tek's rating:

The Princess Bride (PG)
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Caution: spoilers!

This came out in 1987, but I'm not sure when I first saw it; it could have been in the late 80s or the early 90s. Anyway, I've seen it numerous times over the years, on both TV and VHS. However, I didn't write a review until I got it on DVD in 2014. (In 2006, two virtually identical versions, except for packaging, were released: the "Dread Pirate" edition and the "Buttercup" edition. In one of the few concessions I've ever made to my own dudehood, I chose the former rather than the latter. It was a difficult decision.) And I gotta say, while I've always loved this movie, I didn't expect to rate it quite as highly as I did. But I can't help it, because it is just inconceivably awesome, and if anything, it gets better every time you watch it. ...Also I should say this is one of those movies that could be listed in various categories. I chose to put my review under "fantasy," but it just as well could have been "adventure" or "comedy" or "quirky" or "romantic." It does all of those things pretty damn well, though I do have a slight quibble with the "romantic" part. Anyway, the story has lots of great characters, lots of great lines, and is about the most perfectly-cast movie ever. And it's become pretty iconic, over the years.

The movie is based on a 1973 novel of the same name, by William Goldman, which I've never read but probably should. The author claims, facetiously, that it is an abridged version of an older work by "S. Morgenstern," which is actually just a pseudonym of Goldman's, I guess. I don't know any details about this whole invention, but it does vaguely play into the movie's framing device. The movie begins in the present (i.e., the 1980s), with a sick boy (played by Fred Savage) being visited by his grandfather (Peter Falk), who brings him a book. When the grandfather begins reading the book to the grandson, he says it is by S. Morgenstern. He also claims that his own father used to read it to him, which obviously suggests that the book has been around a lot longer than Goldman's book. Anyway, throughout the movie, the telling of the story is occasionally interrupted by the grandson (or less often, by the grandfather). However, most of the movie is actually seen as if it were just a straightforward dramatization of the book.

It begins on a small farm, with a beautiful girl named Buttercup (Robin Wright) and a farm boy named Westley (Cary Elwes). Incidentally, I want to say that I feel like I have often seen people write the character's name as "Wesley," without the "t," which always bugs me. Anyway, Buttercup doesn't seem to come from wealth (let alone royalty), but at least her family is presumably more wealthy than Westley, since he's just a servant on their farm. (Come to think of it, we never see any of Buttercup's family, and they're never even mentioned, as far as I recall. Which seems a bit odd.) Anyway, Buttercup just orders him around, and he just always says "As you wish." And over time, they fall in love. This is my one major quibble with the movie, I have no idea what the hell is meant by "true love," since the two of them obviously never had an actual conversation prior to falling in love. But this is a problem I often have with romantic stories, just being told that people are in love without seeing any good reason for it. As usual, I simply suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story, but it does nag at me, a bit. Especially since this movie actually gives about the least reason for a couple to be in love of any movie I've ever seen, while simultaneously proclaiming their love to be pretty much the most true of any love in history. Which just goes to show how awesome I am at suspending disbelief. Because somehow, I do manage to find the movie pretty romantic.

Anyway, Westley wants to marry Buttercup, but he doesn't have enough money. I'm really not sure why that's even an issue. Maybe it's his pride? Maybe Buttercup's unseen parents disapprove? Maybe society won't allow anyone to marry out of their station? (Except royalty, who can do whatever the hell they want.) I just don't know. But whatever the case, Westley joins a ship's crew or something, to find his fortune. And before he leaves, he tells Buttercup that he will always come for her. But soon after that, we learn that Westley's ship was attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who never leaves survivors. So it can be assumed that Westley is dead, and of course Buttercup is devastated. Incidentally, I think I've sometimes heard or read the pirate's name spoken or written as "Dread Pirate Robert," without the "s," but I could be wrong about that. But it bugs me whether I'm wrong or not, just because I even think I may have seen/heard it that way.

