Full disclosure: I love “The Princess Bride.” It’s an obsession. Growing up, my friends and I discussed the film regularly, quoting long portions to each other. We would run around our high school during fencing practice, pretending to be Westley and Inigo Montoya, always shocked to discover our opponent was not really left-handed. We would watch the behind-the-scenes segment over and over and intensely theorize which actors should be cast as which roles if a remake were ever attempted.
Essentially, if “The Princess Bride” comes up at trivia night, you want me on your team. I’m not ashamed to admit I can recite the entire film along with the actors.
And as nerdy as it is, “The Princess Bride” inspires this level of devotion from myself and countless others because, at its core, the film is a celebration of storytelling. Yes, like other tongue-in-cheek films out there, “The Princess Bride” has its comedic quirks and contagious one-liners, but the film ultimately adds up to be more than the sum of those parts.
This is because “The Princess Bride” fuses the power of storytelling with the power of film as a medium: The entire movie is in the imagination of a sick kid being read a novel by his grandfather. Within the context of the film, he creates the characters, Florin, Guilder, the Pit of Despair and the other iconic portions we love in “The Princess Bride.”
That’s what’s so wonderful about sharing stories, creating stories and reading stories — they allow us to escape, to fantasize and to exercise creativity. How many of us, when reading a book or being read to, visualize the characters and their world, becoming completely caught up in what we’ve imagined?
“The Princess Bride” captures and revels in this universal phenomena of storytelling in a charming, genuine and clever way. We bruise our ribs laughing at Billy Crystal’s antics as Miracle Max and the preacher with the speech impediment, sigh with relief when Inigo finally enacts his revenge, yearn to rhyme along with Fezzik and get the warm fuzzies when Westley and Buttercup share the kiss that left all other kisses behind.
And boy, what a story “The Princess Bride” tells. As Peter Falk’s grandfatherly character summarizes, there’s “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles” — is there anyone who wouldn’t be intrigued? That would be inconceivable!
I had been told since middle school that “The Princess Bride” was one of the best movies ever made and easily the funniest in its genre. It seemed clear — any guy that showed up for Halloween dressed as the Dread Pirate Roberts was swarmed by girls, despite taking a cool 10 minutes of preparation. Clearly this movie had to be magical.
The quotes, too, floated around my circles of friends, even when we weren’t directly talking about the film: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” “Anybody want a peanut?” “Inconceivable!” And despite knowing not even one of the other characters’ names, I could quote Inigo Montoya’s death proclamation, word-for-word.
So imagine my delight when, freshman year, my friends and I decided to rent “The Princess Bride” so I could witness it for the first time. I could scarcely wait to join the “cult” that made it a “cult” classic.
And yet, wait I did. I watched as they described a very superficial love, one that went not far beyond “he loved her, and it was so.” I told myself it would be fine, this wasn’t an important part of the movie, anyway (even though it was the foundation for the entire plot).
The man in black goes on to dispatch the three outlaws who capture Buttercup — each in a manner more cheesy than the last. In fact, I briefly recall putting on a skit similar to the Vizzini’s “battle of wits” when I was in elementary school.
So I kept waiting — until I realized that, much to my dismay, I had waited through the whole movie. Yes, Billy Crystal and André the Giant are fantastic cameos to have — but I’ve seen Billy Crystal before. With many fans naming this movie the “ ‘Wizard of OZ’ of our time,” why wasn’t I feeling like I’d witnessed a classic?
Perhaps it was the lack of nostalgia. For others, this movie was a cherished antique, the scenes and jokes having collected the varnish of 10 or 15 years.
Interestingly enough, I watched a similar movie for the first time a year or two ago: Mel Brooks’s “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” The two movies are so alike, that even the protagonist is played by the same actor: Cary Elwes (“Saw 3D”). Yet I thought it was vastly superior — the jokes were wittier, both on their own and as allusions to themes outside of the particular genre itself. Richard Lewis (TV’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) is a funnier villain. And the debut of Dave Chappelle (TV’s “Chappelle’s Show”) is — I hate to say it — more exciting to watch than Inigo Montoya’s “classic” line.
Yes, “The Princess Bride” is six years older than “Men in Tights.” Yet a classic is supposed to be timeless (as the latter, at least to me, seems to be). Maybe I should’ve watched “The Princess Bride” when I was younger, but as an adult, it just seems average.