The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride (1987)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

The wait for this movie has been long. After all I remember the film was on Polygram’s DVD schedules in 1998 already and was then withheld when Polygram sold its film library to MGM. There the film was put on hold for quite some time until it has now finally found its way to DVD. But although the film is finally here, upon the initial announcement of the release, many fans decided to turn their back on the DVD for its lack of an <$16x9, anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer. Well, to put it bluntly, that is their loss, because the DVD version MGM Home Entertainment is bringing us here looks much better than anyone would have expected, despite the fact that it contains a non-<$16x9,anamorphic> presentation.

Told as a bed-time story, "The Princess Bride" is the tale of eternal love. Young princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) and stable mate Westley (Cary Elwes) fall in love, and in order to live up to the royal standards, Westley decides to leave home and seek his fortune to return one day to marry Buttercup. But he disappears for far too long and rumors of his death reach home after several years.
With her true love lost, Buttercup is about to marry Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), a man she disgusts, for political reasons. But just before the wedding she is kidnapped and a mysterious black pirate appears to save her from the grasp of the villains. What follows is a hysterical series of inventively twisted adventure elements ranging from courteous sword fights and battling rodents of unusual size, to torture with a smile and a fight to multiple deaths.

Rob Reiner has always had a rather droll sense of humor that he regularly combines with his social observations and very tangible characters. His 1987 film "The Princess Bride" is no different in that and creates vignettes that are memorable and exceedingly funny. His talents to make an audience laugh are probably at their best in this film as he uses a few rather uncommon – if not usually dreaded – narrative devices that instead of destroying the magic, turn into some of the film’s funniest moments in Reiner’s hands.

Take the back story of the grandfather and the child for example. In the midst of the story, when the viewer has suspended all his disbelief and is entirely immersed in the fantasy world, Reiner decides to pull us back out by cutting back into the boy’s bedroom with an interfering exclamation. In most films such a procedure would kill the movie as it usually takes minutes to get your audience’s attention focussed back on the main story again, but in this film it becomes a relieving moment that adds a lot of humor and a magic human element to the plot. The viewer never dreads the interruption. We accept it as part of the actual story, as we see the boy entirely captivated by the story he found so very boring at first.

But the film’s humor is not limited to such narrative devices. The story line itself, the characters and twists have a whimsical charm that make this film suitable for the young and old alike. Around every corner there is a laugh, within every situation is a hilarious moment and within every character is an adolescent silliness that makes "The Princess Bride" a greatly enjoyable movie.

I have to admit that I was skeptical at first how this DVD would turn out, but my fear was soon put to rest. The disc contains both a 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> and a full screen presentation of the movie.

The full screen transfer is an <$OpenMatte,open matte> transfer that adds some picture information at the top and the bottom of the screen. However there are some very notable quality differences between these two incarnations of the film. With dull colors, grayish blacks and moderate contrast, the full screen version of the movie is washed out and soft and quite unattractive to behold. The <$PS,widescreen> version on the other hands shows a transfer that has bold colors, and very good contrast. Like a veil of dirt that has been removed from the image, the <$PS,widescreen> version reveals much more detail than the <$PS,full frame> presentation, and has a much deeper look. Edges are sharp, but free of artifacts introduced by edge-enhancement. The blacks in the transfer are deep and solid, with very good shadow detail that never loses definition. The highlights are stark but never create an overexposed look. Fleshtones are faithfully rendered and overall the color reproduction of the disc is very good-looking and pleasant and not even the occasional graininess of the image can destroy that perception. The presentation has also been carefully compressed, and as a result even fine details make it into the presentation without distortion or artifacting, giving the image a very detailed look that is free of <$pixelation,pixelation> or other compression artifacts.

"The Princess Bride" features a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> Surround audio track in English and a Spanish monaural language track. While the Spanish track has a nasal and very harsh quality, the <$5.1,5.1 mix> is beautiful and rich. With good fidelity, the track is not very aggressive and is using mostly the front channels for its purposes, but on occasion surrounds are brought in to good effect and to create a more lively, expansive sound field with a bustling ambiance and nice fill-ins for the music. The frequency response of the track is good, creating a natural presentation that never sounds harsh and is free of distortion. The bass extension is unexaggerated, also adding to the very natural quality of the track, while the high ends of the spectrum are nicely reproduced to create a clear presentation. Unfortunately the disc does not contain any bonus material other than the movie’s original trailer and a two-page flyer with some production notes.

Although every fan had hoped to see a Special Edition of this particular film as it had originally been planned, at least this DVD brings us a pleasing presentation of the movie itself. The transfer is – though non-<$16x9,anamorphic> – very good and clearly a notch above any other home video versions of the film I have seen before. The clean transfer and the good audio make "The Princess Bride" a good, albeit unspectacular, release that fans of the film should not dismiss too easily.