Five years pass, and Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) decides to marry Buttercup, because she's like the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, or something. (The kingdom, btw, is called Florin.) She doesn't love him, but the law allows him to choose whomever he wants for a bride. And apparently just because he's chosen her, she automatically becomes a princess. Even before they're married, or at least that's how it seems to me. Which makes no sense; she shouldn't be a princess until after they're married. But if that were the case, then I don't think the title of the book/movie would make any sense, so whatevs. Anyway, shortly before the wedding is supposed to take place, Buttercup is kidnapped by a Sicilian named Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) and his employees, a Spanish swordsman named Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and a giant named Fezzik (Andre the Giant). Incidentally, the 1999 Star Trek novel I, Q has a character named Zek saying some things that are homages to some of Vizzini's quotes from this movie, because on TV, Zek was played by Wallace Shawn. So, that quite amused me, when I read it. And I'm sure it's just one of countless examples of the influence this movie has had on other media. Anyway... the three outlaws begin sailing across the channel that separates Florin from the neighboring kingdom of Guilder. (Yes, both kingdoms are named after coins.) Vizzini plans to murder Buttercup and frame Guilder for it, to start a war between the kingdoms. This isn't a plan that sits well with Fezzik and Inigo, but they seem to have no choice but to follow his orders (because this is the only job they could get).

However, they are pursued by another ship, and when they reach Guilder, they are pursued by a mysterious man in black from that ship. (His outfit includes a Zorro-like mask over his eyes.) It's a little while before we learn that the man is actually the Dread Pirate Roberts, though it's kind of surprising that it took so long for that to be revealed, as it seems pretty obvious. Anyway, he first faces Inigo in a sword duel, and they're both master swordsmen, almost perfectly matched. But before they start fighting, they converse, and quickly come to respect each other. Inigo tells the man in black his backstory, how when he was a child, a man with six fingers on his right hand had commissioned his father, a master swordsmith, to forge a great sword. When the man returned to claim the sword, he refused to pay more than a tenth the price he had originally promised, and Inigo's father refused. So, the man killed the swordsmith, after which Inigo, only eleven years old at the time, tried to kill the man. Of course, he failed, but he's spent twenty years since then training as swordsman so that he could someday find and kill the man who killed his father. There are some things about all this that kind of bother me... like, how can Roberts be as great a swordsman as Inigo, since we'll later learn that he hadn't studied swordsmanship nearly as long as Inigo had? And why does Inigo still have that great sword his father had made? Wouldn't the six-fingered man have just taken it twenty years ago? And how come we never hear anything about Inigo's mother? I feel like it would have been really easy to just throw in some reference to Inigo's father being a widower or something. But, whatevs.

After the man in black defeats Inigo (knocking him unconscious at the end of an awesome swordfight), he later faces Fezzik in hand-to-hand combat, with no weapons. Fezzik obviously greatly outmatches the man in black in terms of strength, but still, the man in black manages to beat him. They do converse during the fight, and come to respect each other, just as he and Inigo had. Finally, the man in black faces Vizzini in a battle of wits. This involves the man in black putting poison in some wine, and asking Vizzini to choose which glass to drink from. (The poison is a powder called iocaine; I've seen it spelled two ways online, the right way and also as "iocane." Man, this movie seems really good at inspiring fans to drop letters.) This scene has always bugged me for at least a couple of reasons, which actually I think would make good skits- in fact, there are numerous times throughout the movie where I'd love to write skits with the scenes playing out differently than they do in the movie. Like, before poisoning the wine, the man in black tells Vizzini to smell a vial, which contains the odorless powder. I feel like the vial just as easily could have held a poison that would kill you just by inhaling it, but then the battle of wits would have been over really quickly. Nope, the poison has to be ingested. So... I feel like if Vizzini were as clever as he claims to be, he would have simply refused to drink from either glass. I mean, that's what I think the smart choice would be. But whatevs, he ultimately fails the test, and dies. He's pretty damn funny up til that point, though, so I'm kind of sad to see him go.

