The Princess Bride appeared in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a consistently pleasing presentation.
Sharpness seemed very good. The movie looked crisp and detailed, and I saw only the smallest signs of softness in a few wide shots. That occurred despite some edge haloes; those were a minor distraction but not a significant one. Moiré effects and jagged edges were not an issue, and digital noise reduction didn’t seem to appear; the movie came with a nice, light layer of grain. The flick lacked any form of source defects.
Colors came across as wonderfully vivid and lush. The fairytale costumes looked bold and bright and often provided some of the movie's most lovely images. Black levels were evident mainly through costumes as well, and they also appeared deep and rich. Shadow detail was a minor consideration but it seemed appropriate. All in all, the movie looked great; only those light haloes knocked my grade down to a “B+”.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundfield seemed oriented toward the forward channels, while the surrounds appeared limited to some music and the occasional ambient effect. They worked especially nicely during the scenes that took place on ships, which offered some creaking sounds to accentuate the experience.
Other than those exceptions, however, it was a forward affair, and a fairly good one at that. The front channels gave us a solid stereo image that seemed relatively lively. The soundfield wasn't exceptional, but it appears more than acceptable for a film from 1987.
Dialogue seemed slightly weak at times, as I occasionally heard some mild edginess, but it generally appeared warm and natural. A few scenes sounded obviously dubbed, but most integrated the speech neatly into the mix. Intelligibility was occasionally an issue due to some accents, especially that of André the Giant.
Effects were consistently crisp and clear, with no audible distortion, and few times we witnessed some nice bass as well, such as during the trek through the Fire Swamp; when the flames burst, they did so with splendid emphasis.
Best of the mix was the terrific reproduction of Mark Knopfler's score. It sounded clean and smooth and also came with some excellent low end; the dynamic range of the music seemed much better than I'd expect from a moderately old film. Although the limited scope of the soundtrack let me rate it no higher than a "B+", the fine quality of the audio really worked well.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the last DVD from 2007? Audio was a bit warmer and more dynamic, while visuals demonstrated the usual Blu-ray upgrades. The Blu-ray looked tighter, fuller and more film-like than the DVD.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we open with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Rob Reiner. While Reiner didn’t come through with a genuinely strong track, this one was clearly a vast improvement over his banal discussions for many of his other films.
The commentary still suffers from a number of empty spaces, and these intensify as the movie progresses. During the first half, Reiner seems quite chatty, but he has relatively little to say through the movie’s third act. Still, he adds some decent information to the mix, and he seems much more interested and involved than during most other commentaries. While his remarks for The Princess Bride aren’t scintillating, Reiner’s commentary does offer a fairly entertaining and informative experience .
For the second commentary, we hear from writer William Goldman in a running, fairly screen-specific affair. Like Reiner’s piece, Goldman’s commentary also suffers from a few too many empty spaces, but they don’t reach Reinerian proportions, and the high quality of Goldman’s remarks make up for any pauses.
It’s a somewhat scattered piece, which is why I call it “fairly screen-specific”; Goldman often sticks with subjects that related to the action, but he also goes off onto a number of tangents. However, that’s fine with me, for he delivers a lot of useful notes. He talks about the history of the project and compares the film to the book. He also covers many aspects of the production and even goes into other experiences; for example, he discusses Misery, another collaboration with Reiner. Goldman even tells a few funny anecdotes, such as the reason he shouldn’t be allowed on movie sets. Overall, this is an imperfect but generally entertaining track.
Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas lasts 11 minutes, 43 seconds and examines the real-life predecessor of the movie character. We hear from Huntington Library Director of Research Robert C. Ritchie, Cambridge University Professor of British History EL Rawscey, “No Quarter Given” editor Christine Markel Lampe, and author Gail Selinger. They examine the factual Roberts and compare him with the film’s version. This is an interesting and informative piece.
Note that one of the above-named participants isn’t a real historian. I won’t say more than that so I don’t ruin the fun, but it’s pretty clear that one of the speakers is actually an actor from Bride in disguise.
