Princess Bride: 25th Anniversary, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe briefly revisits a film that he was tricked into hating over a decade ago...
One day, a jovial grandfather (Peter Falk) visits his sickly, hard-to-impress grandson (Fred Savage) to read from his favorite book, ‘The Princess Bride.’ The story concerns young Buttercup (Robin Wright), who lives on a farm in the fairytale kingdom of Florin. She delights in ordering the farm hand, Westley (Cary Elwes), to perform chores for her. Westley's only answer is ‘As you wish.’ Eventually, Buttercup comes to realize that ‘As you wish’ really means ‘I love you’ and she admits her shared love for him. Westley soon leaves to seek the fortune they require to marry, but then, one fateful day, Buttercup receives word that Westley's ship was attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and Westley is dead. Following five years of mourning, Buttercup is reluctantly engaged to Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), heir to the throne of Florin. Before the wedding, Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of outlaws – a Sicilian criminal genius named Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a Spanish fencing master Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and a giant who likes to rhyme named Fezzik (Andre the Giant). The kidnappers are then pursued by two parties – Prince Humperdinck’s army and a single masked man in black. The man in black outpaces the royal rescue party and almost catches the outlaws at the Cliffs of Insanity.
Have you ever had a movie entirely ruined for you by an obnoxious theatrical audience? Has that movie ever been a childhood favourite you’d much prefer to continue to enjoy without livid memories of unfunny people slathering your ears in their noisy, abrasive unfunniness? This is exactly what happened to me the last time I saw Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. Audience participation is just fine, especially the hoots and hollers that accompany an outrageous horror movie. I love hearing a scream or a gasp just as much as I like to participate in a good belly laugh. What I don’t love is a room full of people repeating line after line then giggling at the supposed ‘cleverness’ of knowing every bit of dialogue. There’s a reason I don’t go to Rocky Horror Picture Show revivals – I know I find this behavior akin to fingers on a chalkboard. But at least Rocky Horror warns me what to expect, I had no idea a simple college re-release showing of The Princess Bride would be such a brutal exercise. In an effort to apologize to all the people involved in making this fine film and all the members of its well-earned fandom, I’m not going to spread the ire of my poisonous last experience with The Princess Bride any further. This will be a technical review for those wondering if it’s worth the umpteenth re-release purchase.
I was all prepared to compare this release to the DVD special edition, but then I realized the The Princess Bride was already released on Blu-ray, just in a slightly less ‘special’ edition. I’m going to assume there’s little to no difference between these 1080p, 1.85:1 transfers and to just review this one as I see it. If, but chance, this represents a major upgrade over that release I would assume fans were super disappointed, because this newer version is more or less average at best. Don’t be frightened, there’s little clearly wrong with the transfer; it just appears that there wasn’t a huge range of improvement to be made upon the source material. In fact, I’m happy that the MGM/Fox people didn’t try to improve upon the material by DNRing and colour-timing it to appear more ‘modern.’ This is a consistently grainy transfer and the grain, though natural, will likely bother some viewers. The only time I found the grain verging on excessive is in some of the dark shots, though the absolute darkest shots are often among the crispest. I believe that super-sharp details and textures simply aren’t in the cards for this film, based on what I assume is an intended use of softer focus and relatively flat contrast. Problems arise in the muddy qualities of some of the wider wide-shots, where intricate elements are a bit faded and unimpressive compared to the transfer’s more effective details. The complexities of natural backdrops and highly embellished costumes look much better than a DVD transfer could ever manage. The bigger issue, one that could probably have been avoided, is edge enhancement. Anything outside a close-up is rife with haloes, some thick enough to feature their own little blooming effects. Another problem is low-level digital noise in some of the brightest warm hues, specifically reds, like the dress Buttercup wears during the film’s first act. During close-ups, the dress is slightly blocky, then in wider shots, it blooms. Black levels are uneven, occasionally absorbing the hues around them, especially browns and blues. This, however, is another side effect of the film’s even-handed contrast levels and softer focus practices.
I’m also going to go ahead and assume that this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack matches the similarly specified track on the previous Blu-ray release. This is a simple track, made mostly for dialogue, simple effects, and Mark Knopfler’s (yes, the guy from Dire Straits) musical score. There are basic, ambient noises throughout the mix that match the atmospheric make-up (wind in the trees, waves crashing, bird noises), but these are set with low volume levels and very little dynamic range in and of themselves. More often than not the comedy of silence is a regular practice, such as the bit where the lovers tumble down a hill and the soundtrack mostly ignores the bumps in favour of awkward ‘oofs’ and ‘ows.’ There are rare, more immersive and directionally enhanced moments, including the shrieking eels attack and town raids, but the standout for sound design is the Fire Swamp sequence (the fire itself is easily the punchiest LFE effect), though, even here, the bulk of effects work is centered. Having not seen the film in over a decade, I didn’t remember Knopfler’s score was almost exclusively synthesizer-based. Synth scores can fill out a surround mix quite well, but usually not when they’re trying to impersonate the sound of a symphonic score. There’s almost no bass oomph to the music and the keyboard work is pretty thin despite stereo embellishments.
The new, Blu-ray exclusive True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon featurettes begin with A Conversation with Rob Reiner, Cary Elwes, and Robin Wright (15:10, HD), a catchall roundtable discussion with the director and stars, that includs outtakes from the film. Entering the Zeitgeist (15:20, HD) is a look at the film’s cultural impact and fandom, including interviews with Reiner, Reiner’s dad Carl, writer William Goldman, actors Elwes, Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest, producer Norman Lear, obsessive fans, and footage from Fox-owned movies and TV shows that quote the movie.
Holdover extras from the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases include:
- An audio commentary with Reiner.
- A second commentary track with Goldman.
- The Art of Fencing (7:10, SD) with swordmaster Robert Goodman.
- As You Wish: The Story of the Princess Bride (27:30, SD) with the cast and crew.
- Cary Elwes’ video diary (4:00, SD) with narration from Elwes and Wright.
- Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas (11:40, SD) with Huntington Library director of research Robert C. Ritchie, authors Christine Markel Lampe and Gail Selinger, and Cary Elwes in old man make-up.
- Fairytales and Folklore (9:20, SD) with author Jack Zipes and members of the cast and crew.
- Love is Like a Storybook (16:40, SD) with Columbia University’s Helen Pilinovsky, University of Pennsylvania’s Veronica Schanoes, and writer David Pesci.
- Miraculous Makeup (11:20, SD) with Billy Crystal and make-up artist Peter Montanga.
- Princess Bride: The Untold Tales (9:10, SD) with the cast and crew.
- An original trailer.
I think I have put enough space between me and that terrible theatrical experience to have enjoyed this latest viewing of Princess Bride, which really speaks to the film’s simple power to charm. Fans will probably want to own every home video release of the film, but I’m thinking most of the people that own a previous DVD or Blu-ray version will be disappointed with the upgrade. The image quality looks plenty filmic, but is overall flat and dull enough to make me assume there hasn’t been any kind of re-mastering since the previous HD disc, and the brief new extras don’t really cover anything not already covered throughout the hold-over features. If you’re like me and didn’t already own a copy, however, you’ll probably be pretty happy.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 2nd October 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Spanish, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo French
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Writer Commentary, True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon, As You Wish: The Story of The Princess Bride, Cary Elwes Video Diary, Miraculous Makeup, The Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Pirate of the Seven Seas, Love is Like a Storybook, The Princess Bride The Untold Tales, The Art of Fencing, Fairytales and Folklore, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guesst, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Fantasy and Romance
Length: 98 minutes
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