The Feature: 5/5
It's hard to believe – dare I say it's inconceivable – "The Princess Bride," an instant classic if ever there was, would have to rely on the second chances of the video rental market to reach an audience. But that's what it took for it to become the popular quotation source we all know and love and what some have ventured to call "The Wizard of Oz" of the '80s generation.
It is conceivable – or should I say it's understandable – the marketing department of 20th Century Fox didn't know what to do with the film, at turns a full blown fairy tale Walt Disney would have animated; at others a postmodern skewering of its ancestry. The film preceded "Shrek," a film to take much broader and more aggressive swings at fairy tales (not to mention Disney), by 14 years with a heart and wit missing from its blockbuster second cousin. Only time will tell if "Shrek" will be as beloved when it reaches twenty. I myself am doubtful.
If you've somehow managed to never see the film – don't question yourself, question your friends and family who failed to share it with (or force it on) you. Because as the film clearly models through the grandson-grandfather relationship that frames "The Princess Bride" story proper, there is no reason for the film to go unshared if there is love between people.
Video Quality: 4/5
The film is accurately framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. The picture is clean and free of dust, dirt and damage. Colors in the somewhat muted palette show satisfying depth and flesh tones look accurate. Blacks are deep and inky and contrast looks quite good, though some spots can be a little flat. Edge halos, which could be seen on the last couple DVD transfers, are still noticeable at times, but it doesn't seem to adversely affect overall detail, which can look quite impressive with some of the more intricate costumes and props. Overall sharpness is also quite good, though some wide shots and even medium shots can look a little soft compared to the close-ups. Finally, grain structure is nicely preserved with no signs of noise reduction. Fans should be quite pleased with how the film looks; it's certainly the best it's ever been.
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Activity in the DTS-HD Master Audio track comes mostly from the front and center channels, though I found the expansive and subtle environmental surround effects quite involving - more than I ever did with the DVD releases. LFE is non-existent, but there's a nice fullness to the Fire Swamp jets of flame and Machine's turning water wheel. On the whole the track features good dynamic range and detail, particularly with the score, and dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible (though Andre the Giant remains hard to understand at times).
Special Features: 4.5/5
Over the years there have been a number of extras produced, as each DVD release (four of them since 2000) has been slightly different. The 2006 Collector's Edition (that had the duel Buttercup and Dread Pirate Roberts themes) still seems to provide the most complete set of extras, though of course it is missing the handful of (rather inconsequential) featurettes that were created for the following year's 20th Anniversary Edition. Though this Blu-Ray release has the majority of extras from all the past releases, a handful of items have been left off, which I have noted below. Though none of them can be considered crucial, anyone looking for a complete set of extras will need to hold on to the Collector's Edition. For everyone else, this Blu-Ray release will be sufficiently complete, the inclusion of the 20th Anniversary Edition DVD a considerate touch that shows someone has been taking cues from Disney.
Audio commentary by Director Rob Reiner: Reiner provides a thorough and engaging series of anecdotes around the development and production of the film. The commentary slows down a bit as the film progresses, but remains interesting.
Audio commentary by Writer William Goldman: Goldman provides perspective on seeing his work languish in development for over 10 years and finally seeing it come to fruition. He is clearly quite pleased with the results, sometimes getting caught up in watching the film. Nevertheless he offers some interesting insights into the screenplay and the struggles writers sometimes face in the film industry.
The Art of Fencing (7m08s): Swordmaster Robert Goodwin talks about the history of fencing in film and provides an analysis of the film's different sword fighting scenes.
"As You Wish: The Story of the Princess Bride" Documentary (27m17s): Cast and crew talk about the film's development and production. The documentary also includes a nice tribute to Andre the Giant, who passed away in 1993.
Cary Elwes's Video Diary (3m56s): Elwes provides running commentary over some home video footage he took during production. Perhaps the most interesting part is he needs to explain how to operate the video camera.
"Dread Pirate Roberts: Greatest Legend of the Seven Seas" Historical Analysis (11m43s): A tongue-in-cheek examination of whether Roberts was based on Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts, a pirate operating in the 1720s. Viewers may be confused about the seriousness of the piece until the appearance of Professor E.L. Rawscey, a pirate expert from Britain (hint: his name is an anagram).
Fairy Tales and Folklore (9m16s): Author Jack Zipes talks fairy tales and how the film spoofs the genre.
"Love Is Like A Storybook Story" Featurette (16m43s): Documentary on how "The Princess Bride" fits the fairy tale archetype. There are no revelations here, but anyone wanting thoughts from university professors of literature won't be disappointed.
"Miraculous Make-Up" Featurette (11m22s): Billy Crystal and Make-Up Artist Peter Montagna talk about what went into creating the Miracle Max character.
Original Theatrical Trailer (2m33s): In 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 with stereo audio.
The Princess Bride: Untold Tales (9m07s): Despite what the title suggests, many of the memories shared by the cast (including Robin Wright Penn, Mandy Patinkin, Fred Savage and Christopher Guest) is familiar, the sole exception being Patinkin's touching memory from the premiere screening.
What's missing from past releases:
- Original 1987 Featurette (8m00s): A video press release covering all the important talking points.
- Vintage Making-Of Documentary (6m55s): Provides basic information about development and production.
- "The Quotable Battle of Wits" Trivia Game: Answer 10 multiple-choice questions about the film. Unfortunately getting all the answers correct is the only reward.
- TV Spots (2m34s)
- International Trailer (2m20s)
- Collectible Booklets
Mirroring Disney's recent practice of including a DVD version with the Blu-Ray release, "The Princess Bride" 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD is included as the second disc. You can read my original review of it here.
Full-length feature film (1h38m): 1.85 anamorphic with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.1 English audio options.
True Love and High Adventure: The Official Princess Bride DVD Game: Essentially a promotion for the downloadable game at The Official Princess Bride Game :: Home, play through three games to earn points redeemable on the website. Two-thirds of the games rely on using the direction buttons on the DVD remote, which doesn't make for a very responsive control device. The other game is completing Fezzik's rhymes, which is rather easy. The game will appeal more to children than adults.
The remaining items are also found on Disc One:
- The Princess Bride: Untold Tales (9m07s)
- The Art of Fencing (7m08s)
- Fairy Tales and Folklore (9m16s)
The Feature: 5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 4.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5
After what seems a long wait, which included what amounted to a stop-gap DVD release at the 20-year mark, a beloved film finally sees the light of high definition day. Many will consider it worth the wait as it looks and sounds great! Though a few items from past releases are missing from the special features package, which makes it come just shy of being called "definitive," the majority of fans should be more than happy, if not relieved that this could actually be the only release they'll ever need to buy. This probably won't stop MGM from releasing another edition down the road, if the number of DVD releases are any indication, but I suspect any future temptation to double-dip has been sufficiently stymied with this near-complete release. Highly recommended.