A couple of nights ago I showed my friend D ‘The Princess Bride’ (1987).
“Why are we watching this?” he asked.
“Because I’ve never particularly liked the movie, have been baffled by the adulation it has gathered over the years and want to watch it with someone who has never seen it before so you can let me know if it’s the film that’s wrong or me.”
“At least we’re not watching it for some pathetic, judgemental reason then.”
And so we watched ‘The Princess Bride’, a film about love, adventure, imagination and derring-do. Or at least, that’s what it’s about in theory as these are often the elements I feel the film lacks: there’s some adventure but I never feel particularly roused; there’s love but Buttercup and Wesley are hardly on screen together; there’s imagination but the film looks and feels dull and flat and there’s not much derring-do, more derring-don’t. But let’s not start this tale with such negativity as it’s, most definitely, not all bad.
‘The Princess Bride’ is a sweet film with its heart firmly in the right place and with a genuine desire to charm and entertain. The framing device of the young kid and his grandfather is cute (define that word how you see fit) and the playful subversion of a fairytale romance ripe for comedic and adventurous exploitation. Indeed, throw a few songs into this and it could be a Sondheim musical.
And thirty minutes in I was wondering if I had been too hard on the movie as both myself and D were enjoying the story, smiling at some of the moments and having a good time. The plotting is well crafted, the characters distinct and there are a few funny moments. Surely only a cynical, evil, black-hearted cad could dislike such a delight? Am I just a nasty so and so?
Fortunately, like a dashing Prince, the film came to my aid by courteously throwing itself off a cliff to its death on the rocks of boredom below because I find ‘The Princess Bride’ has massive pacing issues and a lack of appropriate energy. Just when I think the film should be zinging along it seems to grind to a halt; it feels flat-footed when it should be fleet. It’s no coincidence this really kicks in when Wesley is paralysed as the entire movie feels like it is dragging around a dead-weight, that it is lugging about something that’s stopping it from taking flight. I know Wesley’s paralysis is germane to the tale and mirrors Fred Savage’s ennui but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the film, for me, becomes tedious. Where’s the appropriate energy?!
This isn’t helped by other issues, namely that this can be an ugly looking movie for one. I can’t stand the lighting in this film and, at times, it looks unmagically flat. Why is the Pit of Despair so brightly lit and looks exactly the same as every other scene in terms of atmosphere? There seems to be a bland uniformity hanging over everything here that I find myself fighting against and as soon as I find myself fighting a movie then all is lost. This isn’t helped by a soundtrack with some pretty nasty synth sounds grating away — if film is an audio-visual medium then I find ‘The Princess Bride’ aesthetically unappealing. And for a movietitled ‘The Princess Bride’ then why do I feel Buttercup gets shortchanged in this tale? Again, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it wasn’t accompanied by a lack of appropriate energy.
The film finished (and quite abruptly it turns out) and I asked D what he thought. Turns out he loved it, finding it both charming and traumatic. “But it does have issues” he admitted.
“Yes! So I’m not just being petty and judgmental?”
It’s not that ‘The Princess Bride’ is a bad film (it definitely isn’t) and I can understand why it is so beloved, but only if I squint and deliberately alter my view to the extent I could be diagnosed as delusional. I certainly don’t hate it but neither do I find it genuinely enjoyable, and I think that’s the root of my frustration. This is why ‘The Princess Bride’ is a good candidate for a remake. It might sound like sacrilege but I do think there’s huge scope for improvement here (imagine the difference a full orchestral score would make!), and there’s certainly the opportunity for adding more appropriate energy.