THE PRINCESS BRIDE (25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION) – Blu-ray review

As you wish?

Maybe. But there seem to be as many editions of “The Princess Bride” as there are Dread Pirate Roberts. There was the initial release, then two-disc “Buttercup” or “Dread Pirate Roberts” editions that were offered in 2006, then a 20th Anniversary Collector’s edition in 2007, then a Blu-ray combo pack in 2009, followed by a no-frills Blu-ray in 2011. And now we’ve got this 25th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray.

I can’t help but wonder, though, is there anyone who hasn’t bought this Rob Reiner classic?  If so and you’re wondering whether to get the new 25th Anniversary Blu-ray or the Blu-ray combo pack, let me say that the transfer looks to be exactly the same. And the only new feature is “True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon,” a two-part 30-minute retrospective featuring a reunion with director Reiner and his two romantic leads, Robin Wright and Cary Elwes, and new cast interviews with Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest. Fan encounters are also thrown in, as are tributes and parodies. It’s a fun feature, but it might come down to whether you prefer bonus features or the one-package combo with both the DVD and Blu-ray.

The large number of editions is ironic, given that Reiner complained on one of the original bonus features that “The Princess Bride” wasn’t marketed when it first appeared in theaters, and he was afraid that it would become another “Wizard of Oz”—meaning, a great film that fizzles at the box office and becomes a classic only over time. In the case of “The Princess Bride,” that happened when it was released on VHS. While it’s not exactly the yellow brick road revisited, new cast interviews rolled into the bonus features confirm that it has indeed become a classic. Everywhere the stars go, people still talk about the film. That’s not bad for something made 25 years ago, and Mandy Pantinkin, who plays Inigo, the Spaniard wanting revenge on the man who killed his father (Christopher Guest), isn’t ashamed to get teary-eyed over it.

I was going to save this for my “bottom line,” but why wait? If you don’t have this title, in your collection already and you have a budding young princess or swashbuckler in the family, you need to add one of the Blu-rays to your family’s video stronghold . . . if I may be so bold.

No more rhyming, I mean it!
(Anybody want a peanut?!)

By now you’re probably familiar with the story in this film. A grandfather (Peter Falk) visits his sick grandson (Fred Savage) and insists on reading him a story that has all sorts of excitement in it. The story also has kissing . . .

Inconceivable!

. .  . but the grandfather persists. Folklore and Fairy Tale expert Jack Zipes is onboard again for this edition, and the renowned scholar calls “The Princess Bride” a “fractured fairy tale” in the tradition of those old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” entries, adding that it’s also a gentle spoof of “true love” that still has a tremendous feel-good ending. This film tries to have it both ways, and miraculously succeeds in poking fun of the genre while also reveling in the romantic, fairy-tale structure.

The story concerns Buttercup (Wright), a village girl who gets her kicks out of life from ordering around a farm boy named Wesley (Elwes), who says “as you wish” each time he obeys. Of course, he really means “I love you,” as she comes to learn, but he leaves to find his fortune and is later rumored to have been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Meanwhile, Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) has announced that Buttercup is the peasant woman he’ll marry, which inspires three hooligans . . .

Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?  MORONS.

. . . to kidnap the princess-to-be and make it look like the work of a rival kingdom. It’s these three goofballs–Wallace Shawn as the “brains,” Andre the Giant as the brawn, and Patinkin as the swordsman–that make this tale the tongue-in-cheek success that it is.  Their interaction is hilarious, especially with someone following them–and not just the Prince and his six-fingered henchman. It’s the Dread Pirate Roberts (Elwes), who has to be stopped even if it means having the giant throw gigantic rocks at his head.

My way is not very sporting.

The tone is flat-out perfect in this film, with the cast somehow managing to juggle the comedy, romance, and adventure, while the cutaways to the grandfather reading the story reinforce that this film is a celebration of storytelling itself.

Have fun stormin’ the castle!

Billy Crystal and Carol Kane are hilarious as Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie, who help revive Wesley for the film’s big finale. There’s enough in this movie to hold a young boy’s interest–R.O.U.S’s (rodents of unusual size), giants, screaming eels, pits of despair, cliffs of insanity, fireswamps, torture, quicksand, and swordfights that rival any of the swashbucklers–and there’s enough kissing, damsels in distress, and true love to keep little girls happy. In this way too, “The Princess Bride” has it both ways and just seems to get better with every passing year.  In a previous documentary, Patinkin called it “The Wizard of Oz” of our generation. And that’s not an inconceivable way to describe it.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

It does, it does. And if you haven’t guessed, all of these pull-outs from the film are intended to illustrate that “The Princess Bride” is also probably one of the most quotable films in the last 25 years. Get it, or you’ll feel culturally deprived. Like the waitress at a diner where I ate, wearing my t-shirt with the screened nametag that read, “HI, MY NAME IS Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.” She just looked at it and said, “Are you in some kind of trouble?”

Ha ha! You Fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

Video:
As I said, the transfer seems to be the same one from previous Blu-ray releases, with the same menu screen and everything. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer looks fine to me, with the only inconsistencies being the level of grain and the lighting. Some of the scenes have more grain than others. While there’s no noise to speak of, the grain looks a bit nervous in some scenes, and some of the scenes also look a little soft or underlit—like the opening. But overall the Blu-ray is a vast improvement over the DVD. Colors are rich looking, and black levels seem stronger. For a catalogue title, it’s a nice presentation. As with the previous releases, the film is presented in 1.85:1 ratio and fills out the entire 16×9 screen.

Audio:
The audio is a robust English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with Spanish Dolby Digital Mono and French Dolby Digital 2.0 as options.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish (whereas the two-disc DVD also had French) Transferred at a 36MPBS rate to a 50-gig disc, the audio sounds faithful to the original theatrical presentation, but contemporary audiences will wonder why there isn’t more “pop” to the surround speakers during the film’s adventure sequences. The answer is that there has never been that kind of audio.

Extras:
In addition to the new 30-minute retrospective there are commentaries that originally appeared on the two-disc DVD featuring Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman. They’re pretty average, as commentaries go. Other bonus features come from the 20th Anniversary release as well.  On “The Untold Tales” featurette, cast members tell stories about their experiences in filming. And it sounded like a blast. They’d sing together, play games . . . kind of like camp. Jack Zipes appears in a “Fairy Tales and Folklore” featurette to tell how “The Princess Bride” satisfies and subverts the conventions of the fairy tale. And in “The Art of Fencing,” the swordmaster who taught the actors not to kill each other speaks into the camera and shows various weapons. This is integrated with clips of the swordfighting.

Missing from earlier releases is “The Princess Bride” game, and rounding out the bonus features are the documentaries “Love Is Like a Storybook,” “Miraculous Makeup,” “The Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Pirate of the Seven Seas,” and “As You Wish: The Story of The Princess Bride.” Fans of behind-the-scenes tours get “Cary Elwes Video Diary.”

Bottom Line:
Like “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Princess Bride” wasn’t heavily promoted and had disappointing box office returns. Both films had great casts who were ignored by Oscar voters and a great song that won an Academy Award. It’s tough to label anything as recent as a 1987 a classic, but “The Princess Bride” really fits the description. It’s at the same place, 25 years after its release, as “The Wizard of Oz”—a beloved favorite that’s been enjoyed, now, by more than a single generation. The screenplay by William Goldman, who won Oscars for “All the King’s Men” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” is as smart and entertaining as ever—even if we do have to keep choosing from different editions.

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