The Princess Bride
A high-spirited adventure that pits true love against inconceivable odds, The Princess Bride has charmed legions of fans with its irreverent gags, eccentric ensemble, and dazzling swordplay. A kid (Fred Savage), home sick from school, grudgingly allows his grandfather (Peter Falk) to read him a dusty storybook—which is how we meet the innocent Buttercup (Robin Wright, in her breakout role), about to marry the nefarious Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) though her heart belongs to Westley (Cary Elwes). The wedding plans are interrupted, however, by a mysterious pirate, a vengeful Spaniard, and a good-natured giant, in a tale full of swashbuckling, romance, and outrageously hilarious spoofery. Directed by Rob Reiner from an endlessly quotable script by William Goldman, The Princess Bride reigns as a fairy-tale classic.
The Criterion Collection upgrades their previous Blu-ray edition of Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride to 4K UHD, presenting it in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer, BD-66 disc. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode is presented in Dolby Vision, sourced from the same 4K restoration used for Criterion’s Blu-ray edition. That Blu-ray is also included in this release, delivering a 1080p presentation of the film and all of the release’s special features.
Before getting into the restoration and end presentation, it must be pointed out that there is a known issue around this release, which my copy also suffers from. At varying points between when Buttercup is kidnapped and when she and Wesley are in the Fire Swamp, the picture can start skipping and displaying severe macroblocking artifacts. My copy starts skipping and macroblocking following Buttercup’s kidnapping and continues on and off until the two enter the Fire Swamp. Interestingly, it doesn’t always happen or can differ a bit during repeat playbacks. In fact, in one instance where I was trying to note where the problems were happening, the entire sequence played back flawlessly. Then, during another instance, the macroblocking wasn’t as severe, while during another, the image froze entirely. I’m guessing it’s a physical issue with the batch of discs used for the pressings (maybe the glue is separating between layers?). Still, whatever the case, Criterion is aware of and looking into the problem. Since they’re usually on top of things and good at replacing problem discs, I will assume the issue will be fixed and ignore it for this review (meaning it won’t reflect in the score), but I felt it should still be noted.
Getting past that unfortunate problem, Criterion’s new 4K edition looks otherwise exceptional, delivering a far sharper and cleaner presentation of the film than what their already decent Blu-ray accomplished (I did give the Blu-ray a perfect score at the time, though I probably wouldn’t now). Fine object detail looks incredible, and film grain looks far cleaner outside a few buzzy-looking shots featuring an open sky. Dolby Vision and HDR further help with black levels and colors, with reds, blues, and violets looking great. The wider dynamic range also helps render some darker and smokier shots, like the Fire Swamp or the underground dungeon where our hapless hero finds himself at one point.
The restoration work has been extensive, cleaning out every blemish and mark, though this is no different from the previous Blu-ray edition. Overall, this is an exceptional presentation and the best the film has looked on video.
As far as I can discern, Criterion is reusing the same remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 presentation they used for their previous release. I still don’t find it all that different from previous releases, but it perfectly suits the film. Music and some sound effects work their way to the rear speakers with noticeable splits, but most of the audio is focused on the three front speakers. There is also some subtle bass from the lower frequency. Dialogue is clear, and the audio, on the whole, is very sharp and crisp.
As expected, the 4K UHD disc contains only the film with an optional commentary featuring Reiner, writer William Goldman, producer Andrew Scheinman, and actors Peter Falk and Billy Crystal, which was recorded for Criterion’s LaserDisc edition in 1996 (the commentaries recorded for MGM and Fox’s editions are not included). The video features are found on a standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc alongside a 1080p high-definition film presentation, also including the optional commentary. This disc is the same one from Criterion’s 2018 Blu-ray edition, featuring slightly altered artwork.
The commentary is nicely assembled, featuring all participants recorded with discussions edited to accompany what’s happening on screen. Goldman probably has the bulk of the track, covering the background to the book and the movie and explaining how proud he is of the story and film (this and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are the only two things he’s done that he is proud of). He also talks a bit about the adaptation process and what goes behind adapting a book for film. Reiner and Scheinman show up less than I would have figured, yet despite having bit parts, both Falk and Crystal appear far more than I would have expected. The production background proves to be especially intriguing, as it took a while to get off the ground, with many interesting and unexpected talents having been attached at one point or another. It was also great listening to everyone talk about working with other cast and crew, Crystal being especially taken by Andre the Giant. At the same time, Reiner shares some amusing stories about Wallace Shawn’s insecurities. I enjoyed this track more than the MGM one, finding it moved at a better pace thanks to the editing, so if you haven’t listened to this one yet, it’s worth giving it a go here.
