After several anniversary reissues over the years, Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride once again hits Blu-ray -- this time courtesy of The Criterion Collection. A classic fairy tale yarn about true love, the movie itself remains a charming mixture of swashbuckling adventure, endearing romance, meta storytelling, and witty humor. This new disc includes a beautiful 1080p transfer sourced from a new 4K remaster, offering a welcomed improvement over the previous video presentations, along with the same solid audio mix and a healthy assortment of new and returning supplements. With that said, I can't help but wish the parties involved had released a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as well. With so many previous Blu-ray versions already on the market, yet another standard HD offering in the 4K HDR generation seems like a missed opportunity -- especially since there is a 4K Dolby Vision digial version available on VUDU. Still, this is definitely the best physical media option out there for the film, and fans should be pleased by the updated video. Recommended.
Tales, yarns, chronicles, legends, myths, anecdotes, parables, fables, narratives -- whatever you choose to call them, stories and storytelling have been around since man could… well, since man could. It’s just in us. Simple as that, rooted deeply in our DNA. It’s a necessity, a natural and essential function, like breathing or eating. It’s primal. We need to do it. We need to tell stories by firelight. We need to splatter paint on cave walls. We need voices in the dark. We need them to teach, to excite, to entertain, to inspire or, in some cases, to merely fill the silence. In Rob Reiner's 1987 classic, The Princess Bride, the story in question is told for one very specific purpose, and that so seemingly uncomplicated, pure, and honest motive -- as so beautifully expressed by Mandy Patinkin in the included special features -- is for a Grandfather to tell his Grandson, that the most important thing in life… is true love. This tiny morsel of truth sets off a grand adventure, spinning a yarn full of fairy tale magic, storybook charm, and laugh-out-loud wit, cementing this beloved film as a timeless classic for all ages.
While it seems almost inconceivable that one might be unfamiliar with the plot, the script follows a sick, young boy (Fred Savage) who is read a story by his Grandfather (Peter Falk). Through this framing device, the audience is thrust into a medieval fantasy that sees a beautiful Princess named Buttercup (Robin Wright) get kidnapped by a trio of comical villains (or are they?) played by the amazing Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant. Setting off after the Princess, is her husband to be, the pompous Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) and his stooge, the evil six-fingered-man, Count Tyrone Rugen (Christopher Guest). Also thrown into the mix, is Buttercup's long lost love, the heroic Westley (Cary Elwes), who valiantly quests to rescue her from the clutches of her nefarious captors. What follows is an affectionate celebration of fairy tale clichés that both spoofs and praises the conventions of that everlasting genre, acting as a kind of love letter to all things wondrous.
Based on his own (hilarious) novel, screenwriter William Goldman achieves a brilliant balance of comedy, romance, and adventure. Classic archetypes are thrown on screen and allowed to embrace and champion their own broad and lasting characteristics with both satire and sincerity. Set pieces are spread across old wooden ships, majestic castles, dark swamps, and towering cliffs. Common fantasy tropes are dissected and deconstructed, and a sometimes anachronistic, contemporary sense of humor fuels the comedy which pervades throughout.
And with the framing device of the Grandfather and Grandson, Goldman is able to directly comment on storytelling itself, throwing in fun little intrusions that play with and examine expectations, reactions, and the very nature of our age-spanning obsession with the fictitious. As the film takes various twists and turns, and our hero looks like he might not succeed, the boy bursts out in protest, literally halting the progression of the plot, and we, the audience, are right there with him. After all, the villain can't possibly win, can he? The hero can't possibly die, can he? These are all concepts that Goldman fiddles with in a fantastically fun and intelligent manner.
All of these self-aware elements help to make The Princess Bride the classic that it is, but at its heart, this film is really just a well told fairy tale with wonderfully realized characters -- and thankfully, director Rob Reiner never loses sight of that. Through a picturesque lens, Reiner captures the beauty and magic of the English countryside, transporting his audience into another world. Making the best of a fairly low budget, the filmmaker pulls off a lot with comparatively little.
