Based on the novel by William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplay, Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride is a fantasy adventure filled with humor and romance that became an instant classic in the hearts of many who saw it.
When a young boy (Fred Savage) is sick in bed, his grandfather (Peter Falk) comes over to continue a family tradition by reading him The Princess Bride. The young man is not overly thrilled about having to sit through a romance, but he gives his grandfather the benefit of the doubt. The film then cuts to the book’s story introducing the young lovers Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes), which the young boy isn’t interested in as his voice-over commentary makes clear. Westley sets sail to make his fortune, but off screen he encounters the Dread Pirate Roberts, “who never left captives alive.”
Five years later, Prince Humperdinck (Chris Saradon) of Florin announces he is going to wed Buttercup in a month. However, she is kidnapped by Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), who intends to start a war by framing the country of Guilder for her murder. His assistants, the giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and the great swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) who has sworn vengeance on the six-fingered man who killed his father, don’t like his plan to murder an innocent girl. During their journey, she jumps into eel-infested waters, and just before one strikes her, the film cuts back to the bedroom with the grandfather revealing she is going to be all right in order to soothe his grandson’s nerves.
Back to the story, a man in black disrupts Vizzini’s plan, later revealed to be that of someone else, and makes off with Buttercup. Even before he quizzes her about her feelings for the Prince and Westley, the audience should key into his identity, but it is revealed soon enough as the latter who has returned. But the reunion is brief, as the Prince and his men surround them. Buttercup agrees to return with the Prince and marry him if Westley is released to which the Prince pretends to agree. Westley, along with his new allies, Fezzik and Inigo, strive to rescue the Buttercup.
Goldman’s script is both smart, funny, and due in part to the line delivery by the talented cast, filled with memorable dialogue that is still frequently quoted over 30 years later. The fantasy story is strong on its own, but the framing device of the story being told elevates it as both stories are about love, romantic love in the fantasy and familial love in the modern day. The crew created a realistic medieval world in an effortless manner.
According to the liner notes, “This new 4K digital transfer was created in 16-bit resolution on a Northlight film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative at Deluxe in Burbank, California, and restored using the 1997 Criterion laserdisc master, supervised and approved by associate producer Steve Nicolaides.” While the film is available in a clear case that many Criterion Blu-rays come in, there is also a deluxe packaging option where the disc is housed in a hardcover book
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film exhibits bold colors, from the greens of the foliage to the many bright hues seen in the different fabrics. The blacks are inky as seen in mystery man’s costume. Fine texture details can be seen in structures, like the Cliffs of Insanity, and costumes. The image is clean with varying degrees of noticeable film grain.
The audio is available in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue is clear for the most part, although it takes a moment to get used to Andre’s voice. [Yes, that] Mark Knopfler’s score has good clarity and can be heard in the surrounds as can occasional ambiance, although the effects make more use of the front speaker than they do the rears. The track has a wide dynamic range with blades slicing the air on the quiet end and with the rumble of “The Machine” on the loud end, augmented by the subwoofer. The tracks are mixed well together.
The extras come from an assortment of releases, past and present. An audio commentary by Criterion from 1997 features director Rob Reiner, writer William Goldman, producer Andrew Scheinman, and actors Billy Crystal and Peter Falk in separate interviews edited together. Excerpts from the 1987 Dove Entertainment audiobook, read by Reiner, were edited by Criterion in 1997 to accompany the film. Right from the start, the viewer can see changes as the narrator is looking for a college football game on the radio in 1941 while on screen a young man is playing a video game and is visited by his grandfather instead of his father.
“True Love” (HD, 15 min) – In 2012, Reiner, Elwes and Wright discuss the film 25 years later. “Pure Enchantment” (HD, 7 min) – From 2018, Loren-Paul Caplin, writer and adjunct professor of screenwriting at Columbia University, discusses the screenplay and Goldman’s work. “The Tapestry” (HD, 15 min) – From 2018, a detailed look at the medieval-style tapestry commissioned by Goldman, who narrates, to illustrate scenes from his novel. Scenes from the film are shown as well
“Making the Film” is a six-part SD feature. “As You Wish” (27 min) is a 2001 documentary with cast interviews. “The Princess Bride: The Untold Tales” (9 min) from 2007 features the cast telling favorite memories. “Fairy-Tale Reality” (12 min) from 2018 presents art director Richard Holland talking about his work on the film. “Miraculous Makeup” (11 min) from 2006 has Crystal and makeup artist Peter Montagna talking about creation of Miracle Max. There are five “Behind the Scenes” (20 min) videos shot during production with optional commentaries from 1997 by Scheinman, Crystal, and Reiner. Last is “Cary Elwes Video Diary” (4 min).
The Art of Fencing (SD, 7 min) – From 2007, Hollywood sword master Robert Goodwin pays tribute to Bob Anderson, The Princess Bride‘s sword master. Fairy Tales & Folklore (SD, 9 min) – Also from 2007, scholar Jack Zipes discusses how fairy tale tropes were used in the film. There are also two Trailers and four TV Spots. There is also an excerpt in the liner notes from William Goldman’s Four Screenplays about “how the novel The Princess Bride happened.”
Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride is so well crafted it is equally one of the best comedies, one of the best adventures, and one of the best love stories. This Criterion release delivers pleasing high-def video, satisfying though limited high-def audio, and a wonderful collection of extras to learn more about the film. It deserves a place on your shelf, especially in hard cover.