Release Date(s)1987 (October 30, 2018)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox/Sony Pictures/MGM (Criterion - Spine #948)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect and satisfying film than The Princess Bride. It only did modest business at the box office upon its initial release, but continues to thrive, thanks mainly to viewers who share it with their children and their grandchildren. What, on the surface, appears to be a simple fairytale about a damsel in distress and a dashing, young man setting out to save her, turns out to be a perfect compendium of love, comedy, drama, spoof, and swashbuckling, all within the confines of a story read to a sick little boy by his grandfather.
Along with films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Ghostbusters, The Princess Bride is also one of the most quoted films of all time, thanks in no small part to story creator and screenwriter William Goldman, who layers the script with sharp dialogue and witty banter. Lines such as “Inconceivable!”, “As you wish”, “Have fun storming the castle!”, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”, and “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” continue to be plastered across t-shirts and social media memes to this day.
Every cast member is perfect in their part, including Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, André the Giant, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Christopher Guest, Peter Cook, Fred Savage, and Peter Falk – not a bum note in the house, as they say. It’s also a film that could have been made by other filmmakers had it worked out. Richard Lester, Francois Truffaut, Robert Redford, and Norman Jewison were all attached to the project at one time or another, but unbeknownst to them, Rob Reiner had also wanted to adapt the story; as he was fresh off of This is Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing, he was welcomed with open arms.
Besides the obvious of what makes The Princess Bride such an endlessly appealing film, it’s also thoroughly authentic. It’s not a spoof in the sense that people are riding horses with coconuts or searching for shrubberies, and the settings and situations are classic in and of themselves, but the aesthetic fabric, including real castles with tapestries, medieval armor, horses, and large, open valleys, drop you firmly into a world where folks might say clever things about it, but never poke fun at it. You also have two incredibly gorgeous people who are completely in love and you grow to like them. When they are torn asunder, you’re rooting for them to be reunited. With stunning cinematography by Adrian Biddle, a wonderful score by Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits, and strong direction from Reiner (one of cinema’s greatest chameleons), The Princess Bride is truly a magical film.
The Princess Bride has been released on Blu-ray a couple of times before, but Criterion’s new 4K restoration is a marvel. The film has never looked any better, and the only way to improve upon it would be to release it in 4K. Grain levels are thoroughly even and film-like, giving it the appearance of a typical film shot in the late 1980s, but depth and detail are remarkably enhanced. The film’s color palette has also been given a boost, breathing more life into the proceedings with hues that pop off the screen, such as the red of Buttercup’s dress or the green of the grassy landscapes. Skin textures and tones are excellent, black levels are deep, and contrast is virtually perfect. Everything appears bright, well-defined, and stable without any leftover dirt or debris. It’s a flawless presentation. The sole audio option is an English 5.1 DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between this track and what came before it, but that’s not a bad thing. Everything is well-separated, including perfect dialogue levels and a crisp-sounding score. Sound effects even have some LFE baked into them, and although there aren’t many instances of panning, ambient activity is frequent and there are no signs of distortion. It would have been nice to have had the film’s original soundtrack as an option, but the 5.1 track is a fine representation overall.
The supplemental section manages to cull together a nice selection of material, but there are some notable absences, including a couple from Criterion’s 1997 Laserdisc. Featured here is the 1997 audio commentary with director Rob Reiner, writer William Goldman, producer Andrew Scheinman, and actors Billy Crystal and Peter Falk; 1987 audiobook excerpts from the original novel read by Rob Reiner, also from 1997; True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon - A Conversation with Rob Reiner, Cary Elwes, and Robin Wright, which is a 15-minute discussion about their memories of making the film; Pure Enchantment, a new 18-minute featurette on the film’s screenplay by writer and professor Loren-Paul Caplin; The Princess Bride: Tapestry, a 7-minute look at a tapestry inspired by the book that was created at the request of author William Goldman; a section entitled Making the Film, which brings together several making-of videos, including As You Wish: The Story of The Princess Bride, a 28-minute documentary about the making of the film; the 9-minute The Princess Bride: Untold Tales; Fairy-Tale Reality, a 12-minute piece with art director Richard Holland; Miraculous Make-Up: Creating Miracle Max, a 12-minute piece with Billy Crystal and make-up artist Peter Montanga; five separate behind the scenes videos with optional audio commentary (On the High Seas with producer Andrew Scheinman, Fezzik, Vizzini, and Buttercup with Billy Crystal, Westley and Fezzik with Scheinman, Miracle Max’s Hut with Crystal, and Buttercup, The King, and The Queen with Rob Reiner); and Cary Elwes Video Diary, which is 4 minutes of behind the scenes footage, narrated by both Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. Also included is The Art of Fencing, a 7-minute piece that pays tribute to sword fights in the film by sword master Robert Goodwin; Fairy Tales & Folklore, a 10-minute piece from 2007 by film scholar Jack Zipes; the U.S. and international trailers; and 4 TV spots. All of this material is housed in lovely book-like packaging with 34 pages of content, including the essays Let Me Sum Up by Sloane Crosley and How it All Happened by William Goldman, as well as restoration details.
With a film that’s been released as many times on home video as The Princess Bride has, there’s bound to be extras that fall by the wayside on newer editions, and Criterion’s new Blu-ray is no exception. Missing from their Laserdisc release is a production scrapbook by unit photographer Clive Coote, a set of sketches by production designer Norman Garwood, and excerpts from the TV series Morton and Hayes, which was directed by Christopher Guest. Missing from the MGM 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is an audio commentary with director Rob Reiner, another audio commentary with writer William Goldman, and a set of featurettes (Entering the Zeitgeist, Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas, Love is Like a Storybook, a 1987 promotional featurette, a 1987 making-of featurette, and Meet Professor Rawscey!). Missing from the MGM 20th Anniversary Edition DVD is True Love and High Adventure: The Official Princess Bride DVD Game. And last but not least, missing from the Sony Pictures’ Buttercup Edition and Dread Pirate Edition DVD release are 11 photo galleries and a Quotable Quotes interactive game. I personally would have preferred a two-disc edition of the film that could have incorporated most of this material on a second disc, but those of you who are die-hard fans and own any of these releases might want to hang onto them a little while longer.
Criterion’s release of The Princess Bride is more than welcome for the A/V quality, and any chance I get to revisit the film is ok by me. It’s a beautiful package and, despite having been released many times before, comes as a Highly Recommended purchase.
– Tim Salmons