Director Rob Reiner compares his fairytale adventure to The Wizard of Oz, saying no one knew quite what to do with it when it was in its theatrical release, but in time it became beloved — especially when it was distributed to home video. Perhaps that’s why MGM has seen fit to release The Princess Bride in a never-ending series of special editions, each with their own patchwork of new and recycled features.
The Blu-Ray version shares most of its content — along with its awesome ambigram cover — with 2007’s 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition DVD (minus the universally loathed DVD “video game”), but it also borrows liberally from 2006’s Dread Pirate Roberts/Buttercup editions. These featurettes are numerous and include some interesting insights on all aspects of the film — from Miracle Max’s makeup (going for a combination of Casey Stengel and Billy Crystal’s grandmother) to the fencing sequences to the traditions of fairytales and folklore present in the film — but, unfortunately, many are redundant, nothing is new, and almost all of them end with Peter Falk saying, “As you wish.”
Still, it’s not such a disappointment that nothing feels fresh in the Blu-Ray release. The Princess Bride is supposed to feel familiar and lived in. It’s the type of movie where you can pick it up on some days and watch 20 minutes before moving on to something else, while on other days you can find yourself sitting through it twice in a row. It’s just supposed to be there for you — and, in this Blu-Ray edition as with all the rest, the movie speaks for itself.
If you do manage to watch the extra features in favor of the movie (not recommended), you get the sense that everyone involved with the filmmaking was not just creating a fairytale, but that they were living out their own personal fantasies. Christopher Guest mentions that he was so youthfully exuberant during his swordfight scenes that he was even doing his own blade-clashing sound effects. Reiner had to tell him that they would add in the appropriate noises later, and that Guest had to stop.
Mandy Patinkin, in a very moving moment, explains that, like his character of Inigo Montoya, he had lost his father — and he imagined he was getting revenge on his father’s cancer when he was swordfighting the six-fingered man. Writer William Goldman was so into the story that, when Robin Wright Penn’s dress caught on fire in the fire swamp (the way it was supposed to), he screamed and ruined a take.
Penn herself says the movie is every woman’s fantasy, and Fred Savage says the cast was in a perpetual state of “childlike glee”. Knowing that the film means so much to those involved adds another strata to a story that’s already filled with layers — there’s the grandfather/grandson relationship developing in tandem with the journey of the multiple heroes in the fairytale story, etc. — and, no matter what level you’re engaging the film on, you walk away with a feeling of triumph.
The way in which these layers come together is the reason that The Princess Bride has been appealing to audiences consistently over the past two decades. Reiner and Goldman manage to marry timeless storytelling elements (a hero’s quest, a tale of true love conquering all, etc.) with modern comedic sensibilities (winking and satirical, without being ironic, sarcastic, or snarky) in such a way that it will never feel corny, old-fashioned, or dated. Patinkin paraphrases Reiner’s description of the movie as this: “It’s about a boy sick at home in Evanston, Illinois and his grandfather comes over to read him a book and tell him the most important thing in life is true love.”
How can any of that ever go out of style? Add in the good stuff, what the grandfather describes as, “fencing, fighting, torture, romance, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles,” and it’s hard to imagine the story turning anyone away.
It helps that the idea of passing on the tale is so ingrained into the story itself. When the grandfather opens the book, he tells his grandson that, “My father used to read this to me when I was sick, and I read it to your father, and now I’m going to read it to you.” In the same way, you can see passing along the movie of The Princess Bride down to a younger generation — perhaps with less cajoling than Falk had to do. So maybe we shouldn’t really fault MGM for parading The Princess Bride out on a new DVD every year or so if it means that someone new might pick it up.