“There’s a shortage of perfect movies in this world. It would be a pity to damage this one.”
Actor Cary Elwes on Twitter in response to the news of a potential remake of The Princess Bride (1987).
There are few films as universally beloved as Rob Reiner’s 1987 adaptation of William Goldman’s novel The Princess Bride. It’s the definition of “lightning in a bottle,” with the characters perfectly cast, the story adapted to suit the medium, the production and costuming immaculate, and the themes as relevant in the release as they are now. When the world locked down in 2020, someone decided to reenact the film using short clips of various actors playing overlapping parts, shot entirely in their own homes, done to bring a little light into our global darkness. Now, The Criterion Collection offers a brand-new remaster of Reiner’s film, upgrading their 2018 4K HD remaster to a 4K UHD, complete with all the previously available materials and upgraded packaging.
In the land of Florin lives a young woman named Buttercup (Robin Wright) who lives alone on her farm, save for the farmhand she rescued, whom she calls “farm boy.” This boy, Wesley (Elwes), responds to every request with three words, “As you wish.” After some time, she realized that what he meant was, “I love you,” and, after the two united, Wesley decided to leave in order to make his fortune in order to give them both a better life. But, after learning that Wesley’s ship was taken by the Dread Pirate Roberts, knowing that they take no prisoners, she hardened her heart in her grief. However, five years later, Buttercup was selected by Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) to be his bride, though she did not give up on her promise to Wesley. To make matters worse, three bandits interrupt her regular ride in order to kidnap her and use her to incite a war between Florin and the neighboring country of Guilder. With her fate surely sealed, what hope is there to be found, except, perhaps, in a masked man hot on the bandits’ heels, hunting for Buttercup for reasons all his own.
In preparation for this home release review, I asked my now-eight year old to sit with me, to give it 30-minute minimum (I sneaked in an extra 15 by waiting until just before the Fire Swamp as a natural stop) to see what he thought. Much like a certain sick grandchild (Fred Savage), the romance storyline was not his thing, nor was the kissing, but when I tell you he curled up to me as the eel bared down on Buttercup just as Grandpa (Peter Falk) stopped the story to see if his grandson was ok, I let out a very audible laugh at the similarity. Sadly, though after he asked many questions about the duel between Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) and Wesley, as well as inquired about Fezzik (André the Giant), once given the chance to flee, he did. (Much like the grandson, he’d rather be playing video games than watching the film.) This was the first attempt at screening the film for him and it was wild watching the film through his experience, so ingrained it is into my own. He’s not ready for it and he may never be, but seeing the way he bought into Reiner’s illusion confirms that some films transcend generations in capturing imaginations. For that brief period, he was locked in enough to be wary and show concern for Buttercup’s fate. As it’s a film whose lines my wife and I quote frequently (“to blave” when arguing about what the toddler garbled or “have fun storming the castle” when running errands) and for which we’ve purchased artwork inspired by to decorate our home, anything I could potentially write about The Princess Bride is biased based on decades of love and appreciation. In my view, this is the quintessential perfect film; guaranteed to take away any pain of what ails you. Someone might try to remake it, but to do so successfully seems to be, in a word, inconceivable.
As someone who owns and is impressed by the 4K HD restoration, one wonders how a 4K UHD edition might top it. There’s already such great fine detail and clarity in both sound and picture on the 2018 edition, why would one even consider the 4K UHD version? Impressively, the 4K UHD edition does surpass in the quality for those with the equipment to appreciate it fully. Looking at the notes in the included mediabook/booklet for the 2018 and 2023 versions, the process of creating the transfer is near identical with the master being created from the 35mm original camera negative, with the restoration based off the 1997 Criterion laserdisc (a reference tool); all of which was supervised by associate producer Steve Nicolaides. However, while the 2018 edition is a 4K with high-definition standard dynamic range, the 2023 edition utilizes Dolby Vision HDR (high dynamic range), allowing for more realistic range in color tones. So while the 2018 edition is lovely, the 2023 edition is truly superior, which is evident from the first scene within Florin, the grass a vibrant green, the sunset as the two new lovers embrace a gorgeous mixture of red, yellow, and black, and the fabrics on all the costumes resplendent. The great benefit of 4K discs is that more information can be placed on them, allowing for enhanced detail when the source material is in excellent condition and films restored from original negatives (vs. digital productions) always have a better look overall. This is the only major shift in the on-disc presentation, as the 4K UHD disc appears to use the same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack mix used for the 2018 edition.
