It˜s testament to modestly-budgeted 1987 fairy tale The Princess Bride that decades later, the mere mention of this film elicits gushing from young and old viewers alike, followed by recollections of everyone’s favourite quotes and characters. Most will either wax lyrical over the love story between Buttercup (Robin Wright – before the Penn) and her farm-boy turned swashbuckling pirate Westley (Cary Elwes), or run off lines from the enigmatic Spanish rogue Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), who could never have known how the immortal words ˜My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!’ would come to follow him round.
But The Princess Bride isn’t just the colourful stereotypes which make it so memorable; it is its ability to poke fun at the genre it’s satirizing all the while hugging it tight to its chest and embracing it. The main action is positioned within a story-within-a-story framework; the trials and tribulations of Westley and Buttercup are narrated to us by a modern day grandpa as he reads the story aloud to his poorly grandson. The fairytale he narrates goes as follows; after discovering their love for one another, poor farm-boy Westley goes to sea to seek his fortune so that he can marry his one true love. One day while she is waiting for him to return, Buttercup receives word that Westley’s ship was captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts who is notorious for leaving no prisoners alive.
Buttercup vows to never love again, but five years later she finds herself engaged to crown Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Just before the wedding she is kidnapped by three rogues, comprised of Sicilian brains-of-the-operation Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), boulder-smashing giant for hire Fezzick (AndrÃ© the Giant) and Spanish swordfighter Inigo Montoya whose life ambition is to kill the six-fingered man who murdered his father. Whilst on the run, the rogues and Buttercup are pursued by a masked crusader who admits to being the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, but eventually reveals his true identity as her one true love Westley, who took on the persona of the infamous pirate when their ship was attacked. It transpires that the original Roberts retired long ago, passing down the name as a means to inspire fear into the hearts of men and keep the legend alive. Now rich enough to marry his love, Westley must first rid Buttercup of evil prince Humperdinck and his minions so that they can live happily ever after.
Postmodern, satirical and tongue-in cheek are all words that have been used to describe The Princess Bride and director Rob Reiner steers his ship as expertly as the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, never once falling into the trappings of cute or camp. For example, wall-flower Buttercup’s unwavering faith in Westley’s love for her and her belief that their love can conquer all obstacles quietly pokes fun at damsels in distress and their deliverers, but at the same time delights the audience in wiping the smug smile off Humperdinck’s face. Even when the evil, six-fingered Count’s torture machine has rendered Westley ˜mostly dead,’ Buttercup routinely insists ˜My Westley will come for me.’ When our hero finally crashes through the door at the opportune moment, laughs abound, proving that the characters are endearing because they hold so fast to what makes them who they are; celebrating rather than deriding them.
As an exploration into the conventions of fairytales The Princess Bride is second to none. However, for all its flawless casting and swashbuckling, self-referencing charm, it does not push borders or boundaries or take us into realms of imagining hitherto unknown to us. Original in the sense that everything is re-worked and looked at from different angles, it brings nothing new to the table, which may hinder multiple viewings.