The cast itself is also fantastic, with performers who were seemingly born for the roles they inhabit. Elwes and Wright are the embodiment of young love, with Elwes pulling off an effortless air of swashbuckling heroics and Wright exuding a regal yet sweet aura of steadfast resolve. The chemistry between the pair acts as the glue which holds the picture together. As the revenge seeking sword fighter Inigo Montoya, Mandy Patinkin plays the part of a lifetime, delivering one of the most quoted lines in movie history. His climactic showdown results in one of those rare scenes where an audience really can't help but literally stand up and cheer for a character. The rest of the players all deliver terrific, enchanting performances as well, including a fun cameo from Billy Crystal.
Packed with quotable dialogue and memorable sequences, The Princess Bride is an infinitely re-watchable film. It's the type of movie that you might find playing on TV in the middle of the night, and no matter where it is in the story, you're still somehow compelled to stop, put the remote down, get comfortable, and watch to the end, like revisiting an old friend. Though the plot is filled with little bits of intelligent commentary and humor, really, this is just a simple chronicle of love, told with charm, grace, wit, and passion -- and that's all any great tale really is. Isn't it?
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Criterion brings The Princess Bride to Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc housed in a beautiful clothbound digibook package designed to resemble an old hardcover storybook with spine number 948. The book includes illustrations, an essay by author Sloane Crosley, and William Goldman's introduction to the movie's script from his collection "Four Screenplays." The packaging indicates that the release is Region A coded.
Sourced from a new 4K digital restoration, the movie features a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Offering some notable improvements over previous releases, this is the best the movie has ever looked on home video, resulting in a rather gorgeous HD presentation.
Marked by a mild to heavy layer of fine grain, the image features a beautifully textured and filmic appearance, free from the slightly smeary and processed look that affected a few shots on the older transfer. Overall clarity is great, resulting in a sharper picture compared to the previous Blu-ray, with a great sense of fine detail in costumes and locations. With that said, the cinematography is still a tad soft compared to many modern releases, though this is simply the nature of the movie's style. While not as richly saturated as other fantasy titles, colors are nicely rendered with a pleasing yet natural palette filled with vibrant splashes of red, yellow, and green. Likewise, contrast is also balanced well with bright whites, including a striking shot of the sun overheard, and deep blacks. Finally, the source is free from any notable signs of age or wear.
Beautifully restored, this new transfer offers a welcomed upgrade over the already solid MGM discs with a more consistent image. Still, as wonderful as this Blu-ray looks, I can't help but wish the 4K remaster was presented in all its glory on an Ultra HD Blu-ray -- especially since a 4K Dolby Vision version is available to stream through VUDU.
For all intents and purposes, this appears to be the same English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track from the previous releases. And though it's far from demo material, it remains a pretty solid mix.
Dialogue is nice and crisp delivering all of the movie's many memorable lines with clarity and precision. Directionality between the front soundstage is good but rear activity is a little subdued, with only some minor ambient effects and music cues hitting the surrounds. Dynamic range is respectable but not terribly wide, and bass response is fine though it never really stands out. Still, key effects like creaking wood on ships, chirping birds in the countryside, and flaming explosions in the Fire Swamps all bring a little extra immersion and oomph to the track. Balance between all of the audio elements is good, and thankfully nothing gets lost in the shuffle.
It may not hold up to contemporary surround sound tracks, but the mix here is certainly respectful of the source material and is more than adequate at serving the film.
Criterion has put together a fantastic assortment of supplements, porting over many of the special features from previous discs while adding in some new material as well. With that said, this release subs out the separate Rob Reiner and William Godman commentary tracks included on the MGM Blu-rays for a single commentary with comments from multiple participants. Likewise, a couple inconsequential featurettes from the old discs have also been excised here.
The Princess Bride is a simple yarn about true love -- one that rises toward classic status thanks to witty dialogue, intelligent scripting, passionate direction, and unforgettable characters. The film continues to work for all ages and plays just as fresh today as it did when it was first released over thirty years ago. This new Criterion Blu-ray features an improved video presentation and a wonderful assortment of new and old supplements. With that said, the movie has already been released and reissued countless times on Blu-ray, and I can't help but feel like if another disc was going to be produced it really should have just been a 4K HDR release. Still, this is now the best version available on physical media, and big fans should appreciate the upgraded transfer. As a double dip, this package is Recommended -- though the movie itself remains a must own for viewers who don't already own a copy.