When the “movie-only” DVD of The Princess Bride arrived in July 2000, it was my first formal encounter with the film. As I explained in that review, I’d always wanted to check it out but I simply never got around to it.
I was happy with the movie during that first screening, though I didn’t think it was quite as amazing a piece of work as others indicated. With the arrival of this new special edition, I took in the flick a second time. I’d initially been lukewarm toward This Is Spinal Tap, another Rob Reiner-directed effort; would a subsequent screening of Bride change my mind?
Nope. Actually, some of my opinions were modified. I didn’t like Wallace Shawn’s work the first time, but now I found him to be consistently amusing. Both Robin Wright and Andre the Giant also seemed more satisfying the second time through, as I thought they were stronger than I initially believed.
Otherwise my opinions remained pretty consistent. As such, I won’t chew my fat twice. If you’d like to check out my opinions of The Princess Bride, please refer back to the initial review. Abbreviated version for those with short attention spans: good but not great movie that worked well as a whole.
The Princess Bride appeared in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That latter aspect of the transfer improved upon the 2000 DVD release of the film, and although this new picture didn’t blow away the old one, it definitely offered a more satisfying experience.
Sharpness seemed more pleasing on the new release. The old one showed some mildly soft scenes, but those concerns were absent from the new disc. It consistently looked crisp and detailed, and I saw no signs of fuzziness. Moiré effects and jagged edges were not an issue with either release, and I saw no indications of edge enhancement. During the old disc, print flaws were a fairly substantial problem. While they don’t disappear on the new version, I thought it appeared decidedly cleaner. At times I saw examples of speckles, grit, light grain and a few blotches, but these remained fairly modest. All in all, the new image seemed quite free of problems.
Both releases shared similarly terrific hues. 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.
Too many minor flaws affected Bride for me to feel comfortable with a grade higher than “B+”, which doesn’t sound like a significant improvement over the old DVD’s “B”. However, note that I almost gave the new one an “A-“, and ratings don’t always tell the whole tale. The anamorphic release of The Princess Bride seemed like a big improvement over the original disc.
The new edition duplicated the same Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack found on the 2000 DVD of The Princess Bride. That was fine with me, as I found the audio on the old disc to provide a surprisingly satisfying experience. The soundfield seemed strongly 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 solid 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 very acceptable for a film from 1987.
What granted Bride its "B+" grade, however, was the strong quality of the audio. 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, but even that aspect of the mix demonstrated another improvement over the old DVD. On the original, his mumbly voice made me really peeved MGM didn't include English subtitles, but they appeared on the new release.
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.
When the old DVD of The Princess Bride appeared in July 2000, fans slammed it for two main reasons: the lack of an anamorphic transfer, and a paucity of supplements. The special edition rectifies both problems. I’ve already discussed the new image - so how about those extras?
To paraphrase Keith Richards, I know I’m going to heaven because I did my time in hell. Keith went through drug horrors, I listened to a number of solo audio commentaries from Rob Reiner - who experienced the more severe pain? I suffered his banal and borderline useless remarks during The Story of Us, Stand By Me, and A Few Good Men; Mike Mittleman took a bullet for me and slogged through Reiner’s track for When Harry Met Sally. However, I’m back in Reiner action with Bride, and I must admit I dreaded the prospect of another mind-numbingly dull excursion through his mind.
Did this commentary live down to my expectations? Happily, no. While Reiner didn’t come through with a genuinely strong track, this one was clearly a vast improvement over his prior discussions.
The commentary still suffered from a number of empty spaces, and these intensified as the movie progressed. During the first half, Reiner seemed quite chatty, but he had relatively little to say through the movie’s third act. Still, he added some decent information to the mix, and he seemed much more interested and involved than during prior commentaries. While his remarks for The Princess Bride weren’t scintillating, Reiner’s commentary did offer a fairly entertaining and informative experience - finally!