Also taken from the Criterion LaserDisc is another alternate audio track, the audiobook, which presents excerpts from the actual audiobook released for the original novel featuring Rob Reiner, also found on the 4K disc. These excerpts are pulled to match specific scenes on screen at the time. I found it a worthwhile addition if only to see how the film visualizes the text while also highlighting what changes were made. Including the actual book would have been a great idea (though probably impossible), but this is a decent alternative.
All remaining video features are found on standard Blu-ray under the “Supplements” section, starting with a 2012 feature from Fox’s Blu-ray, True Love, a 15-minute discussion between Reiner and actors Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. A lot of the material here is covered in the commentary (and some of the other features), but there are a handful of deleted scenes scattered about, including raw footage for the original ending. It was also enjoyable listening to the three remark on how fans still approach them about the film.
Pure Enchantment is a new feature exclusively produced by Criterion. In it, screenwriter Loren-Paul Caplin discusses the work of William Goldman, with a particular focus on The Princess Bride, while also looking at how Goldman has structured his scripts through the years, breaking conventions along the way. Though it works as a feature about Goldman, it also becomes a solid examination of a typical screenplay structure. It runs for 17 minutes.
Also new to this edition is a 6-minute feature about a tapestry Goldman commissioned after completing the book, representing key sequences. Goldman hosts this feature, goes over the sequences represented, and then talks a little about Andre the Giant. It’s a shame it ends up being so short because it proves to be a very engaging extra.
Criterion then creates a little sub-section called “Making the Film,” which starts with the 2001 making-of As You Wish, featuring interviews with cast and crew members. It runs 27 minutes and is typical for most MGM-produced features of that time, covering the film’s production in-depth from beginning to end through talking-head interviews. Accompanying this is a 9-minute featurette from 2007 called ”The Princess Bride”: Untold Tales featuring Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Fred Savage, and Robin Wright, where the participants share some tales around the production, primarily about the atmosphere on set and stories from the hotel they stayed at.
Fairy Tale Reality is another new feature created by Criterion, which features art director Richard Holland talking about the film’s sets, with some archival footage of production designer Norman Garwood mixed in with some behind-the-scenes footage. Holland covers how they spruced up actual settings to give it that more fairy-tale look and then talks about working with the director of photography to ensure it will be appropriately captured. This is followed by a 2006 feature called Miraculous Makeup, featuring interviews with Billy Crystal and makeup artist Peter Montagna about Miracle Max's creation. The features run 12 and 11 minutes, respectively.
Criterion then ports over more content from their LaserDisc edition, this time in some behind-the-scenes footage. We get five segments here, running between 2-and-a-half minutes and 5 minutes for less than 20 minutes altogether. You can watch the footage on its own or with a commentary. Scheinman and Crystal appear in two commentaries, while Reiner appears in one. Crystal probably offers the better tracks, talking about what it’s like making a cameo before fondly recalling Andre the Giant, mentioning a project he was working on at the time called My Giant (remember that one?), which was based on his experience with the wrestler/actor. I don’t believe any of this material has appeared anywhere other than Criterion’s LaserDisc, so it’s great to have access to it again.
Also from the LaserDisc is footage from Cary Elwes’ Video Diary, which only runs 4 minutes and features both Elwes and Wright narrating. The footage isn’t too revealing, but the two talk about working with each other, and Elwes recalls his sword training, footage from which is included in the material.
That then leads into a 2007 featurette called The Art of Fencing, featuring Robert Goodwing talking about the film’s trainer/sword master, Bob Anderson, and the art of sword fights in Hollywood films. There is then a feature on Fairy Tales and Folklore, also from 2007, featuring scholar Jack Zipes talking about the power of fairy tales, their purpose throughout time, and how the film plays on certain conventions. For a studio-produced piece, it’s not a bad scholarly addition. The two features run for seven and 9-minutes, respectively.
The disc then closes with a series of trailers and TV spots. The North American trailer indicates the studio had no idea how to market the film.
The packaging for this edition also replicates the first printing of the Blu-ray (subsequence pressings drop it): it again takes the appearance of a clothbound book. There is also a booklet attached inside. First is an essay by Sloane Crosley about how it has held up, and she shares her experience of watching it with her niece, trying to show how different generations can still gravitate towards the film (my kids like it). This is followed by an excerpt from “Four Screenplays” with William Goldman recounting how the story of The Princess Bride came to be.
Also, like the Blu-ray, not everything gets ported over from other home video releases: a couple of other featurettes are missing, as are the two commentaries from the MGM DVDs and Blu-ray, but I think Criterion has tried to cut most of the fluff out and brought over only the supplements that are worth the time. They also wisely put precedence on their LaserDisc features, getting them out into the world again. The features are imperfect, but this is probably the best material assembled for the film yet.
Still a wonderful special edition, now with a stunner of a 4K presentation.