Thursday, May 26, 2011

Second Age Reviews: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride leaves me as at an awkward place as a reviewer. Partially it is the increasingly common fact about many of the Second Age Reviews, that many people will have already seen it. But more alarming is the fact that, I can't count on that so I may accidentally give away spoilers. For example, I can say that the actor playing the Man in Black (unrelated to Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones) does an excellent job, but if I were to name that actor I would most probably spoil a major reveal of the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it (although honestly, who hasn't seen it?).

Oy. Anyway the plot is concerned with a girl named Buttercup who loses the love of her life when he leaves to find his fortune and is killed by a pirate and as a result she becomes completely emotionally numb. 5 years later she is engaged to the Prince of her land, but she is quickly kidnapped by a group of 3 men, intent on starting a war between her home and it's neighbor, but are being pursued by a mysterious Man in Black™.

If that sounds a little sparse, it's merely the setup, but you don't need me to tell you that (who hasn't seen this movie? Honestly, if you haven't, please leave a comment below). You all probably know the plot by heart, so what you need from me is technical details. After all, this movie has long been enshrined as a classic. But does it deserve it's title?

Well, in a word; Yes. It's a well made, exciting, engaging and enjoyable romp, with many moments that have dug their way deep into the collective unconscious. It's period setting and fantastical elements make it more unique than it's primary contemporary sibling (Romancing the Stone, another good movie you all should have seen) and it's comedy aspects and light tone render it more enjoyable and accessible than it's primary fantasy sibling (Ladyhawke, an underwatched and underappreciated Richard Donner entry).

The entire script is sharp and enjoyable, winking slightly at it's more fantastical elements, heavily reliant on deadpan snark, all of it adapted from a book I've never read. The characters are well rounded (for the most part, more on that later) and the story engaging. The actors are doing great jobs, particularly the good hearted minions of the early villains, and a succession of famous comedians and actors in brief roles (most notably Billie Crystal in a scene stealing cameo as Miracle Max).

Like with many period action movies based around fencing, the combat will be mostly based around 2 guys dancing around whacking at each other with thin fragile swords, so the trick is to make it engaging (it was the inability to do this that sunk Pirates 4). And not only is Princess Bride aware of this, it practically wrote the book that movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and The Mask of Zorro follow to engage the audience. Of course, it would seem like such tricks are absurdly obvious as they consist, for the most part, of good camera work, judicious editing and a great score used well, but Princess Bride takes it a step further to help, with engaging dialogue and sharp tongued wit during the sword fights.

It's not entirely perfect (I seem to open a lot of paragraphs that way). The real world setting (Australia and Asia get name dropped early on) and lack of any overt magical elements, mean that a lot of things work because they say so. Some of the villains are kind of one dimensional, well third act villains, the first act villains are, eh you'll see. And while most of the technical details are great (solid makeup, great costumes and props, and a particularly unnerving bit of puppetry with the Screeching Eels), the techniques used to realize the Rodents of Unusual Sizes are awkward and unconvincing. And I guess there are some obvious stunt doubles in one bit and an absurdly obvious matte painting, but that's just me nitpicking.

Look, most of you don't need me to tell you to see this movie, and even if you haven't seen it (seriously leave a comment) I'm probably not the first person to tell you to see it. But for my money, it's a justifiable classic, and one of the all time great entries into particular subgenre (action, fantasy, romance, comedy? What is that a sub-sub-subgenre?). So if you haven't seen it, leave a comment and then give it a look.

Next on Second Age Reviews:...Fucked if I know. Probably Rock 'N Roll High School

Elessar is a 21 Alaskan born cinephile and his favorite line in this movie remains the bit about how life is pain.

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