How does the film stack up to the novel?
I doubt any film has reached the cult status of the 1987 comedy “The Princess Bride”. Over 30 years later, it has become the most discussed (and quoted) film of today, eclipsing its book foundation. Let’s see how the two stack up.
In the first 30 pages of this book is the author William Goldman explaining that the original manuscript of this book is not his own. When he was a boy, he suffered from Pneumonia and would spend many hours in bed. His father had a book called “The Princess Bride” written by an alleged satirist named S. Morgenstern. Goldman’s father read this book to his son, condensing much of the drab and dragging material and this stuck with Goldman who later adapted it into a “good parts” version.
The result is an idiosyncratic comedy of errors which is more of a commentary on fairytales than one itself. For example, the lead character Buttercup is more of a brat and the protagonist Westley is more of a bully. The characters who are humanized the most are the unwitting henchman Inigo, a vengeful swordsman, and Fezzik, a Turkish giant with a soft heart. Though starting as a straightforward story (and I use the term loosely” of Westley trying to rescue Buttercup from kidnappers, this story is all over the place becoming a complete parody. Everything is pushed to 11, even the writing style which is blatantly poking fun at how ludicrous the situation becomes.
The book is funnier than the movie as it has moments where the author plays gimmicks of misunderstanding. An example would be two moments when a character with a speech impediment tries to say something and another person speaks for them to others, expressing the complete opposite of what the former intended to say. The book is also more mean-spirited with more expression upon violence and torture only to soon after say something like, “it was glorious. If you like that sort of thing.”
The best part is that it is told by Goldman who may be an unreliable narrator, telling an unreliable story. The book is a parody of itself and of every element it uses for the plot. Not bad for an adaption of a complete farce.
The film tries to sift through the book’s sarcasm to present a cohesive narrative, and therein lies its triumph and failure. Its triumph is that it manages to retain the book’s humor and parody, its failure lies within not implementing enough of it. For example, when characters Inigo and Fezzik share some rhymes to their boss Vizzini’s disapproval, it’s only one scene in the film which was a running gag in the book.
Time to be controversial; I’m not a fan of the romance. Inconceivable, I know. In Westley actor Cary Elwes’ memoir, he admits to there being actual chemistry between him and Wright on set, but I thought Chris Pine and Annabelle Wallis had more in one Quibi skit than the leads in the original. The film romanticizes the story in more ways than one The book handled the romance as ludicrous as possible. For example, Westley says “‘…if your love was a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches. If your love were-’ ‘I don’t understand the first one yet,’ Buttercup interrupted.”
The film has a more simplistic yet charming usage of irony. This is an unusual story, an anti-fairytale where the princess is not a princess, the prince is evil and the ROUS’s (rodents of unusual size) do exist. Whereas the book was blatant from the beginning of this, the film expresses this lightly so that you don’t notice the spoof underlining until much later.
Where I prefer the film’s execution over the book is in the increase in humanity for the giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant) culminating a charming moment in which he contributes a charming contribution to the end stating joyously, “Don’t worry, I won’t let it go to my head.” The music score by Mark Knopfler and special effects are cheap but loveable in their minimalism. This remains a more cohesive story than the overload of everything that was the book. Not bad for something Francois Truffaut called “Unadaptable”.
I prefer the book as it provides a more zany and bizarre experience which is a somewhat beautiful story in how ugly its narrative is.