Monday, February 24, 2014

Better than the Book--Too Close to Call Edition: The Princess Bride

I love this movie. It’s just about perfect. Everything, from the framing story about the sick kid and his grandpa to Peter Cook’s lisp, just works. So many memorable lines. So many great shot compositions (seriously, look at the end of the boat chase and see how deep Rob Reiner makes the field of focus to get Buttercup, Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo crystal clear, even though they’re all different distances from the camera).

Then there’s the book. When I started reading it, having already seen the movie, I wondered why the narrator intrudes so much. There's a lot of the narrator's life and how he's handling his son, who has some issues. Where the movie had a few short scenes with the boy and grandpa, the story of the father and his son takes up a lot of the novel. A lot. And there’s the indication that much of S. Morgenstern’s Princess Bride book has been glossed over, so that all we get are the good parts. All this sounds bad, but we’re safe in William Goldman’s hands. And it all pays off. When we get to the climax of the father-son plot, it’s hard not to get choked up. 

Some things are very different in the movie version. Take Inigo’s use of his father’s sword to call upon his father’s spirit to help him find the pit of despair. Not in the book. But the book includes a lengthy road of trials that Inigo and Fezzik must get through—traps and poison spiders, etc.—to get to Westley at the bottom of the pit. In the movie, they just walk down a few stairs and there’s the guy they’re looking for. So, which is more satisfying as a story?

Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

I dunno.

If prose style really is analogous to cinematography, this is a tough call. Goldman’s writing is excellent throughout. If the movie edges out the book, I think it's only because the line delivery is so much more memorable when uttered by real people instead of read on the page. This is one case in which I don't think my imagination could have come up with a better version than the film in terms of characters, setting, and raw beauty.

Good night, Westley. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.

And how are we to compare the Impressive Clergyman? In the book, it’s written really, really effectively. I don’t even have to imagine Peter Cook’s accent. It’s well-realized in the film, but does that make it better?

There’s a lot to be said for the way actors deliver lines as making a story more enjoyable, for the interpretation offered by a film being superior to the reading experience. For me, it’s hard to say which was better in this case. They’re too close to call.

Yeah, that's a lego r.o.u.s. by Leda Kat.

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