Friday, October 7, 2011

Life *is* Pain, Princess... The Princess Bride, Almost 25 years Later.

I'll just come right out and say it. Like so many others, The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite films. In fact, on my personal top 10, it beats out The Empire Strikes Back, any of the Lord of the Rings films and Ghostbusters. I put it at a solid third place, only behind Raiders of the Lost Ark and Casablanca. I've never been much for purchasing DVDs, and in the last few years I've just about completely forsaken them in favor of streaming, yet I find that it bothers me that I don't know where my copy of this movie is.  I've done stage fighting choreography directly ripped off from the non-acrobatic portions of the duel between Westley and Inigo, and like so many others I've quoted this film enough over the years to be thoroughly annoying. As a huge fan, I was excited to see many of the surviving cast reunited this week for interviews and a photo shoot with Entertainment Weekly for their annual reunions issue. After all these years, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane almost don't need makeup to play Miracle Max and Valerie anymore, and in contrast, I firmly believe that Cary Elwes has a painting in his attic somewhere (dude seriously hasn't aged since the 1980s.)  

Some of the surviving members of the cast, gathered to talk to
Good Morning America. Billy Crystal is wearing the original Miracle Max hat.

The movie, released in 1987, is a loose adaptation of the William Goldman (who also wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) novel of the same name, published in 1978. I've read the book, and this is one of those amazing instances where there are really very significant differences between a source novel and its screen adaptation, but both are very, very good. The book contains elements that could only have really worked on the page, as the framing story of Goldman's Grandfather is there, but the book presents itself as a writer trying to re-tell a story the way his grandfather told it to him. As an adult, he realizes that the actual book his grandfather read to him from wasn't very good, it was a dry political satire disguised as a fairy tale, and he explains at points where the "original" deviates from the story the way he knows it. By the end of the retelling of the fictional original work that Goldman is "translating," we have a story that is hilarious and bittersweet, with nostalgia, love and the sadness that comes with life not turning out the way you wanted it to by the ending.

The film is an expert blend of comedy, adventure and romance, with the story of a Grandfather reading to a young boy remaining as the framing device. The classic story of Westley the stableboy and his love, Buttercup has pirates and conspirators, duels, monsters, a miracle maker, a six-fingered man and a giant from Greenland. I've found that there is no single other film with quite as many lines I routinely quote without even thinking about it anymore. It was marginally profitable upon release, but not a mega-hit at $30.8 million on a $16 million budget. The studios had no idea how to promote it as it didn't fit neatly into a single category that could be distilled into a short trailer. Director Rob Reiner said at the time that he didn't want to make a "Wizard of Oz," a film that, while venerated as a classic, was underappreciated commercially in its own time. Despite this, The Princess Bride really came into its own as a cult classic in the years following its release and is now recognized as one of the great films of the 1980s.

Please, quote responsibly. I love this film, but even I roll my eyes when
someone says "Anybody got a peanut?" whenever two words happen to rhyme.

In interviews given with the reunited cast, interesting and obscure facts concerning the production came to light. Robin Wright, who played Buttercup, spoke fondly of Andre the Giant, who passed away in 1993. She mentions that when filming outdoors in cold locations that the exceptionally large man helped keep her warm by literally palming her head in his gigantic hand. Wallace Shawn had his career defined by his role as the Sicilian criminal mastermind Vizzini, but he filmed the movie in fear that he'd be fired because Danny DeVito, who was Reiner's first choice for the part, would become suddenly available. Among the actor injuries on the set were Mandy Patinkin who literally hurt himself trying not to laugh at Billy Crystal, whose mostly improvised performance as Miracle Max had to be continually reshot because the other actors would break character, unable to control their laughter. Cary Elwes also had to be hospitalized when he told Christopher Guest to hit him for real in a scene where Count Rugen knocks Westley out, and he suffered a very real head injury.

The story was being developed for a possible stage adapation as a musical by Tony Award-winning composer Adam Guettel in 2006, but unfortunately the project was abandoned by 2007. William Goldman and Guettel had a falling out which broke the deal apart, though some of the completed music has survived. People close to William Goldman say that he was dissatisfied with the pace of completed work and the lack of progress after a year's time on the project. Other sources close to Adam Guettel say that the real reason the musical didn't happen was simpler, it was all about the money. Despite Guettel writing all the music and lyrics, and Goldman's contributions being slight aside from his writing for the book and film, the deal finally broke down when William Goldman demanded a 75% share of the revenues for writing. This was bad news for fans who were awaiting a show in the same vein as "The Producers" or "Spamelot," both stage musicals adapted from classic comedy films. At the end of the day, the story concerning the production of any new Princess Bride material matches the bittersweet notes in the book's ending, and we're reminded of something the film told us explicitly. "Life is pain... anyone who tells you differently is probably selling something."
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neatfit said...

I remember that video you quoted, yeah, Andre the Giant was pretty cool, I've never seen the movie, it seems like it's worth a shot, or two.

John and Shelby said...

I regularly watch this, and am certain I could quote it line for line. It is in my personal top 5 as well, along with the also under-appreciated Fifth Element.

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