For a movie that was not a very big hit in theaters, "The Princess Bride" has enjoyed as long and fruitful a life on video as just about any film of the past 20 years.
That might explain why the third DVD version of the movie, based on Oscar-winning writer William Goldman's book, is arriving in stores. And, thankfully, there's more to the new set than just some upgraded packaging (although that's new as well. You can buy either "Buttercup Edition" or the "Dread Pirate Roberts Edition," both of which contain the same material but are packaged differently.)
The new two-disc set offers a crisp transfer of the 1987 movie, which is both a satire of classic fairy tales and a celebration of them, and the art of storytelling itself. Nearly two decades since its release, the tale of Westley (Cary Elwes) and his true love, Buttercup (Robin Wright, pre-Penn), holds up remarkably well, as do the colorful gallery of supporting characters led by Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest.
There are a wealth of extras as well, including separate commentary tracks by Goldman and director Rob Reiner that were included on the 2001 "Special Edition" DVD. Reiner offers up a number of details about the production -- the duel between Patinkin and Elwes, he says, is one of the few in movie history where the principal actors did all their own swordplay.
Goldman's track, though, is a little more interesting for the insights he offers on the process of moviemaking (he reiterates his adage that "Nobody knows anything" in Hollywood), the struggles he had in bringing his book to the screen (Richard Lester and Norman Jewison were at various times set to direct) and his approach to writing.
Both men note that 20th Century Fox, which released "The Princess Bride," never quite figured out how to market it, which may have explained its middling box-office numbers. A look at the trailers and TV ads for the movie shows they weren't lying -- the studio tried a few different approaches, and none of them really captured the spirit of the film.
The primary featurette, titled "As You Wish," mostly reiterates the points Reiner and Goldman make in their commentaries, but some of the other bonus materials dig a little deeper, or at least in different spots. Vintage footage of Billy Crystal being transformed into Miracle Max shows him gradually getting into character as the makeup goes on, and a too-short segment featuring video Elwes shot during filming hints at apparently friendly relationships among the cast.
Among the new stuff, an analysis of the fairy-tale genre and "The Princess Bride's" role in it by several academics and authors is just about as egg-headed as you might expect (and completely overlooks Goldman's narrative device of skipping the "kissing parts"). But a "historical analysis" of the basis for the Dread Pirate Roberts, Westley's alter ego, is amusing, mixing real history with mockumentary as "E.L. Rawscey" (Elwes in heavy makeup) pooh-poohs any connection between a real Roberts and the movie.
For those who already own the previous bells-and-whistles version of the DVD, the new release might not offer enough for a trade-up. But for those who don't, it's a steal.
STUDIO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: June 13
TIME: 98 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: Commentaries by director Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman; "Dread Pirate Roberts" historical analysis; featurettes "As You Wish: The Story of The Princess Bride," "Love Is Like a Storybook Story," "Miraculous Make-up"; 1987 featurette and making-of segment; Cary Elwes' home movies; 1987 trailer and TV ads; "Battle of Wits" trivia game; photo galleries.