Catching Up with Classics: The Princess Bride (1987)

Four months into 2020 and it feels like we’ve all aged five years. Back when I planned out my year-long feature at the end of 2019, I would never have believed the state we’re in now – if only I could jump into a DeLorean (don’t worry, I’ve seen Back to the Future)!

If you’re looking for some strong film recommendations to fill your self-isolation time, you’ve come to the right place. Over the course of 2020 (seriously, we’re only four months in?!) I’m visiting some ‘cult classics’ for the first time and then sharing my thoughts. The good, the bad and the ugly (that’s one film I should’ve added to this list).

So far, I’ve covered Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fellowship of the Ring and Alien, all fantastical stories with huge box office successes. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from each, so went in prepared. These experiences are a stark contrast to my pre-viewing knowledge of April’s choice, The Princess Bride, which I presumed was a soppy child-friendly fantasy romance (bleurgh). Well, I’ve since eaten my words!

April’s pick: The Princess Bride

If you’re also new to The Princess Bride, here’s a rundown. We open on the bedroom of a schoolboy (Fred Savage), off sick for the day. His grandfather, played by none other than Columbo himself Peter Falk, arrives to keep him company and read him a fairytale. ‘A fairytale?!‘, his grandson whines. Oh, but how wrong he (and I) was…

The story goes that in the country of Florin, a beautiful young woman named Buttercup (Robin Wright) lived, helped on her land by farmhand Westley (Cary Elwes). Little did Buttercup know that Westley was in love with her, agreeing to all of her requests with ‘As you wish‘. Buttercup soon realises that what he truly means is ‘I love you‘ and that she loves him, too.

Before the pair can get too cosy, Westley decides he needs to make his fortune before they can marry, so he joins a ship crew. However, news soon arrives that the ship was attacked, leaving no survivors behind. Buttercup continues to work on her land, pining for her one true love.

Five years later, Buttercup is forced into an arranged marriage with evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), heir to the throne of Florin. But things don’t go according to plan when Buttercup is kidnapped by three outlaws – Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzik (André the Giant) – hoping to make a fortune for her return.

The trio are pursued by The Man in Black, a mysterious figure who disarms each bandit, one by one. Once alone with Buttercup, he reveals himself to actually be Westley, who survived the ship’s attack and heard of her upcoming nuptials. Of course, things aren’t smooth sailing from here, as the pair manoeuvre their way through an enchanted forest, chased by Humperdinck’s men, Westley captured and tortured and Buttercup imprisoned.

But all is not lost, as Inigo and Fezzik decide to save the couple, with the help of Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), a healer recently fired by Humperdinck and wishing to seek revenge. I won’t spoil the rest of the story but let’s just say things work out pretty well in the end.

Adapted from William Goldman‘s 1973 novel of the same name, the fairytale is filled with wit, humour, action and adventure, with several studios vying to bring the story to the big screen. 20th Century Fox and director Rob Reiner won out, Reiner working closely with Goldman to ensure he was happy with the final product.

While The Princess Bride garnered a moderate box office taking on its initial release ($30.8 million on a $16 million production budget), it wasn’t until later that it became a true hit thanks to its home release. The film regularly appears in Greatest Comedy and Best Quotes lists, and was inducted into the US’s National Film Registry in 2016 for being ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’.

The Princess Bride is just one in a string of cult classic successes for Reiner, including This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Stand by Me (1986), When Harry Met Sally (1989, one of my all-time favourite films ever!) and Misery (1990). Now that is one incredible back catalogue!

Has it aged well?

If you’re looking to make a film and want it to be ageless, set it in ‘historical’ times. It’s a sure win! As 99% of the story is set in medieval Florin, The Princess Bride doesn’t feel like it’s ‘aged’ like the Fellowship of the Ring did to me. Shot on-location across the UK, Reiner and his team didn’t rely on green screen or computer technology to take us back to ye olde England – they took us to actual castles!

Aside from the fuzzy 1980s camera tech, the dusty-looking muppet puppets as the Rodents of Unusual Size, and The Grandson’s bold bedroom decor choices, this film feels ageless.

Hindsight is 2020

Considering The Princess Bride is kid-friendly, there’s nothing really included that we can reflect on and go, ‘Huh, 2020 wouldn’t look on that too kindly‘. Prince Humperdinck is a bit of a dink but that’s more the character than anything written in to be offensive. There’s a joke made about breasts at the end, but that would’ve flown straight over little-me’s head.

Classy or classless classic?

It’s fair to say that I loved The Princess Bride. The scripting! The characters! The quotable lines! Fun, witty and very cheeky, Reiner knocked this one out of the park. I hope Goldman was impressed.

Now, when we’re free to fly again, I’m heading straight over to Chicago to visit As You Wish for my own Miracle Pill.

My Catching Up with Classics series returns in May with Ghostbusters


4 thoughts on “Catching Up with Classics: The Princess Bride (1987)

  1. Pingback: Catching Up with Classics: Ghostbusters (1984) | critical popcorn

  2. Pingback: Catching Up with Classics: The Terminator (1984) | critical popcorn

  3. Pingback: Catching Up with Classics: The Truman Show (1998) | critical popcorn

  4. Pingback: Catching Up with Classics: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) | critical popcorn

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