Called As You Wish, the next program runs 27 minutes and 17 seconds. We hear from director Reiner, writer Goldman, and actors Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, and Fred Savage; there was also some 1987 footage from folks like Andre the Giant.
My biggest complaint about “As You Wish” revolves around its length: it’s too brief. Actually, I was surprised to discover it ran for nearly half an hour; if flew by so quickly that I thought it was much shorter. That’s because it’s a fine little program that provides a wealth of fun information about the film.
Much of the material from Reiner and Goldman repeats statements heard in their commentaries, but the new participants more than compensate for any redundancies. The footage from the set is uniformly interesting, and the interview subjects nicely describe the film’s genesis and its progress plus a lot of great anecdotes. It should have been longer, but “As You Wish” is still a solid documentary.
The featurettes continue with the nine-minute and six-second Princess Bride: The Untold Tales. We hear from actors Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Fred Savage, Chris Sarandon, and Christopher Guest. They discuss sets and interactions on location, memories of Andre the Giant, favorite quotes from the flick, and some general thoughts on the film’s success. A few good insights appear here, and Guest gives us some funny moments, but don’t expect a lot of depth. This is a decent little clip without a ton of substance.
Next comes The Art of Fencing. This seven-minute and seven-second clip features Patinkin, Guest, and sword master Robert Goodwin. The show looks at the sword-fight choreography, the choice of blades, and some additional notes on that side of the flick. It’s a reasonably informative little piece.
Fairytales and Folklore goes for nine minutes and 16 seconds. It includes remarks from Sarandon, Savage, Wright, Patinkin and author Jack Zipes. The program looks at the appeal of fairytales, aspects of particular stories, and how Bride fits into this fabric. Zipes dominates and helps make this a pretty intriguing look at the genre.
A featurette called Love is Like a Storybook fills 16 minutes, 43 seconds with notes from Columbia University’s Helen Pilinovsky, author/screenwriter David Pesci, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Veronica Schanoes. The program examines the history and nature of fairy tales. It also looks at how Bride fits into those traditions. This becomes a reasonably introspective and intriguing piece.
Another piece, Miraculous Makeup takes up 11 minutes, 22 seconds. As implied by the title, it looks at how they transformed Billy Crystal into Miracle Max. We get comments from Crystal and makeup artist Peter Montagna, They tell us what look they pursued and how they did it. We also see footage of Crystal as Montagna applied the makeup. It’s a tight little show with plenty of good facts.
The source of some “behind the scenes” footage found elsewhere appears in Cary Elwes’ Video Diary. This three-minute and 55-second piece provided raw video footage, mainly shot by the actor himself. On top of this we heard remarks about the movie. Most of these came from new interviews with Elwes, but there was also some fun “vintage” interaction between him and Robin Wright. Again, this piece’s only shortcoming related to its length; I could have watched much more of it.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we finish things with the disc’s one new component: a two-part featurette called True Love: The Princess Bride Phenomenon. It fills 30 minutes, 10 seconds with comments from Reiner, Elwes, Wright, Patinkin, Guest, Sarandon, Crystal, Goldman, Reiner’s father Carl, executive producer Norman Lear, and fans Chandler Rubottom, Nasser Samara, John Brown, James Ryan, Alexander and Grace Wright, and Michelle Dickens. We get thoughts about the project’s development, cast and working with Andre the Giant, and the movie’s legacy and continued popularity.
The first part of “True Love” offers a chat among Rob Reiner, Elwes and Wright. It acts as easily the superior half of the show, as the three interact well and give us enjoyable memories. The rest is more scattered but still acceptably worthwhile; the fan testimonials get a little old, but the remainder works nicely.
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from prior releases? Yes – it axes photo galleries, some additional trailers/TV spots, a quiz, a game and vintage featurettes. None of these are terrible losses, but it’s still too bad they don’t appear here.