While all this is going on, Humperdinck and his right hand man, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), and a small complement of soldiers, are pursuing both Vizzini's group and the man in black. They nearly catch up to them soon after Buttercup has been rescued by the man in black, who she realizes is Roberts. So of course she hates him for killing Westley, while he chastises her for being "faithless" to Westley by agreeing to marry Humperdinck. But she soon learns that he actually is Westley, and had taken over the position of Dread Pirate Roberts from the previous pirate captain (who also wasn't the original Roberts). So of course the two of them are now happy to be back together, and they try to evade the prince and his men by venturing into the Fire Swamp, which is even more dangerous than it sounds. Incidentally, I have to assume that if Westley has spent the last couple years being a pirate, as romantic a notion as that may sound in theory, it must mean he's stolen from and killed any number of innocent people, but this fact is not addressed at all in the movie. I'm just sayin', it's something that should give Buttercup pause, but it clearly doesn't. Although here's something that kinda does:

So... the Fire Swamp is so-named because it has random bursts of fire shooting up though the ground. But it also has lightning sand (really really quick quicksand), as well as ROUSes (Rodents of Unusual Size). Anyway, they manage to get out of the swamp alive (just barely, in Westley's case), only to be surrounded by Humperdinck and his men. Westley would still like to fight (even though he couldn't possibly have won), but Buttercup agrees to go with the prince if he agrees to spare Westley's life and return him to his ship. But immediately after promising to do so, Humperdinck orders Rugen to take Westley to the Pit of Despair, to be tortured. Incidentally, I find it strange that we never see any of the Dread Pirate Roberts's crew. You'd think when he didn't return, they'd figure something happened to him and come looking for him, but no. We also learn that Humperdinck had hired Vizzini to kidnap and kill Buttercup, because he was the one who wanted to go to war against Guilder. But now he plans to kill Buttercup himself, on their wedding night. Of course, this means he has to come up with a new plan to frame Guilder, so he tells Yellin, who is like the captain of the guard, or whatever, that he's heard of plans by assassins from Guilder to kill her. (Yellin is also the head of a spy network, and he's heard no such thing, but he has to take the prince's word for it.)

Meanwhile, Fezzik and Inigo are reunited. Fezzik tells Inigo that Vizzini is dead, and also informs him that Count Rugen is the six-fingered man Inigo's been searching for all these years. How Fezzik learned the latter thing, I have no idea, because I never saw Fezzik meet Rugen. It does make sense that Fezzik would have met Yellin, though, so I guess anything's possible. In any event, Inigo now wants to storm the castle, to get his revenge against Rugen, but it's too heavily guarded. But he realizes that the man in black is smart enough to come up with a plan, so they go search for him. And they finally find him, but by then Westley has been tortured to death. But that's not enough to stop Inigo, so he and Fezzik take the dead body to an old guy called Miracle Max (Billy Crystal), who had been fired by Prince Humperdinck after working for the king for many years. (He seems to be some kind of wizard, but actually more like an apothecary.) Max doesn't want to take the job of bringing Westley back to life, but he's harangued by his wife, Valerie (Carol Kane), and finally agrees to help when he learns that Westley could spoil Humperdinck's plans.

So, Westley is resurrected, though for some time afterward he's too weak to move. Still, he's able to plan a way to get himself, Inigo, and Fezzik into the castle. Inigo finally gets his chance to face his father's murderer, and Westley rescues Buttercup. (She was planning on killing herself, rather than marry Humperdinck.) Incidentally, it seems a bit odd to me that Buttercup immediately accepts the fact that Westley is now working with two of her erstwhile kidnappers, without even questioning this unlikely turn of events. Still, I suppose during the mostly-unseen hours she spent on a boat with them, she could have realized they were basically good guys. Anyway, there's a happy ending for all the heroes, and then we cut back to the grandfather and grandson. The grandson had complained about the book throughout the movie, but by the end, he's come to like the story. And there's a really cute ending to that part of the movie.

And I've said way more than I really wanted to. And I feel like I've made way more "incidental" comments than I planned on, which possibly sound like complaints, but I assure you, that's now how I meant them. In fact, somehow, with this movie, plot holes are just part of the fun. And speaking of fun, however much I may have said about the plot, I have left out almost all of the details that make this movie so awesome (and hilarious). I just have not the words to convey how magical it is, how brilliantly written and acted. All I can say is that I adore the characters and especially the character interactions. Even the villains are pretty entertaining. So... just watch the movie, okay? I promise you'll love it.

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Here is an image I made from The Pirate Fairy. Well, I took screencaps from that movie and added some text that's based on the most famous quote from this movie.