I am ashamed to admit this, but I have never read the Princess Bride.
Perhaps it is because I love the movie so much. Just last night, after our monthly Shadowrun Game, we were searching for something to watch. In our household this leads a protracted debate over the enormous smorgasbord of options, which I tend to stay out of. I am by far the least versed in movies and television in the house so I don’t mind letting others choose, with the exception of a few favorites. Besides I will just go off and play a computer game or do some writing if they choose something I am not interested in.
This week, however, The Princess Bride popped up. By then the discussion had been raging for fifteen minutes, and I was already creeping toward my laptop, eager to try the two League of Legends characters that I had just acquired that day (Braum and Yorick, if you know League). This is somewhat ironic given how the book begins.
Nostalgia held me to my seat on the couch. I was initially curious to see how a classic that I had watched so often held up now that Fantasy had hit the a-list. Needless to say I watched the whole damned movie, eagerly, enjoying it greatly. However, for the sake of argument, let’s start with the bad.
- The rodents: Let’s be honest, the giant rats in the fire swamps never really looked good compared to the rest of the movie. Now they just look dated and somewhat awful, like Wesley is wrestling with a particularly hoary blanket. I’d love to see a version with these replaced.
- The real world intro scene: While it is still topical, the intro scene with Fred Savage and Peter Falk just feels a little awkward to me now. Maybe it is the 80’s decor or perhaps I just feel that modern audiences are familiar enough with Fantasy that they don’t need that kind of trope. It feels a little rushed as well. Grandfathers tend to be less hurried in my experience. I’m not sure how to fix this considering how integral it becomes to the movie.
- Passive Buttercup: Modern audiences demand more from female characters. Buttercup is just too passive for my tastes. I liked the bit where she jumps out of the boat early on, but that seems to be the only active thing that she does. She just stands there while Wesley wrestles with an enormous Rat, only picking up a log to defend herself (poorly) when it gets close to her. Given that this is her true love being mauled I would have preferred to see her woman up, overcome her fear, and smash some skull. I mean seriously, Buttercup used to be a farmgirl in this world…
- A love of intelligence: The Movie overflows with wit, even the “lowlife” characters are always armed with a ready quip. I find that modern fantasy often focuses on dark and vulgar humour, which is fine, but I sometimes miss the wit that comes with a lighter style. In The Princess Bride, even the “dumb giant” make jokes and laughs, trying to quip wise. Intelligence also plays a role within the movies conflicts with prince Humperdink’s Machiavellian plan for war and Vezzini’s famed poison game with the Drad Pirate Roberts. I also love that intelligence is not portrayed as odd or somehow warping. If anything Geek Chic has fallen for the view that smart people are somehow always odd and socially awkward, which I find really aggravating.
- Great acting: The casting choices for The Princess Bride are peerless. The main cast are all able to switch back and forth between quipping wise and acting with resolute seriousness when necessary. Andre the Giant, in particular was a surprisingly awesome Fezzik, suitably majestic every time to see his enormous hands and yet strangely lovable at the same time. You rarely see that in big men in fantasy movies these days. These performances lend depth to the movies in a way that the Hobbit often lacks (so far) in everyone but the main characters.
- Colourful Palette: The Princess Bride belongs more to the pastoral than to the gritty style that currently dominates Fantasy. Bright colours, bright costumes, and bold scenery combine well with the larger than life personalities of the characters. While costuming had certainly advanced, I find the colours of the old pastoral movies evoke a sense of wonder that is often lacking in modern fantasy. People tend to remember the bright colours of nature and the flashes of the storm more than the shades of grey on a cloudy day or the vagaries of muck for a reason.
- Darkness when it is called for: While it is bright and witty most of the time, The Princess Bride does have dark moments. Wesley’s torture, Inigo’s difficulties in confronting the six fingered man, and Buttercup’s misery after she hear’s of Wesley’s death are all deep emotional lows. Even knowing that everything turns out in the end, I did not ever feel that the characters escaped unscathed or untested, which is the oft cited flaw in pastoral works.
In the end, I think with a few minor touch-ups the movie would appeal even to people who aren’t looking at it from a nostalgic perspective. It is quite striking that this movie holds up so well in an age where we can conjure up giants, dragons, and massive armies with electronic wizardry. I guess that charm and wonder are a different, more difficult form of magic.