[6 August 2008]
Remember when Rob Reiner was fun? MGM sure does. Perhaps that’s why they’ve released his near-perfect fantasy romp The Princess Bride not once, not twice, but five times in the last eight years. The film was listed by Time magazine as “one of the best of ‘87”, and by Total Film magazine as “the 38th greatest comedy of all time.”
But can the place of 38th ever capture the essence of a cult classic which served, for years, as the acceptable favorite film of fantasy junkies and medievalists across the nation? Somehow seizing upon every motif of romantic comedy and fantasy of the collective unconsciousness, the film’s parodic overtones steer it from the cliché to the nearly archetypal.
Compulsively re-watchable, The Princess Bride follows the exploits of a buxom Buttercup and the besotted Wesley. Torn apart when Wesley is killed at sea trying to find treasure, Buttercup is snapped up by the heir to the local throne, an unfortunately named Prince Humperdink. Without giving too much of a play by play, the beauty is kidnapped before the wedding, rescued by a mysterious Man in Black who turns out to be her mustached lover, and expectedly, the possibility of coitus is interrupted by giant rats, Humperdink, and a six-fingered vizier. Her beloved Wesley pairs with a Greenlandish giant and a temperamental Spaniard, and the trio battle forth to win the girl, reap vengeance, and ride off into the sunset.
All this is framed by a storybook narrative, with the perfectly cast Fred Savage standing in for the blooming sexuality and precocious innocence of all children of the ‘80s. Ah, and in one of the real climaxes of the plot, the hero must be revivified by a Billy Crystal weighed down by a nest of prosthetic warts.
The 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, the most recent of MGM’s serial re-issuing of the film for home video, has extra featurettes that fumble in an attempt to cater to a post-print generation of fans. While earlier features had charming video diaries and a quaint guide to the setting of Florin, this edition contains a click and point video game that is amusing only for the near-illiterate, and some pseudo-documentary film shorts.
Highlights include a brief clip in the short The Art of Fencing, where Christopher Guest (Six Fingered Man) dryly quips that Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya) on more than one occasion stabbed him during rehearsal. (While watching the interviews with all living actors, I did wonder where in the world Cary Elwes had gone. The Brit, who also played Robin Hood in Robin Hood, Men in Tights, was a heartthrob of unusual proportions, but to my distress, was last seen with a tragic agglomeration of head-fat and getting chopped up in Saw.)
All in all, the Dread Pirate Roberts/Princess Buttercup edition from 2006 contains a lot more extras, so you may want to ditch this edition and backpedal to the earlier release. Regardless, the issuing of the edition nicks at a wound in all our minds—will Rob Reiner return to that warm, welcoming cradle of parody and kitsch?
The Princess Bride made itself modern through that little smidgen of precocious reflexivity, and a healthy does of kitsch is what made Reiner’s other comedic bests, Spinal Tap and When Harry Met Sally so immaculate. Oh, Rob Reiner, would it be so inconceivable to never again work with David Spade or Jennifer Aniston, and return to the Mel Brooksian humor of the good ol’ ‘80s?