The Princess Bride appeared in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was the third DVD release of Bride and it offered the most satisfying transfer.
Sharpness seemed very good. The movie consistently looked crisp and detailed, and I saw no signs of fuzziness. Moiré effects and jagged edges were not an issue, and I saw no indications of edge enhancement. During the old discs, print flaws appeared, but they vanished for the 2006 version. It lacked any form of source defects.
All three releases shared similarly terrific hues. Colors came across as wonderfully vivid and lush. The fairytale costumes looked 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, the movie looked great.
The 2006 edition duplicated the same Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack found on the two prior DVDs of The Princess Bride. That was fine with me, as I found the audio on the old disc to provide a surprisingly satisfying experience. The soundfield seemed strongly oriented toward the forward channels, while the surrounds appeared limited to some music and the occasional ambient effect. They worked especially nicely during the scenes that took place on ships, which offered some solid creaking sounds to accentuate the experience. Other than those exceptions, however, it was a forward affair, and a fairly good one at that. The front channels gave us a solid stereo image that seemed relatively lively. The soundfield wasn't exceptional, but it appears very acceptable for a film from 1987.
What granted Bride its "B+" grade, however, was 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.
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 was 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 really worked well.
When the old DVD of The Princess Bride appeared in July 2000, fans slammed it for two main reasons: the lack of an anamorphic transfer, and a paucity of supplements. The 2001 special edition rectified both problems, and the 2006 version expands on the extras found on its predecessor. I’ll note any new features with an asterisk, so if you don’t see a star, the element already appeared on the 2001 special edition.
On DVD One, we open with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Rob Reiner. To paraphrase Keith Richards, I know I’m going to heaven because I did my time in hell. Keith went through drug horrors, I’ve listened to a number of solo audio commentaries from Reiner - who experienced the more severe pain? I suffered his banal and borderline useless remarks during The Story of Us, Stand By Me, and A Few Good Men. I’m back in Reiner action with Bride, and I must admit I dreaded the prospect of another mind-numbingly dull excursion through his mind.
Did this commentary live down to my expectations? Happily, no. While Reiner didn’t come through with a genuinely strong track, this one was clearly a vast improvement over his prior discussions.
The commentary still suffered from a number of empty spaces, and these intensified as the movie progressed. During the first half, Reiner seemed quite chatty, but he had relatively little to say through the movie’s third act. Still, he added some decent information to the mix, and he seemed much more interested and involved than during prior commentaries. While his remarks for The Princess Bride weren’t scintillating, Reiner’s commentary did offer a fairly entertaining and informative experience - finally!
For the second commentary, we hear from writer William Goldman in a running, fairly screen-specific affair. Goldman’s commentary suffered from a few too many empty spaces, but they didn’t reach Reinerian proportions, and the high quality of his remarks made up for any pauses.
It was a somewhat scattered piece, which is why I called it “fairly screen-specific”; Goldman often stuck with subjects that related to the action, but he also went off onto a number of tangents. However, that was fine with me, for he delivered a lot of useful notes. He talked about the history of the project and compared the film to the book. He also covered many aspects of the production and even went into other experiences; for example, he discussed Misery, another collaboration with Reiner. Goldman even told a few funny anecdotes, such as the reason he shouldn’t be allowed on movie sets. Overall, this was an imperfect but generally very entertaining track.
One complaint about the Goldman piece and any other that meets these criteria: someone else obviously interviewed him for the material. However, we never heard from this person, even though it was obvious he was there. This made some of Goldman’s remarks seem choppy and abrupt; they would have flowed more smoothly if we took in the original questions. Perhaps there’s some good reason the other participant was omitted, but it makes no sense to me.
DVD One finishes with Photo Galleries that provide 88 images. These split into 11 different sections, each of which has between three and 15 frames. The piece mixes movie stills, publicity shots, behind the scenes photos and some ads, and it seems like a fairly satisfying collection.
Shifting to DVD Two, all of the extras show up in themed areas. Under Fire Swamp, we get two documentaries. *Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas lasts 11 minutes, 42 seconds and examines the real-life predecessor of the movie character. We hear from Huntington Library Director of Research Robert C. Ritchie, Cambridge University Professor of British History EL Rawscey, “No Quarter Given” editor Christine Markel Lampe, and author Gail Selinger. They examine the factual Roberts and compare him with the film’s version. This is an interesting and informative piece.
Note that one of the above-named participants isn’t a real historian. I won’t say more than that so I don’t ruin the fun, but it’s pretty clear that one of the speakers is actually an actor from Bride in disguise.
