I can testify with certainty that life exists beyond death. I died 500 years ago, and I am still receiving bills for water and property taxes. That seems compelling evidence that I, the vampire Baron Yörg, still live. And though I gladly ravage and obliterate all that is pure, tender and sacrosanct in this world, I still cannot get the tax appraisal district to cease annoying me. No matter how many of them I slaughter, more arise like grubs from beneath a slimy stone. This aggravates me enough to consider falling upon a sharply pruned dwarf holly tree and ending my existence, but one pleasure sustains me. I adore films, and I cherish the opportunity to share my observations about them.
Today I shall discuss The Princess Bride, a modest film released a generation ago that somehow has sustained a cult following. The film is not without charms, I admit. Yet does it merit the ongoing acclaim awarded it by romantics and people who perhaps believe in unicorns and chivalry?
To begin, I am refreshed to find that the story’s hero, The Dread Pirate Roberts, has ordered the murder of dozens of helpless prisoners, and himself has likely killed a good number of unarmed men begging for their lives. He rises above the mass of insipid protagonists who save maidens, fight evil sheriffs, or perhaps fail to kill anyone at all. Though Roberts does not delve into any significant wickedness, he obviously enjoys the pain of others, and the film profits by that in my estimation. Roberts fails to impress when he allows the whining Spaniard and the unintelligible giant to live, but he excels in his lack of emotion. Indeed, though he declares the princess to be his true love, he never shows any greater emotion towards her than he would towards a bowl of tasty mutton stew.
Lest my praise become overblown, I must complain that most of the actors cast in this film are far too pretty. Florin and Guilder appear to be medieval kingdoms, so the main characters should have less than two dozen teeth between them. This shook my suspension of disbelief, as did the general cleanliness and the absence of warts. Just a few pox-ridden wretches in the gutters would have suggested misery and filth, but the filmmakers could not be bothered with even that effort.
That disappointment is compounded by the so-called villains in this film. Prince Humperdinck is nothing but a pathetic string-puller. He does not deserve to be called a villain, and indeed hardly deserves to be called a sentient being. Count Rugen fares no better. He dresses like a Florentine haberdasher on his way to the opera, and no number of extra fingers can overcome so much brocade when it comes to unleashing bowel-loosening terror. And of course the man allows himself to be slain by a melancholy Spaniard, which removes all doubt that he is nothing but a sack of table scraps with a goatee.
Allow me to move on to one of the film’s shining aspects. I of course refer to the Fire Swamp. When Roberts and the princess explore this charming locale, they infuse the middle of the film with energy and a profound sense of fun. When the fire spout set the princess ablaze I felt a satisfying glow, and when the sand smothered her I almost smiled. By the time the last Rodent of Unusual Size had been slain, my henchman Nodwick had prostrated himself to beg for a renovation to his quarters. That dank, leech-infested cupboard was no longer his ideal domicile. In an act of mercy I am ashamed to relate, I granted his request by tossing a diseased rat and a shovelful of sand on him one night as he slept.
The Princess Bride includes only three deaths, and one of them does not count since Roberts pops right back to life a few minutes later. That is a paltry number of deaths by anyone ’s standards. If no more people than that are to be slain, one might as well watch Pride and Prejudice. Rugen’s death almost fails to signify as a death at all, since he is so lacking in consequence. Yet Vizzini’s death produces odd satisfaction. He is an annoying, petty toad of a man, and would in fact make an ideal bug-eater. Something about his tone of voice inspires thoughts of ripping off his feet and making him wear them like earrings. Thus I feel that Vizzini’s death equates to five or six killings for entertainment purposes, and I am inclined to judge the film a bit more leniently.
Other aspects of the film contest with one another, some disappointing and others charming. Rugen’s torture device is laughable. No villain with any imagination would name a torture device The Machine. What an insipid name. Strap a man to a device called The Water-Powered Testicle Crusher, and then you will see him talk. Contrariwise, any film that includes a blazing, levitating giant who bellows in what might or might not be some human language is a film to be reckoned with.
The Princess Bride’s many charms offset its failures, but it’s greatest flaw is its artistic vision. The filmmakers chose True Love as their theme, and the story whirls inconsequentially around that concept. They ignored many weightier messages already in the film and begging for exploration: The Blind Cruelty of Revenge, The Uncaring Greed of Kidnapping, and The Nether-Tingling Nastiness of Torture. These are the issues that will enlighten, educate, and entertain. Even the filmmakers must have known this on some level, since they chose a pale dimwit with a speech impediment to extol True Love’s fine qualities during the wedding scene.
At the end, when all things are measured out and damnation is visited upon the deserving, how do I assess this film? It entertained me, but it missed so many opportunities to accomplish so much more. I give The Princess Bride two horrific depredations visited upon the innocent, out of five.
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