Princess Bride: 25th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray] (1987)

Actors: Wallace Shawn, Chris Sarandon, Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest
Format: AC-3, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
DVD Release Date: October 2, 2012
Run Time: 98 minutes




The Princess Bride’s reputation precedes it, which isn’t an entirely good thing. Its standing is such that too much pre-viewing hype can ruin it. Otherwise, the fractured fairy tale Rob Reiner and his crew assembled remains an absolute masterpiece, and its presentation on Blu-ray fully justifies another look . . . and just like that, I’m guilty of overhyping it again.

If you’ve somehow missed the tale of the dashing Westley (Care Elwes), his true love Buttercup (Robin Wright) over all these years, I commend you for finally escaping that cave in which you were trapped. Screenwriter William Goldman adapted the film from his own novel, delivering a “good parts version of the good parts version” that elegantly transposes the material to the big screen. Most of it comes straight from the book, as the sinister Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) and his much less sinister henchmen Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzig (Andre the Giant) abduct Buttercup in a complicated scheme to start a war between two feuding kingdoms. They’re pursued by a mysterious man in black . . . as well as Buttercup’s nasty fiancé Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) who has his own plans for the girl.

Reiner always knew how to handle ensemble casts, and he assembles a troupe here with an ideal touch for light comedy. Yet they don’t quite go all the way into parody, and therein lies the key to the film’s appeal. The humor runs quietly under the surface, in the well-timed delivery or the odd twinkle in the eye. Goldman’s script facilitates it, but Reiner’s genius lay in underplaying it rather than thrusting it in our faces.

That tactic grants the film a poignancy that more overt satires lack. For all of the gags and jabs and arch witticisms, The Princess Bride takes its scenario seriously. Westley and Buttercup truly love each other, Inigo thirsts for revenge, the Six-Fingered Man (Christopher Guest) is sadistic and cruel, and the cast never belittles the emotional cores of the story. Reiner deploys the funny stuff with exquisite precision: they generate the expected laughs and grease the rails for the more far-fetched elements (such as Westley’s return from death), but they never belittle the characters living through this adventure.

The Princess Bride deploys a final secret weapon in winning us over. The framing device, in which a crotchety grandfather (Peter Falk) reads the story to his sick grandson (Fred Savage), provides a perfect inroad to audience members not normally disposed to fairy tales. The fantasy genre can be tough for nonbelievers, especially if they need to swallow a lot of fictional history and backstory in the bargain. Savage evinces the same irritation and impatience as they do, and his slow-but-joyful surrender to the story’s charms presumably matches their own.

Like those skeptics, the film took its time to find an audience. It initially tanked at the box office, and most of its fans discovered it on video over the course of many years. Now they show it to their children, just like that other box office disappointment, The Wizard of Oz. The comparison may sound like a leap, but only just, and only because Wizard has had more time to seep into the culture. In another 25 years, who knows how close they’ll be? The Princess Bride has the strength to travel that distance: as good a romance, as good a comedy and as good a flat-out movie as anyone’s ever made.

THE DISC: Here’s where the trouble comes in. Fox already released a Blu-ray a couple of years ago, along with multiple DVD versions spread out over a decade. The image here is beautiful, with a sound to match, but the extra features are pretty much a carbon copy of earlier additions: a video diary from Cary Elwes on the set, a funny piece on the Dread Pirate Roberts, a short about fencing, a documentary on the make-up effects, several short discussions of fairy tales, a 10-minute behind-the-scenes doc, the trailer, and two audio commentaries form Reiner and Goldman respectively. Only a 30-minute 25th anniversary retrospective from the cast and crew is any different. It’s a hefty collection, but you’ll be repeating yourself if you already own it.

WORTH IT? In and of itself, it’s a fine set, especially with the reduced price (currently only $12 on Amazon). Owners of previous editions should beware, however: you’re not getting a whole lot that’s new.

RECOMMENDATION: The film ranks among the very best, but double-dipping isn’t necessary here. If you already own a Blu-ray copy, there’s no need to go back. If you don’t, the added clarity may be worth the investment. Just don’t expect anything more.

- Rob Vaux



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