There are certain films that one must first be exposed to as a child in order to still enjoy as an adult. Take Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. A timeless classic, but not necessarily one that glues itself to the imagination in adulthood. Or Clue, a movie that seeps into the comic DNA at age thirteen (“Mr. Body’s body!”—is that witty or what?) but becomes almost gratingly over-the-top to the grown-up ear. Before revisiting The Princess Bride, I worried it would fall into this category of film. It’s not that I suspected it wouldn’t “hold up”—it’s a whip-smart, widely beloved film, not some obscure Luke Perry vehicle I stumbled upon in the wrong sleeve at Blockbuster in 1993. But it had been a while. My concern was that after I rewatched it as an adult, I would find it had somehow been demoted to a less magical place in my memory. Because The Princess Bride does warrant the word magical. This is a movie in which the central action is Peter Falk reading a book.
Like many American children of the late eighties, I cannot count how many times I’ve seen The Princess Bride. Even the addition of a sixth finger on my right hand would not speed the process. For my generation, this is not just a movie; it’s a facet of our adolescence and a building block of our world-view. To call the movie influential, personally or culturally, would be an understatement. It’s why I know the words putrescence (real) and hippopotamic (real) and blave (fake). It’s how I first learned about hydraulics and hangovers (though the idea that Inigo was once so drunk he “couldn’t buy brandy” made zero sense to me as a kid and makes only marginally more sense to me as an adult). It’s where I heard the only pickup line worth deploying: “Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.” It’s why people of a certain demographic don’t get married, they get “MAH-weed.” It had a palpable effect inside Hollywood as well. The film’s opening—a tight shot on a screen showing a video game (being played by Fred Savage, as a young kid home sick from school)—would be replicated in the more commercially successful Big less than a year after The Princess Bride’srelease. The Princess Bride may have had a lackluster opening in theaters in 1987, but by the early nineties it had become something of a VHS phenomenon. And now? It is a statistical fact that every twenty seconds, someone in America is instructed to “have fun storming the castle.”
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