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The Princess Bride

#485 - The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner, 1987

An old man visits his sick grandson in order to read him a fairytale about a princess who loses her true love and is kidnapped by outlaws.

Oddly enough, I find it difficult to write about my all-time favourites. While you'd think that kind of passion would be able to fuel all sorts of lengthy paragraphs elaborating on each and every little thing that I might like about a film, I find that those kinds of reviews can be a little boring to write. Then again, the times where I've expounded on a film's flaws are somewhat undercut by the "but I still love the film!" caveat. This kind of meta-commentary about the nature of film reviewing makes for the ideal introduction to my review of The Princess Bride, a film that I knew would be very special from the instance that I witnessed the sequence in which mysterious man in black take on the trio of mercenaries responsible for kidnapping the titular character, ranging from fighting a master swordsman to the infamous "battle of wits" scene. Aside from being some of my favourite scenes put to celluloid, those are the kind of scenes that are designed to win over even the most reluctant of audiences, much like the framing story's skeptical young boy who grumpily resents his kindly grandfather interrupting a sick day full of videogame-playing in order to read him an old fairytale. It can be difficult to pull off a framing story that is intended to poke holes in its main story, but the interjections are pulled off well and at all the right moments, accurately echoing an audience's likely reactions to the same scenes.

As for the main story, well, there's no doubt that there's a lot of parody at work as the film takes inspiration from all sorts of literary and cinematic fairytales. With legendary screenwriter William Goldman adapting the screenplay from his own novel, the story becomes an appropriately playful combination of all the great elements from swashbuckling fantasy tales. The romance at the core of the film is undeniably trite, but the fact that it's trite by design manages to make it work surprisingly well. Of course, the real fun comes from pretty much every other aspect. The outsized cast of characters that populates the film is excellent - Cary Elwes is great as the dashing hero who has quite the sarcastic streak, while the trio of mercenaries (Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and André the Giant) all create some comical yet complex characters, especially Patinkin as a swordsman out for revenge against the man who killed his father. Various cameos also serve to make the film work well - Peter Cook as a clergyman with a bizarre speech impediment is memorable, but Billy Crystal's single scene as a miracle man threatens to overshadow many of the film's already-impressive scenes. Rob Reiner and co. do an excellent job of recreating the same aesthetic of old-school Hollywood adventure films with obvious sets and some very practical special effects, but the technical improvements afforded by the film's '80s production only serve to make the film look a treat rather than neuter the parodic edge. The score by Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler predictably has a lot of guitar-driven melodies but he also commits to the synthetic replication of swashbuckling fantasy soundtracks. In short, The Princess Bride is a definite favourite and it's hard to imagine a day where I don't think so. It's probably my favourite example of a film that's fun for the whole family. Films that promise action, comedy, and romance seldom deliver on those promises as amazingly as this one does.