I should lead off this review by pointing out that there are two versions of this two-disc set: the Dread Pirate Edition and the Princess Buttercup Edition. Both are the same, sans their cover art.
In his commentary for “The Princess Bride,” director Rob Reiner relates an amusing tale about leaving a restaurant where John Gotti and some of his wise guys have been dining. One of the men — “a great plug of a guy,” as Reiner describes him, comparing the mobster to Luca Brasi from “The Godfather” — looks right at the director and says “You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
After he got over his shock, Reiner relates, the man told him that he loved the movie. “When a wise guy quotes from your film,” the director notes, “you know you’ve penetrated the popular culture.”
What more can be said about a film that has been around for nearly two decades but still claims a large fan base? I have to admit I hadn’t seen it until watching this DVD. It wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be, but perhaps that had something to do with hearing so many times how uproariously hysterical it is and how I just had to see it. No one mentioned to me the way writer William Goldman deftly weaved romance and adventure into the story, so I thought I was going to see something similar to a Monty Python movie. The other stuff threw me for a loop.
Upon further reflection, I can understand why so many people loved, and still adore, “The Princess Bride.” Goldman did a great job of turning the fairy tale convention on its ear, and Reiner pulled it all together as well as anyone else could have back in the late 1980s, especially considering the comparatively small budget he had to work with. Sure, many of the effects look horrendously cheesy compared to how they would have been executed today, but you have to appreciate the story. That’s what matters above all else.
Aside from the movie, disc one also includes an 80-image still gallery as well as separate commentaries by Reiner and Goldman, both of which were brought over from the earlier Special Edition release. Both suffer from lapses as they get caught up in watching the film, but there’s plenty of interesting information to mine in each one. Reiner mostly covers the challenges he faced while making the movie and Goldman gives us the long-term view, discussing the many struggles he experienced over a decade-plus odyssey to finally get the film off the ground.
Over on disc two, the centerpiece is another port from the original DVD: “As You Wish: The Story of the Princess Bride,” a 27-minute documentary. It’s a nice complement to the commentary tracks, and it includes thoughts from most of the surviving cast members. We also get the 1987 making-of documentary and featurette, both of which run just over 10 minutes each. They were obviously made to sell the film to theater owners, so they’re not nearly as interesting as the new material, which takes a more reflective approach and considers the movie’s impact on popular culture since its release.
“Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas” is actually the best extra in this set. It brilliantly mimics the tone of the film by having a few experts talk about how the Dread Pirate Roberts was likely based on the 18th century pirate Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, while another one (actor Cary Elwes in heavy make-up) dismisses every parallel they discover. Of course, the whole thing pretends that S. Morgenstern was a real person. It’s very amusing, and it even features some pirate illustrations by Richard Becker, an artist I’ve known for several years.
In contrast, the “Love is Like a Storybook Story” featurette offers up a few academics who explain how “The Princess Bride” fits into the context of the many fairy tales that have been written over the past few centuries. It plays its subject matter straight, which makes sense considering the way the film mixes light satire with genuine romance.
Finally, we have “Miraculous Make-Up,” which delves into Billy Crystal’s transformation into Miracle Max (he wanted the character to look like a cross between ex-Yankees manager Casey Stengel and his grandmother), as well as Cary Elwes’ home movies, which he and Robin Wright-Penn narrate. There are some nice moments in the latter, especially concerning Andre the Giant, who was apparently a decent human being. I’m always bummed when good guys leave this Earth too soon.
This DVD set also includes an eight-page booklet that pretends to be a visitor’s guide to Florin. It’s a nice touch, considering the fact that most studios don’t put any booklets in their DVDs these days.