Called As You Wish, the second documentary runs 27 minutes and 10 seconds. We hear from director Reiner, writer Goldman, and actors Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, and Fred Savage; there was also some 1987 footage from folks like Andre the Giant.
My biggest complaint about “As You Wish” clearly revolved around its length. Actually, I was surprised to discover it ran for nearly half an hour; if flew by so quickly that I thought it was much shorter. That’s because it was a fine little program that provided a wealth of fun information about the film. Much of the material from Reiner and Goldman repeated statements heard in their commentaries, but the new participants more than compensated for any redundancies. The footage from the set was uniformly interesting, and the interview subjects nicely described the film’s genesis and its progress plus a lot of great anecdotes. It should have been longer, but “As You Wish” was still a fine documentary.
Found inside Battle of Wits, we get one component: a *Quotable Battle of Wits quiz. This throws 10 questions at you, all of which revolve around lines from the movie. It’s reasonably easy and provides no fun reward at the end.
Pit of Despair offers ads. We get both the theatrical and international trailers as well as four TV Spots. When we go to *Previews, we discover clips for The Pink Panther Film Collection, The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection, The Pink Panther (2006), Fun with Dick and Jane and The Premiere Frank Capra DVD Collection.
DVD Two ends in Lotharon’s Castle. A new featurette called *Love is Like a Storybook Story fills 16 minutes, 42 seconds with notes from Columbia University’s Helen Pilinovsky, author/screenwriter David Pesci, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Veronica Schanoes. The program examines the history and nature of fairy tales. It also looks at how Bride fits into those traditions. This becomes a reasonably introspective and intriguing piece.
Another new piece, *Miraculous Makeup takes up 11 minutes, 21 seconds. As implied by the title, it looks at how they transformed Billy Crystal into Miracle Max. We get comments from Crystal and makeup artist Peter Montagna, They tell us what look they pursued and how they did it. We also see footage of Crystal as Montagna applied the makeup. It’s a tight little show with plenty of good facts.
The source of some “behind the scenes” footage found elsewhere appears in Cary Elwes’ Video Diary. This three-minute and 55-second piece provided raw video footage, mainly shot by the actor himself. On top of this we heard remarks about the movie. Most of these came from new interviews with Elwes, but there was also some fun “vintage” interaction between him and Robin Wright. Again, this piece’s only shortcoming related to its length; I could have watched much more of it.
Two 1987 featurettes also appear. One is called the Original 1987 Featurette, while the other is titled the Vintage Making Of. Both programs were fairly similar. They combined lots of film clips with fine material from the set - much of which also appeared in “As You Wish” and the “Video Diary” - with then-contemporary interviews. The six-minute and 50-second “Vintage” includes chats with Goldman, Reiner, production designer Norman Garwood, stunt coordinator Peter Diamond, and actors Billy Crystal and Carol Kane. The seven-minute and 55-second “Original” retains Reiner, Kane, and Crystal and it added actors Sarandon, Patinkin, and Wallace Shawn.
Both shows are superficial and clearly promotional, but they still provide some interesting notes. “Vintage” is more compelling because it focuses more on the creation of the film and less on its narrative. The interview snippets are decent but unexceptional, and the program works simply because of all the good material from the set.
As I alluded, “Original” concentrates more strongly on a recap of the plot and a discussion of the characters, which made it dull at times. However, it still includes some nice footage from the shoot, and the soundbites are a little more entertaining. If nothing else it merits a look to see Patinkin interviewed while in character.
Finally, the package includes a *booklet called “Fezzik’s Guide to Florin”. It pretends to offer a travel brochure for Florin and tosses out a few notes about the movie’s spots. It’s a cute little piece.
During my three viewings of The Princess Bride, I maintained the same reaction. It was a very fun and charming little movie that may not merit its stellar reputation, but it remained consistently delightful nonetheless. This 2006 release provided the same audio heard on the two prior packages, but it improved picture and also added a few nice extras. The latter weren’t good enough to alter the “A-“ I gave to the 2001 SE – honestly, I probably gave that one too high a mark – but the new supplements add a few good components.
If you don’t own either prior Bride DVD or if you only have the non-anamorphic “movie-only” set from 2000, definitely snag this 2006 release. If you already possess the 2001 SE, though, my recommendation for an upgrade is less conclusive. Yeah, this one’s a little stronger in terms of picture and extras, but I don’t think there’s enough of a change to warrant a new purchase.
Note: fans will find both a “Buttercup Edition” and a “Dread Pirate Roberts Edition” of Bride on the shelves. I believe these are the same DVDs but they come in different packaging. I don’t think there’s anything else unique to one or the other.
To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of THE PRINCESS BRIDE