moiré effects and
jagged edges were not an issue, but print flaws were a frequent nuisance.
The picture displayed light grain on occasion, and I noticed a fair amount
of gritty black speckles. Add in some white spots plus a few nicks and
blotches and you have an image that appeared decent but was disappointingly
Colors came across as wonderfully vivid and lush, however; the fairytale
costumes look bold and bright and often provided some of the movie's most
lovely images. Black levels were evident mainly through costumes as well,
and they also appeared deep and rich. Shadow detail was a minor
consideration but it seemed appropriate. All in all, TPB looks
pretty good, but the mild softness and the moderate print flaws knock it
down to a "B".
Better is the film's surprisingly satisfying Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
The soundfield seemed strongly oriented toward the forward channels. The
surrounds appeared limited to some music and the occasional ambient effect;
they worked especially nicely during the scenes that take place on ships,
which offer some solid creaking sounds to accentuate the experience. Other
than those exceptions, however, it's a forward affair, and a fairly good one
at that. The front channels gave us a good stereo image that seemed
relatively lively. The soundfield isn't exceptional, but it appears very
acceptable for a film from 1987.
What grants TPB its "B+" grade, however, is the strong quality of the
audio. Dialogue seemed slightly weak at times, as I occasionally heard some
mild edginess, but it generally appeared warm and natural. A few scenes
sounded obviously dubbed, but most integrated the speech neatly into the
mix. Intelligibility was occasionally an issue due to some accents,
especially that of André the Giant; his mumbly voice made me really peeved
MGM didn't include English subtitles on the DVD. (It does have closed
captioning in addition to French and Spanish subtitles, though.)
Effects were consistently crisp and clear, with no audible distortion, and
few times we witnessed some nice bass as well, such as during the trek
through the Fire Swamp; when the flames burst, they did so with splendid
emphasis. Best of the mix is the terrific reproduction of Mark Knopfler's
score. It sounded clean and smooth and also came with some excellent low
end; the dynamic range of the music seemed much better than I'd expect from
a moderately old film. Although the limited scope of the soundtrack let me
rate it no higher than a "B+", the fine quality of the audio will surely
The biggest disappointment in regard to this DVD comes from its paucity of
supplemental features. All we find are a trailer - one that gives away far
too much of the story and the better gags, by the way, so don't watch it
until after you view the movie - and a "collectible booklet". To be sure,
MGM produce some of the best booklets in the business; check out the strong
texts found with any of the Bond DVDs to see what I mean. The booklet with TPB is interesting
but a bit weak.
It took me 13 years to see The Princess Bride, but I'm glad I finally
did so. I can't say that the movie dazzled me, but it seemed fun and
creative and made for a very pleasant experience. The DVD presents
generally good picture and sound, though it provides virtually no
supplemental features. The film's legions of fans will be mostly happy with
this DVD, though I think more ambivalent parties may want to rent it first.
Footnote: A newer special edition of The Princess Bride now exists on DVD. The package
provides a superior visual image plus a fine mix of extras. The only
concern is that it comes with a list price that's $10 higher. I think fans
of the film will be pleased enough with the improvements that it'll be worth
the extra money.