One important note: There was a visible glitch, only for a moment, in the sequence where Indigo tries to warn Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) about a ship following them, but when I moved the disc from my Panasonic 4K UHD player to the Xbox One X, the issue did not replicate.
A few other things of note regarding the 2023 edition if you haven’t already upgraded from the 2018 edition or at all. The 4K UHD edition includes two discs (the 4K UHD and the standard HD Blu-ray), the mediabook/booklet, and a sheet with all the release information that’s usually on the back of Criterion releases, all of which is packaged in the same beautifully stylized packaging that makes one feel as though they are opening a fine hardback novel. Be advised that the 4K UHD disc only includes the audiobook excerpts and commentary track, while the bulk of the special features are on the Blu-ray disc. The bonus features do appear identical to the 2018 Blu-ray and DVD release, which, itself, contained all of the features from the various Criterion releases before it (from Criterion laserdisc in 1989 and special edition laserdisc in 1997; many others in-between from MGM, Sony Pictures, and more). So this edition is primarily focused on the 4K UHD offering, which may dissuade some buyers looking for more than enhanced picture. Unlike the 2018 edition, the info sheet is not attached by adhesive, so it will not stay with the packaging unless you slide it in. Additionally, the packaging itself is both slightly taller and thicker. The increased width makes sense as the clear disc holder in the back of the package has to account for the additional disc, but it’s also taller by a negligible measure.
In my younger years, I was a voracious reader. Of the books I loved, the edition of The Princess Bride my mother owned (titled: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The “Good Parts” Version) was among my favorites. What one wouldn’t realize from the film is that the novel has a different narrative tool. Rather than it being a grandfather reading to a child (creating the opportunity for several hilarious gags), it’s positioned as an abridged version of a longer book with both the “original” author’s notes and Goldman’s notes in red italics. Despite the many differences between source and film, none of them are so great as to diminish the whole; rather, each one is a blessed thing on their own. In fact, it’s amusing to learn that many folks don’t realize the setting of the novel or that the name S. Morgenstern are a falsehood and get angry when they think they’ve bought an abridged copy and that it is a major source of amusement and likely an unintended side-effect of Goldman’s humor. The point to all of this being that whichever version you prefer, there is no bad version of The Princess Bride. There is only what you take away from it. In the case of this new Criterion edition, your determination of whether to snag it or not is likely predicated on how much you love the film, how many versions you’ve already purchased, and whether 4K UHD seems worth it. On the last one, I can say with certainty: yes. The rest, however, is up to you.
The Princess Bride Special Features:
- 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
- One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
- Audio commentary featuring director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman, producer Andrew Scheinman, and actors Billy Crystal and Peter Falk
- Edited audiobook reading of Goldman’s novel The Princess Bride by Reiner
- Program about Goldman’s screenplay
- Program about Goldman’s tapestry based on his novel
- Interviews with Reiner, Goldman, and actors Crystal, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Fred Savage, and Robin Wright
- Interview with art director Richard Holland
- Programs about makeup, fencing, and fairy tales
- On-set video diary filmed and narrated by Elwes
- Five behind-the-scenes videos with commentaries by Reiner, Scheinman, and Crystal
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by author Sloane Crosley and Goldman’s introduction to his Princess Bride script from his collection Four Screenplays, in a lavishly illustrated, clothbound book
- Cover by Angela Rizza
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection September 5th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official The Princess Bride Criterion Collection webpage.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.