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  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus

The Princess Bride

Magna/Magna . R4 . COLOR . 94 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

As a boy, author William Goldman had loved to hear his father read him the Simon Morgenstern classic The Princess Bride; an epic tale, if a little long winded, of high adventure and true love. But as an adult, Goldman soon realised that dear old dad had been abridging the tale; relating only the ‘good-bits’ of Morgenstern’s story, and dropping anything he considered even the slightest bit dull. When in the early seventies Goldman finally compiled his father’s rollicking adventure into a new text, (and eventually a screenplay), the result was a wonderful comic fable that has garnered a legion of fanatical fans the world over.

Finally brought to the silver screen by Rob Reiner in 1987, The Princess Bride was a mixture of swashbuckling, romantic adventure and medieval fantasy; a charming children’s fairytale wrapped in a layer of wry, razor-sharp wit that has since developed a cult following to rival any other comedy. Indeed, The Princess Bride is one of the most quoted films ever, and all those that see it fall madly in love with it.

With a young Fred Savage sick at home in bed, his grandfather (Peter Falk) arrives to cheer him up. He has brought with him a book, a special book, a book that he read to Fred’s father, and that his father read to him, whenever they were sick in bed. Although hesitant, (it’s a book after all), with the promise of “...fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...”, indeed everything a young boy could want in a story, Fred gives his begrudging approval. And so grandpa begins to read...

The story within a story begins on a small farm in the medieval kingdom of Florin, where the young and beautiful maiden Buttercup (Robin Wright) and a lowly farm boy named Westley (Cary Elwes) fall deeply in love. With no money or position to offer his sweetheart, poor Westley sets off alone to seek his fortune. But no sooner has Westley left her than Buttercup hears the news she has been fearing; Westley’s ship has been attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts (who never takes prisoners) and the entire crew is believed dead. With her true love gone, Buttercup’s heart is shattered.

Years pass, and still Buttercup is inconsolable. So much so that, when the heir to the throne of Florin, Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), chooses her as his bride to be, it scarcely registers. But unbeknownst to Buttercup, the marriage is part of the Prince’s ploy to start a war with the neighbouring kingdom of Guilder, and Humperdinck has arranged for her to be captured by a trio of criminals...

"Ha-ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia’, but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian, when *death* is on the line!’."

Now that’s as much of the plot that I’m prepared to relate - I really don’t want to ruin this fantastic film for those of you that haven’t seen it. For you lucky sods are in the enviable position of being able to enjoy The Princess Bride for the very first time. If I had one wish it would be to have my mind erased so that I could again experience the delight of discovering this cinematic gem all over again.

Blessed with more funny lines, comedic moments and quirky characters than any film deserves, The Princess Bride is a film that laughs at the swashbuckling, boys-own adventures of a century past, while at the same time revering them. It is a film that children can appreciate as a light, exciting adventure while adults relish its subtlety and sheer wit; for filmed on a tiny budget, it’s the script and not lavish effects that comes to the fore. Populated with a largely unknown cast, it is this very same cast that gives the film its heart; each and every member turning in an unforgettable performance, and often with little actual screen time. Indeed, both Wallace Shawn as the wily Sicilian Vizzini, and Billy Crystal as Miracle Max both give show-stealing performances whilst only appearing briefly on screen.

In short, The Princess Bride is a wonderful film that everyone should see at least once in their lives. Believe me, even if you've been mostly-dead for most of the day, you'll still enjoy it immensely.

  Video
Contract

Oh rapture. Oh joy. Is this really the same film that I’ve been watching on VHS for the last ten years? Well, yes the packaging says so, but the detail, the colour, the... width! It’s beautiful I tell you, absolutely beautiful! To say that I was gobsmacked by the glory that is The Princess Bride on DVD would be small exaggeration indeed.

Yes, although not quite perfect, Magna have certainly provided us with a wonderful transfer of a truly wonderful film; a digital image that is beautifully sharp and is literally teeming with detail – much of it stuff I’ve never ever seen before. The weave in the costumes, the texture of the medieval sets, the beauty of the Irish countryside; it’s all here to savour and more. And ably supported by deep, solid blacks, the rich and vibrant colours literally leap off the screen. If it weren’t for the perfect skin tones, you’d swear they were even a tad oversaturated. But no, the film’s wonderfully broad palette, with deep blue skies, the greens and browns of an Irish autumn, and a myriad of hues in the marvellous costumes, are all rendered here perfectly and without the slightest hint of any compression artefact.

