PG, because live action films actually used to be PG. I know, it's 1987, but PG matches this film pretty closely. Sure, there's death in it. There's some kinda death as well. There's violence. I can't think of anything overly sexual in the film. It may have some regressive politics, but that's more on 1987 than anything else. This is a very well-deserved PG rating.
DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner
There's an interesting thing that happens when you aren't obsessed with a movie that everyone adores. I keep wanting to love this movie. I don't deny that it's a good movie. It makes me laugh from time to time. It's pretty fun. But I never really got on The Princess Bride train. I know that it is universally adored, but I don't necessarily get it. As a member of many many fandoms, I think I kind of get what it means to be on the outside of something that you think is pretty special. The Princess Bride is a movie that I showed my film club because it's in that pile of modern classics that is dying off. But in terms of being an objectively amazing movie, I think it's just pretty good. (I'm going to get torn apart for this, aren't I?)
I don't think I've seen a movie that has been so affected by being dated. I hope I can say this without eliciting too much scorn, but that soundtrack is rough. I mean, geez Louise, that soundtrack drives me bananas. I can think of less than impressive soundtracks, but The Princess Bride might be the one film where the soundtrack actually affects my like or dislike of a movie. I know it was 1987. I should be man enough to forgive something like the cocaine-fueled nightmare of the late '80s. But synthesizing this score was the worst choice I've seen in a film, like ever. I think that the synthesizer was a choice. I'm sure that someone thought it would be rad to be cutting edge and try the newest Casio settings. But I also have the vibe that the studio might not have believed in The Princess Bride. Despite the fact that it is a successful film, it also is kind of a cheap looking film. So many scenes look like they are a built set. Nothing in the film really looks real. Rob Reiner is no dummy. He's a talented filmmaker who, for the most part, knows what he is doing. He's got a sense of comic timing and he knows his pacing. But there are a lot of scenes that look nowhere near film quality. These are great scenes. But it all feels like watching a play. I would adore having an artistic analysis for why everything looks this way. For all I know, Fred Savage lacks the historical accuracy to imagine how things look like correctly, so it has to look pretty goofy. I don't get that vibe at all. I get the vibe that either A) attention to detail really didn't matter. It's a comedy. Or B) the studio didn't trust a fantasy movie to this guy and they shortchanged him every time they got a chance. The only thing that I don't really like about this movie is the actual filmmaking. It's an ugly film. I love me some old timey Doctor Who, but I also know that it isn't objectively great because it looks like garbage a lot of the time.
But in terms of fun, it's pretty good. The structure of the film is what mostly makes it work. Yeah, we all acknowledge that Grandpa probably didn't have time to read his grandson a whole novel. Also, it's really weird that he skips pages. I can't be the only one that is horrified by that idea. Regardless, having Fred Savage and his grandpa interrupt the film is the perfect way to set the tone. (Why does he have a Santa Claus up in his room? Even if it is Christmas, which I don't think it is, who decorates their kids' bedroom?) Fred Savage as the avatar for the audience establishes the intended audience. Peter Falk is fantastic. Yeah, I never got into Columbo. I'm 36, not 80. (That being said, I have a student who is obsessed with Columbo graduating this year.) Shifting from this world to the world of Westley oddly enough gives the film a Neverending Story quality. The actions of Fred Savage and his grandfather never affect the world of the story, but the interruptions make it feel like the actors are put on pause. There's the scene where Buttercup is about to be eaten by the eel. While this is simply rewound to the moment that was interrupted, it feels like Robin Wright Penn is genuinely annoyed to have to perform the scene again. This is actually a testament to the importance of good editing. The film never actually states that the characters inside of the book are actors, but the movie reminds us that we are in that movie. Perhaps The Princess Bride resonates with so many people is the fact that it is one of the earlier films to play around with the meta narrative. By having Peter Falk read the book to Fred Savage, in a way, it is reminding us about the entire concept of storytelling. The film is a commentary on storytelling, so it is marvelously appropriate in that way. Their interruptions are often accompanied by Savage commenting on tropes and archetypes. He doesn't realize this, of course. He's just the least sick kid I've seen listening to a story that his grandpa is reading to him. But think about it. Savage's kid knows the beats of the fantasy tale. Every time that there is a subversion of expectations, he comments on it. It actually stops us from getting too invested in the primary narrative. Yeah, the eel scene can be a little scary, but the film doesn't really let us feel the fear in that sequence. It's because that tension is released when we are reminded that this is just a story. Seeing the book with many, many pages left is a stark reminder that Grandpa probably won't be reading this kid a monstrous story about a protagonist who is killed in the first hour of the movie. These breaks are timed idyllically. Every time the story gets too heavy or lingers in the fantasy world, we are pulled back to the real world of the kid and grandpa. A similar concept exists in Goldman's novel. I didn't get too far in that, but it does.
Now this all brings me to an even greater question: Am I supposed to watch this movie as a love story? If the fourth wall is constantly being broken and the movie is commenting on adventure fantasy tropes, is the romance real? I'm not saying that people shouldn't love the Buttercup and Westley shipping. I think it is a fine sentiment to make, but I don't think that I'm supposed to leave the film swooning for their relationship. I want to say that the fans turned the movie into a love story. The Princess Bride really makes me question what a love story actually is. By all intents and purposes, the movie really makes some statements about love. When asked from almost death what his motivations are, Westley replies "True Love." (Nerds, feel free to finish the quote.) Buttercup would rather die than face a world without her love. But they rarely are together. In fact, despite that the movie stresses that there has rarely been a couple as devoted and in love as these two characters, we don't actually know them as a couple. There's something brutally artificial about their relationship. This isn't a fault. This all sounds like I'm attacking the love aspect of the film. But the romance is almost artificial by choice. Because this relationship is meant to be a once in a generation thing, there's no way to actually present that accurately. (Okay, I'm taking broad strokes. There are characters that I ship way too hard, so I'm kind of shooting myself in the foot.) But honestly, look at that movie. How many scenes are Westley and Buttercup in together? They may have had a handful of days on set together. It's kind of ridiculous.
You know the really weird element of the movie? I'm not even saying it is a bad thing, but the pacing of the movie is really weird. It's not bad at all. I don't mind it. But this film is deceptively simple. There's a subplot about staging a war, but I didn't even think about that storyline until this most recent watch. Really, the movie is about exposition involving Westley's "death". Then Buttercup is kidnapped and a chunk of the movie is Westley getting her back. Then she's immediately returned to Humperdink and Westley has to get her back again. Yeah, an oversimplification, but not by much. I don't care. It almost feels like Rob Reiner is just following his own rules for filmmaking with this one. Most of the movie turned out pretty good, so we ignore the oddball choices in storytelling. I enjoy the movie. I don't think I'll ever get the obsession, but it is pretty good.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.