by Brad Nelson
I once said that this was one of the top 500 movies of all time. Rather than this being a slight, remember that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of movies have been made since the invention of motion pictures. If I called you one of the top 1000 people on earth, you might well receive that as a compliment if you consider that there are over 4 billion people alive today.
But I was wrong about this being in the top 500. Let me explain why.
The Princess Bride is a movie that has so many things that we like in movies. It has adventure, romance, swashbuckling, intrigue, castles, fair maidens, magic, pirates, giants, and a good story that ties them all together into a truly watchable and re-watchable film.
It also avoids most of the tiresome cliches. If you don’t want spoilers, stop here, although I’m assuming most have seen this movie. If not, stop reading and go watch. In The Princess Bride, the villain stays dead and doesn’t magically reappear again and again extending the film needlessly and tagging on sequel-begging endings. In The Princess Bride, when someone is stabbed or hurt, they stay stabbed or hurt and aren’t magically healed in the next scene.
This is even an agile film. One of the villains (the young Spaniard, Inigo Montoya) remains not the stereotypical scoundrel but morphs into something more noble even while the hero of the story (Westley) for a time morphs into a pirate who has a rough edge and probably a rougher background we can mostly just guess at. And the fair “one true love” maiden isn’t always so faithful. Imagine that, character development in what at first glance would appear to be a rather typical one-dimensional fairy tale.
Wow, and I really liked that scene where the fleet of multi-colored dragons breathing special-effects fire stormed down from the special-effects clouds and ravaged the special-effects castle that then crumbled to the ground in special-effects glory.
Oh…wait. That didn’t happen. In fact, I can’t remember if there were any special effects…always the mark of a filmmaker who puts story and characters over glitz, as is the case in The Princess Bride. There are great sets, great costumes, and some pleasing stunts, for sure, but no CGI dragons. And this movie is the better for it.
And who can ever forget that pair of cute, rapscallion, always-ready-with-a-witty-comment token kids who are tagging along just to keep the kiddies in the audience interested? Oh…wait. There aren’t any of those either. Praise the movie gods.
This was, on the face of it, rather an adult film where adventure and sometimes quite intelligent humor was placed ahead of ticking off all the things that modern filmmakers think every film must have to attract the maximum demographic including kiddies and Jackasses. Such a method tends to only ever give us lowest common denominator films.
Even so, despite my effusive praise, this film does not belong in the top 500 of all time.
One of the more pleasing aspects of The Princess Bride is that it is a story framed within another story. Fred Savage (who plays the grandson) is home sick for the day and his grandfather (played by Peter Falk) stops by to read him a story, a story called “The Princess Bride.” At first, Savage plays the typical young boy of that day and of our day — bored to tears with anything so old-fashioned as a book, especially one that contains kissing. Yuck. But Savage is slowly drawn in and by the end of the movie he won’t let grandpa stop. Both these actors anchor this film and make this aspect of it work splendidly.
But the main problem with The Princess Bride is that it won’t willingly fit neatly into any modern category. It — I’m aghast to say — treats the audience as if romance, adventure, danger, intrigue, conflict, and humor were things good enough in themselves (if well done) to create a good movie. I kept thinking, “Where are my camera shakes? Where are my quick cuts? I need my freneticism!”
This movie is based upon a very good book, but that fact alone can’t necessarily protect it from moviemakers reaching into their bag of cliches or drowning the story in unnecessary and excessive special effects.
In short, to make a really fine film means respecting that the audience are not a bunch of nose-picking idiots who will respond only to tired cliches, over-the-top violence, and/or effusive CGI. It also means that the filmmaker must subordinate his own narrow predilections to the purposes of telling a faithful story. That is, he must put artfulness above the kind of shallow, hollow, product-placement-oriented films that George Lucas has ruined himself on. Frankly, we’re running short of people in Hollywood who can do what Rob Reiner has done here.
The problem with The Princess Bride, from a tradition perspective, is that it’s not a marketing vehicle for Pepsi, for Reese’s Pieces, or is intended to spin-off a series of theme park rides or video games. It’s not an “important” film that makes a pressing “social statement.” And it’s not a film that seeks to spawn an unending chain of half-wit, half-baked sequels. It’s just a movie. It’s only a movie.
It’s therefore the kind of movie we all used to love as kids — and as adults — until many of the filmmakers themselves forgot that the audience’s one true love was to be entertained and to be taken away into imaginative places and to be thrilled with adventures that need not be measured in BBPM (buckets of blood per minute).
So, in retrospect, The Princess Bride fits not in the top 500 films of all time but in the top 100, perhaps even in the top 75. It is a film that captures the magic that only movies, when well done, can create. I anoint it with 4.1 can’t-understand-what-the-hell-the-giant-is-mumbling’s out of 5. A classic. Good film making is only mostly dead. • (1584 views)