Now before I launch into another round of superlatives, there are a few small issues that, in the interest of completeness, are worthy of mention. As with many ultra-sharp transfers, a very small amount of aliasing and moirè have been added by the telecine process, and the 1987 image exhibits a small amount of film grain in some low-light (night) shots. In terms of film artefacts, the first fifteen seconds of the film is littered with specks, but as suddenly as they start they are gone. What we are left with is a crystal clean image for the duration; interrupted only very infrequently by the odd small speck. And just to annoy those with larger display devices, slight edge enhancement can also be seen on a number of occasions. Rounding off the negatives, the layer change is quite distracting, placed, seemingly arbitrarily, between scenes around the 50-minute mark.

These small negatives aside, this anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1 transfer looks, to these eyes, just superb. Indeed, the The Princess Bride has certainly never looked better in the last 15 years, and given the very limited theatrical run it enjoyed in Australia even back then, it has probably never looked this good period.

  Audio
Contract

Being of 1987 vintage, produced on a relatively small budget, and sitting squarely in witty-comedy territory, The Princess Bride was never going to win any awards for outstanding use of sound in cinema. In fact, given its pedigree, you’d be mad to expect little more than a serviceable Dolby Surround mix. But for its shining new debut, this little belle has been furnished with a spanking new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix and, more importantly, a DTS 5.1 mix to boot!

Now before you get too excited, let me say right from the off that these remixes aren’t that much to rave about. I mean the intention was good, I applaud it, but the source material just wasn’t up to all the attention. First and foremost, there’s little or no difference between the 5.1 and DTS mixes, apart from maybe a touch better fidelity, and both mixes severely under-utilise the extra 2.1 channels afforded them. And whilst the dialogue comes clearly and distinctly from the centre channel, and the mixes retain reasonable channel separation across the front, even at the surround channels’ most active the soundstage is most certainly front-dominant.

That’s not to say that the surround channels aren’t utilised at all. The score, an inspired contribution courtesy of Mark Knopfler, is nicely balanced between to the front and rear, helping to create a more immersive viewing experience. There's also the odd ambient sound such as crowds, and the spooky noises of the Fire Swamp. But in the end, apart from the score there's little for the surround channels to carry and the result is little or no rear channel separation. The subwoofer too is used sparingly, adding body to the score when able, and subtly enhancing many a thud, crash, and flame spurt. For a short time it even comes into its own - when ‘The Machine’ is in operation - but on the whole there’s little call for our deep voiced friend.

Now don’t get me wrong, despite underusing these 5.1 formats, this is easily the best I have heard The Princess Bride ever sound; certainly a significant improvement over the Dolby Surround mix (also supplied on the disc). But I do wish we’d see a few more of these precious DTS mixes where they would be most appreciated, and medium-budget comedies of the late eighties certainly isn't the place.

  Extras
Contract

The disc features animated, anamorphic menus that provide access to a single extra (and a forgettable one at that); a photo gallery providing 34 full-frame grabs from the film. Interestingly, these images look nowhere near as good as the transfer of the movie itself and should be avoided at all costs.

Now given that The Princess Bride, one of my favourite films ever, is being released in our region by an independent distributor (Magna), I can understand why we miss out on some of the extras that are available in other regions. Be that as it may, I can’t help choking back a sob at what might have been. I mean The Princess Bride is only one of the most popular cult films of all time...

  Overall  
Contract

It is a universal truth that the world is divided into two kinds of people: those that have seen The Princess Bride and loved it, and those that are yet to see it. Rob Reiner’s comedic tale of romance and high adventure is one of the most popular films of all time, and this long-awaited local release is certainly worth the asking price for the film alone. That is just as well!

But despite lamenting the lack of extras, fans should be more than satisfied with the superb audio and video presentation that Magna has provided here. Rodents of unusual size couldn't tear me away from the television for the next week or so...


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1778
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      And I quote...
    "To not love this swashbuckling comic adventure is absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable!!"
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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