The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride won the 1987 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentaton. Second place went to Robocop, third to the Star Trek: The Next Generation pilot “Encounter at Farpoint”, fourth to Predator and fifth to The Witches of Eastwick. Scandalously, I have seen all four films but not the Trek episode. IMDB users love The Princess Bride, raking it top on one system and second on the other. that year's Oscar winner, The Last Emperor, ranks pretty low, 19th and 38th, but more on that next week.

I find no crossovers with Doctor Who or previous Hugo winners, and one returnee from an Oscar-winning film: Carol Kane, who plays Valerie, the wife of Billy Crystal's Miracle Max here, and was Alvy's first wife in Annie Hall. (She's aged a bit in the intervening ten years!)

There are simply loads of familiar faces here – Billy Crystal as noted above, Peter Cook, Mel Smith, Chris Guest, Peter Falk, Fred Savage who went on to be the kid in The Wonder Years. The other Reiner films that I have seen are few – When Harry Met Sally, This Is Spın̈al Tap, The American President, Primary Colors – but entertaining. Goldman's script crackles along here, most of the good lines preserved from the book, a few new ones. One of the best lines has been adapted for use in my own occasional seminars on networking:

One of the exchanges proves weirdly prophetic:

Fezzik: Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid, or something like that?
Man in Black: Oh no, it's just that they're terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.

It's very entertaining, it looks lovely, and I have no complaint about any of the performances, but I'm sorry to say it did not strike me as High Art, and if I'd had a vote that year I'd have put either Predator or Robocop first.

That's the thirtieth Hugo/Nebula-winning film that I have reviewed in sequence. My totally definitive ranking so far (the most recent ten in red:

30) The Canterville Ghost (Retro Short, 1945)
29) Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Retro Short, 1944)
28) Curse of the Cat People (Retro Short, 1945)
27) Heaven Can Wait (Retro Long, 1944)
26) The Incredible Shrinking Man (Outstanding Movie, 1958)
25) A Boy and His Dog (1976)
24) Pinocchio (Retro Short Form, 1941)
23) Destination Moon (Retro, 1951)
22) Slaughterhouse-Five (1973)
21) The War of the Worlds (Retro, 1954)
20) Sleeper (Hugo/Nebula 1974)
19) The Princess Bride (1987)
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
17) Fantasia (Retro Long Form, 1941)
16) Return of the Jedi (1982)
15) Bambi (Retro, 1943)
14) Young Frankenstein (Hugo/Nebula 1975)
13) Soylent Green (Nebula 1973)
12) The Picture of Dorian Gray (Retro, 1946)
11) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Aliens (1986)
9 )
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
8) Dr Strangelove (1965)
7) A Clockwork Orange (1972)
6) Superman (1978)
Blade Runner (1983)
Back to the Future (1985)
3) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2) Star Wars (Hugo/Nebula 1978/77)
1) Alien (1979)

As usual, I reread the book. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

Queen Bella was shaped like a gumdrop. And colored like a raspberry. She was easily the most beloved person in the kingdom, and had been married to the King long before he began mumbling. Prince Humperdinck was but a child then, and since the only stepmothers he knew were the evil ones from stories, he always called Bella that or “E. S.” for short.

The first time I reviewed it, in 2012, I wrote:

Well, this is very entertaining! While The Princess Bride is at its core a rollicking fairy tale that does nothing at all to challenge racial or sexual stereotypes, what saves it is the witty and occasionally self-mocking tone of the text, the framing narrative of an author reclaiming a story he loved in childhood for his grandson, and also the sub-plot about the process of editing down and publishing a story written by another person in another time for another audience. I'm also impressed by the ambiguity of the ending (I understand that the film doesn't dare to replicate that). So, despite its flaws, some of which are acknowledged in the text, strongly recommended.

As recommended by , this time around I read the 25th anniversary edition, which goes even further into the joke of the film and book being edited versions of an original Florinian novel and the difficulties of adaptation and location filming, and moving about his memories of Andre the Giant, but also frankly doubles down on the sexism of the first edition. Goldman is also disturbingly emotional about the meaning of it all for him. It's fair to say that it's quite a step from his other films (the only one I have seen is, again, All the President's Men). So I'm not sure I can recommend it as whole-heartedly now. Maybe I'm just in a grumpy mood. Anyway, you can get it here.

The next Hugo winner in my sequence is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


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