Thursday, May 03, 2012

Classic Movie: The Princess Bride

I've seen The Princess Bride a million times, it's one of my favorite movies. But a few weeks ago, a local theater was showing it on the big screen as part of a matinee program that they do. I was excited to get to go and watch it, because I haven't sat down to enjoy it in ages.

I expected to enjoy the movie, because I know it's a good movie. But I just gained this completely new level of appreciation for it. It's such a tightly woven script, featuring so much amazing talent. While parts of the film are a little bit dated (the top of the Cliffs of Insanity is clearly a styrofoam set and the ROUSs are more cute than menacing) for the most part it holds up to a more modern audience.

It's been 25 years since the film was released, but the themes are still relevant and the characters still enjoyable.

The real star of The Princess Bride in my opinion is writer William Goldman. He was already an established screenwriter when he published the original book, and it's no surprise that he adapted the screenplay himself. Normally, I'm not a big advocate for writers adapting their own works. I think it's a bad choice, because usually novelists are not screenwriters, and they're also too close to the material.

But Goldman knew what he was doing and he will always be the exception to my rule. He kept the heart and tone of his novel so perfectly that they're sometimes nearly indistinguishable. The screenplay is as much fun to read as the novel is. And he came up with a way to preserve the crazy plot device about it being a story that is read aloud.

Of course, director Rob Reiner deserves quite a lot of credit too. And every single actor who crosses the screen. I think this film will go down in history as one of the best ensemble casts of our age. I could go on about them for ages, because there isn't a single one who has any moment where I don't completely believe in their character and their performance. Even when I think about the process of filming the movie, I can't picture them out of character and hanging around on the set. They become their characters so well that I almost just picture that these people participated in a movie about themselves.

I don't know what type of print the theater was projecting, but it was so high quality. I spotted things in the background that I had never seen before, and even if the film doesn't have the slick cinematographer of modern movies, it is beautiful.

I can't imagine there are people who haven't seen The Princess Bride, but if you haven't you should. I don't even care if it's not typically your type of movie, there's something in it for nearly every type of audience. If you ahve seen it, you should watch it again sometime soon. It's just as good as you remember.

Cabin In The Woods

I meant to post this review last week but of course I got distracted by various things. Sorry for the delay, I know everybody has probably already seen this movie or moved on but still! I went to see it on opening night, Friday the 13th. It's been a long time since my best friend and I have gone to a horror film on Friday the 13th because I had largely lost my patience with them. There weren't any I cared for anymore and I realized I don't really enjoy being scared.

But I was more than happy to give Cabin in the Woods a try because I am one of the many people who have spent years hearing about this film and wondering what the heck it was about. Of course there's the Joss Whedon connection, which is good and all. I know it's blasphemy, but I'm not on board the Joss can do no wrong train. I prefer the much less crowded "he's a really good writer and has a great creative mind but sometimes he gets carried away and a few of his works aren't really that great if I'm being honest" train.

I only watched one trailer and it made me a lot more interested in the film because I could tell that it wasn't going to be a traditional slasher film at all, but I couldn't tell just from the trailer WHAT it was. I decided that for once I was going to entirely avoid spoilers and didn't watch any more trailers or read any more articles until I went to see the film. The only thing I did was ask a friend who saw it at South by Southwest to tell me if he liked it. He gave a glowing recommendation.

Of course this entire plan was partially ruined by the theater staff and the guy waiting in line in front of us. I'm not going to get into what happened because it actually changed my perception of the film and made my viewing experience different and I don't want to do that to others. Despite the fact that you've probably heard about it by now.

I was very thankful that the film wasn't trying in any way to hide what it was about. You don't even get really a teaser and then a reveal, you just jump straight into the reveal, really. Thank goodness, anything else would have been tedious. I appreciate movies that understand you've already seen the trailer so they can't hide their main plot.

One thing that the film did well was subtle character reveals, and I really appreciated it. Characters didn't stand around talking about who they were and what stereotype they fit, they did things that told you who they were and what they were like. Chris Hemsworth's character was especially interesting to me in the beginning. The acting is great, and I was amazed to read that it was director Drew Goddard's first directing gig. He did a fantastic job.

The thing that is enjoyable about Cabin in the Woods is that it's a movie that's made for people who don't passively watch movies. It's a film that is in it's own way actively engaging the audience. Roger Ebert pondered if the film itself was an act of film criticism and it absolutely is. It's a movie for people who have read Men, Women, and Chain Saws
. For people who think about the larger cultural impact of our popular entertainment. And just for people who love slasher films on a higher level than just entertainment.

I was talking with a cinematographer friend of mine months ago about a different film, and he said he was sick of filmmakers making movies that were about making movies. I agree with him, it's getting pretty tired. But Cabin in the Woods came along as an exception. In it's own way, it's a movie about making movies. But it isn't, at all. And because it operates on multiple levels, it becomes really fascinating.


The thing I mentioned earlier that screwed up my enjoyment of the film was that everybody in the lobby was talking about the ending. Not in specific terms, but as people left the screening before the one I was going to, the theater staff and the guy in front of me kept asking people what they thought of the ending. They talked about how everybody either "loved or hated it." One woman was really mad and said the entire movie was ruined by the last five minutes.

Nobody said what this problematic scene was, but it colored everything for me as I went in because I was prepped for a controversial ending. And I think it changed a lot of how I saw the film, one of the few cases where I would actually say I wish I hadn't been spoiled.

To address the ending and the last five minutes, it's my opinion that they don't even matter. I sat for a long time coming up with alternate ways for the movie to end and I can't think of anything that would have felt any different. My emotions would have been the same no matter what they did (with one exception) because of a fact of screenwriting structure.

You see, about five minutes before the movie is over the stakes get raised so high there's nowhere else to go. Absolutely nothing can top the stress and emotion of that, there is no more up to go to. Once the tension of that specific moment is gone, the climax is over and the movie has nowhere to go but down. No matter what happens, it's less than the moment before and it's not as interesting. You're not as caught up or as invested.

I didn't hate the ending, but I didn't find it as satisfying and awesome as many people did. I just thought it was a decent way to end the film, but so would any number of other options. There are some ideas I've read about what different parts of the film symbolize that makes me like it more, but those are things people have interpreted from the film and not at all explicitly stated by the film. And in the end, the work has to stand on it's own.