Unlike all of those prior Reiner flicks, Bride actually includes a second audio commentary. On that track, we heard from writer William Goldman in a running, fairly screen-specific affair. Goldman’s commentary suffered from a few too many empty spaces, but they didn’t reach Reinerian proportions, and the high quality of his remarks made up for any pauses.
It was a somewhat scattered piece, which is why I called it “fairly screen-specific”; Goldman often stuck with subjects that related to the action, but he also went off onto a number of tangents. However, that was fine with me, for he delivered a lot of useful notes. He talked about the history of the project and compared the film to the book. He also covered many aspects of the production and even went into other experiences; for example, he discussed Misery, another collaboration with Reiner. Goldman even told a few funny anecdotes, such as the reason he shouldn’t be allowed on movie sets. Overall, this was an imperfect but generally very entertaining track.
One complaint about the Goldman piece and any other that meets these criteria: someone else obviously interviewed him for the material. However, we never heard from this person, even though it was obvious he was there. This made some of Goldman’s remarks seem choppy and abrupt; they would have flowed more smoothly if we took in the original questions. Perhaps there’s some good reason the other participant was omitted, but it makes no sense to me.
Next we find a variety of video programs, including a brand-new documentary about the film. Called As You Wish, this 27-minute and 10-second show took a nice look at the creation of Bride. It mixed the usual array of movie clips, shots from the set, and new interviews. In the latter category, we heard 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” clearly revolved around its length. 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 was a fine little program that provided a wealth of fun information about the film. Much of the material from Reiner and Goldman repeated statements heard in their commentaries, but the new participants more than compensated for any redundancies. The footage from the set was uniformly interesting, and the interview subjects nicely described the film’s genesis and its progress plus a lot of great anecdotes. It should have been longer, but “As You Wish” was still a fine documentary.
The source of some of that program’s “behind the scenes” footage appeared 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.
Two 1987 featurettes also appeared. One is called the 1987 Making Of Featurette, while the other is titled the “1987 Featurette”, though it could also be named the “Video Press Pak”, a distinction made at its end. In any case, both programs were fairly similar. They combined lots of film clips with fine material from the set - much of which also appeared in “As You Wish” and the “Video Diary” - with then-contemporary interviews. The six-minute and 50-second Making Of included chats with Goldman, Reiner, production designer Norman Garwood, stunt coordinator Peter Diamond, and actors Billy Crystal and Carol Kane. The other seven-minute and 55-second “Featurette” retained Reiner, Kane, and Crystal and it added actors Sarandon, Patinkin, and Wallace Shawn.
Both shows were superficial and clearly promotional, but they still provided some interesting notes. “Making Of” was more compelling because it focused more on the creation of the film and less on its narrative. The interview snippets were decent but unexceptional, and the program worked simply because of all the good material from the set.
As I alluded, “Featurette” concentrated more strongly on a recap of the plot and a discussion of the characters, which made it dull at times. However, it still included some nice footage from the shoot, and the soundbites were a little more entertaining. If nothing else it merits a look to see Patinkin interviewed while in character.
A few minor extras round out Bride. A Photo Gallery provided 88 images. These were split into 11 different sections, each of which had between three and 15 frames. The piece mixed movie stills, publicity shots, behind the scenes photos and some ads, and it seemed like a fairly satisfying production.
Four TV spots appeared, and we also got the US trailer and an international ad. The package included a decent eight-page Collectible Booklet as well.
Much to my surprise, I discovered a minor Easter egg as I mucked about with the DVD. From the main screen, highlight “Play” and then click “up” on your remote. This will highlight a jewel, and when you click on it, you can hear soundbites from various characters. It’s a small treat, but it’s fun nonetheless.
During my second viewing of The Princess Bride, I maintained the same reaction encountered the first time. It was a very fun and charming little movie that may not merit its stellar reputation, but it remained consistently delightful nonetheless. This new special edition DVD offered a much better experience than I found with the old one, however. While it contained the same strong audio track, it presented an improved picture and a mix of fine extras. Folks new to The Princess Bride definitely should give the new SE their attention, and fans who already own the old one will probably want to upgrade; the new disc was much more satisfying.