80s Movie Challenge Week 47: The Princess Bride (1987)

Welcome back 80s fans to another #80sMC. This week we welcome back Francis Fisher who wants to tell you a story. A story about fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles.

Doesn’t sound too bad? Good, then try to stay awake as he takes us back to 1987 and delves into the pages of The Princess Bride!

Is there a more quotable film out there than The Princess Bride? If there is, it’s not coming to mind, if you think otherwise – well, think as you wish. It’s an interesting film in that, although it is one of my favourites, I think I have only seen it about three times in my life since first discovering it quite late in my life (around 8 ½ years ago). I forget the details, but my good friend Kelly and I were in the middle of a conversation. Cue her making a quote from the film and a resulting perplexed look on my face. I believe the rest of the conversation went something like this:

Kelly: “You’ve never seen The Princess Bride?!”
Me: “No? I haven’t even heard of it.”
Kelly: “Okay, you need to see this movie.”

So I did (eventually). And I certainly enjoyed it. But I very much treated it as a classic film of its time when I first watched it, and I intend to focus on discussing it from a more modern perspective here.

The film begins with a ‘modern-day’ introductory scene, setting up a surprisingly postmodern ‘story within a story’ aesthetic while also openly acknowledging both the anachronistic medieval settings of the story and the technological evolution (as seen from the grandfather narrator’s perspective at least) of the modern world (“When I was your age, television was called books”). The gentle mockery of the story about to be told is made clear by the grandson’s initial disdain for the tale, which is used repeatedly throughout the story in the rest of these narratorial scenes (“Is this a kissing book?”). Honestly, it is refreshing how willing to make fun of itself this film is, particularly given how it has become such a key part of popular culture.

Speaking of making fun of itself, the now heavily familiar (for a millennial like myself at least) fantasy tropes are used in a similar fashion. From the hilarious terminology in the film i.e. Fire Swamp, shrieking eels, Cliffs of Insanity to the Westley ‘resurrection’ scene, the genre is rarely taken seriously. And it works – you can see the influence of this approach in more modern movie works such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where a fairly serious and stoical approach in the original source material by the esteemed J.R.R. Tolkien was transformed into a much more action-centric series of films with a slightly more comedic tone. The Princess Bride did not need to use medieval fantasy over-the-top action (Legolas’ regular archery stuntman antics), but the sibling-like comedic relationship that we see here between Fezzik, Inigo and Westley can certainly be compared to Gimli and Legolas’ own connection.

The characters, though rarely taking themselves or each other too seriously, are always given room to breathe. And it is fundamentally the characters which make this movie. From the wrestling idol Andre the Giant’s Fezzik to Wallace Shawn’s all too brief portrayal of Vizzini and Carys Elwes’ devoted Westley, they all get their moments to shine and their respective stories to tell. Even the Princess Bride herself, Buttercup, though very much still a femme fatale, demonstrates more than the average amount of courage and fight one would expect from the average female character during the 1980s. Inigo Montoya’s revenge story and transformation from mercenary villain to hero is my personal favourite and reminds me of another Bride from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies in some ways.

From a villain characters perspective, and having rewatched this film recently, I am struck by the similarity in style between the villains here and those in Game of Thrones. Prince Humperdinck and Count Tyrone are a strong pairing, both quiet yet sinister, chilling and carrying a distinct threat in their own ways (Tyrone through his swordplay and loyalty to Humperdinck, Humperdinck due to his sense of cunning and level of selfishness). Tyrone, in particular, reminds me of a somewhat less honourable Jamie Lannister, while Humperdinck makes me think of the esteemed Tywin Lannister.

It is also interesting to note how well some of these actors did during their subsequent careers. Andre the Giant was already a world star in his wrestling kingdom, of course, and remained that way for a few years afterwards. Wallace Shawn went on to appear in the renowned Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my personal favourite Star Trek series), and Robin Wright likewise did well for herself. Would these actors have had the same level of success that they did without their appearances in this movie? We will never know of course, but even many years later this is certainly the standout production in many of the actors’ CVs from this work.

Ultimately, though, it is William Goldman’s razor-sharp script and incredibly memorable quotes that make this film so fondly remembered even now. Goldman, also the author of the original book, shows that his writing style truly does work across more than one medium in this movie. His style reminds me in many ways of Aaron Sorkin and (whisper it in some circles) the Gilmore Girls TV series. I wonder if this movie served as an inspiration to either – fans of the show, if they didn’t know already, will not be surprised to learn that The Princess Bride was quoted/referenced at least once during its time on the screen. Much like in Sorkin’s work and Gilmore Girls, the talking virtually never stops throughout this movie, even during the action scenes (this is particularly the case in the sword duel between Inigo and Westley (“I am not left-handed”). Indeed, watching this scene reminds me of the Spider-Man comics and movies with good ol’ Webhead’s incessant banter with his opposite villains during fight scenes.

This film holds up well in most respects really, largely due to a lack of CGI special effects to date it. The action scenes are tame, but they are not the point of this movie, it is all about the story/script and the delightful characters. If you are in the same situation that I was in before Kelly recommended this film to me, I highly recommend you do the same thing I did and watch it as soon as possible.

Join us again next time as we enter the first of our Festive 80s Trilogy that will bring our Year Long 80s Movie Challenge to a close. Paul Childs keeps us firmly in 1987 and proves that he’s too old for this shit. That’s right! It’s Lethal Weapon!

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