I was 16 years old when I saw The Princess Bride during its original theatrical release, but for the life of me, I can’t remember why I wanted to see it in the first place. I don’t recall seeing a preview, it didn’t star anybody I recognized, and I was unfamiliar with William Goldman’s source material. I only remember that I badgered my dad into taking my two younger brothers and me to catch a weekend matinee, and that I left the theater obsessed with a movie like I hadn’t been since the original Star Wars trilogy had wrapped up four years earlier.
So when the publisher of The Princess Bride: A Celebration – published in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release – sent me a review copy, it threw me back in time in the best of ways.
In the intervening quarter-century, of course, The Princess Bride has become a multi-generational classic and super-quotable favorite among many geek parents. (Come on: Lines like “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” were made for teaching kids.)
A Celebration is kind of like a 192-page look through a Princess Bride shoebox of stuff, like the creators and actors collectively threw bits and pieces from the experience and the process in for safekeeping and reminiscing down the road. There are lots of Polaroid instant camera reference photos and behind-the-scenes pictures, some with brief handwritten notations, most without. There are pages of repetitive black-and-white photography of the cast and crew with some shots singled out for acceptance or rejection. There are set and scenery sketches and blueprints for The Pit of Despair and the ruins atop the Cliffs of Insanity. (There are also a fair amount of full-page publicity shots and stills from the movie, but they kind of feel like filler here.)
It’s a ton of eye candy for die-hards. I do wish there were more snippets of information included with things like location photos, though. And although the pages with the schematics and blueprints contain some of the neatest details, printing them on translucent vellum without a subsequent white page makes it difficult to really view them properly.
In terms of reading material, only sections of the script are reproduced, printed on pages meant to mimic loose-leaf paper with added “crumpled” effects. I’d gladly have traded some of the straight-up movie stills to have the entire script in this book.
Here’s the thing, though: While you’re flipping through and looking at the sometimes washed-out Polaroids of Rob Reiner and his cameras and sweaters, or Cary Elwes bloodied and laughing, or the frame-by-frame blocking shots of Inigo’s duel with the Man in Black, you come across interludes written by the principal actors.
And these are where you really encounter the heart of this particular book and the movie which inspired it.
Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Robin Wright, Carol Kane and Billy Crystal all contributed short essays of recollection about working on The Princess Bride. These range from light-hearted, brief takes on scenes to memories of joining the project to what it was like trying not to laugh when the Impressive Clergyman says, “Mawidge is what bwings us togevver today.” Patinkin’s contribution is actually gut-punchingly powerful.
And in his afterword, no less than Norman Lear, who produced the movie, writes, “nothing I have done in a long career has brought me or will ever bring me greater glory with those kids and grandkids than my involvement with The Princess Bride.”
A Celebration could certainly have offered more: I enjoy reading detailed accounts of movie-making adventures, and that’s not what this book is. But after getting to the end, I found that I had enjoyed the memories it had sparked, and what I really wanted to do was go sit down with it and flip through again while watching the movie for the bajillionth time. Which is really the best way to celebrate an amazing movie, after all.