Tuesday, September 15, 2020

As You Wish Upon a Star (The Princess Bride Returns)

Over the weekend, when I sat down to watch The Princess Bride, I didn't realize I was part of a trend. Maybe it's a general desire for escapism at a time of national crisis. With the COVID-19 pandemic breathing down our necks and a crucial election  roiling public emotions, we can all appreciate a quick trip to long-ago and faraway, especially when we're guaranteed an ending in which all of the good guys live happily ever after.

When The Princess Bride -- directed by Rob Reiner and adapted by the great William Goldman from his own novel -- was released in 1987, it was no great shakes at the box-office. It took the new phenomenon of home video to vault the film into the ranks of classic cinema. Generations of children, watching The Princess Bride in their living rooms, took Westley, Buttercup, and all the rest into their hearts. This seems entirely apt, since the heroic tale is framed by the tender relationship between a grandfather (Peter Falk) and his young grandson (Fred Savage), and takes on the aspect of a story passed between the generations. The kid is sick in bed, and Grandpa tries to entertain him by sharing a favorite storybook. It's full of pirates and duels and betrayals and escapes (and not overmuch in the way of kissing scenes): what more could any boy want?

The film's beauty lies partly in the perfection of its casting choices: Cary Elwes as a dashing hero, Robin Wright as an ethereal but spunky leading lady, Chris Sarandon as the thoroughly rotten Prince Humperdinck, Christopher Guest as his evil (and digitally challenged) sidekick. Fan favorites include the oddball trio of shrewd little Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), hulking Fezzik (André the Giant), and the soulful swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), always on the track of his father's killer. Even screwier are Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, unrecognizable under heavy makeup as Miracle Max and his wife.

As befits a classic, The Princess Bride has become a part of our daily vocabulary. It's inconceivable (tee hee!) that a fan of the film wouldn't react to Inigo's oft-repeated "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; prepare to die!" And "As you wish," as a secret way of saying "I love you" has its charm. Today's Hollywood adores The Princess Bride so much that when actors had been stuck in quarantine for months, they all leapt at the idea of shooting, bit by bit, a "home movie" version, produced by Ivan Reitman to benefit the World Central Kitchen charity. It is notably for zany casting, for home-grown props (like Diego Luna fencing with an umbrella against Jack Black wielding a plastic Jedi sword), and for the final appearance of Carl Reiner as the Grandfather, saying "As you wish" to his son Rob (playing the Fred Savage role) just a few days before Carl's passing at the age of 98. Everyone from Tiffany Haddish to Hugh Jackman to Shaquille O'Neal gets into the act, sometimes switching roles in mid-scene.

And on September 12, members of the original cast reunited online for a reading of Goldman's original script. This too was a fundraiser, in which at least 100,000 fans tuned in to contribute toward the Biden campaign in the swing state of Wisconsin. Once the reading was done, a Q&A revealed lively political sentiments from those involved. Billy Crystal, for one, joked that his character, Miracle Max, had lost his place in the castle – despite his ability to raise the dead — because he wrote a book revealing that Prince Humperdinck “didn’t care about the plague.”


Here's a clip from Jason Reitman's "home-movie" version of the film  

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