Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Nathan Adams tells himself a bedtime story filled with giants, magic, death, and a sloppy kiss. That’s right, he’s listening to Rob Reiner’s commentary on The Princess Bride.
When Jeremy said he needed someone to fill in on Commentary Commentary so that he could focus his energies primarily on South by Southwesting, I simply replied, “As you wish.” But then I was left with a conundrum. What movie should I watch the commentary track for? After rifling through my DVD collection I ended up with a handful of possibilities, and I wound up choosing The Princess Bride for one reason: when else would I ever listen to the commentary track on this movie, if not now?
The Princess Bride is so much fun, such a whimsical experience, that if you’re going to put the DVD on, you want to watch the movie. You don’t want to hear some old guy rambling over all of the classic lines. Consequently, this thing has been sitting on my shelf essentially since DVDs began, and I still haven’t listened to either the Rob Reiner or the William Goldman commentaries.
So, here we go, I’ll take the hit and give them a listen, pick out all the interesting stuff, and you can go about your usual business of properly soaking in all the action, adventure, and romance the next time you need to get your Princess Bride fix.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Commentator: Rob Reiner (Director)
- Norman Lear had the rights to The Princess Bride and financed the film with his own money, which almost fell through about a week before shooting. That was a close one.
- Mark Knopfler made Reiner a deal that he would only do the music if Reiner hid the hat that he wore in Spinal Tap somewhere in the film. It’s hanging in Kevin Arnold’s bedroom.
- “The Princess Bride” is Reiner’s favorite book ever, and he had to convince William Goldman to let him make it. Goldman was reluctant to let somebody else work with this story, because it was his favorite thing he’d ever written. There’s a lot of playing favorites going on here.
- Reiner had to go to Germany to meet with Carey Elwes right after the Chernobyl meltdown. It was worth it.
- Humperdink’s castle was built by William the Conqueror for an illegitimate son. It doesn’t look this cool in real life though. They added some fake spires and whatnot to spruce the place up.
- Wallace Shawn isn’t really Sicilian. (!!)
- Reiner almost drown when he stepped off a deep ledge in the tank where the boat scene was being shot. It went from three feet to eight feet and once his waist went under, his waders filled up with water, pulling him down. That would have been a tragic but hilarious way to die.
- The Princess Bride was shot on a budget of $16m. Good lord, in this day and age that’s inconceivable.
- Inigo and Westley’s sword fight was done completely by Carey Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. There aren’t any stand-ins doing any of the sword play. That’s why it’s so good! It took ten days to shoot the sequence.
- Andre the Giant’s back was so bad from years of wrestling that he couldn’t support Elwes’ weight. They had to build ramps for Elwes to support himself so the big man wouldn’t go down during their fight scene.
- At a celebration party after the movie Reiner saw Christopher Guest and forgot he had been in the film. The reason given is that Guest loses himself so much in his parts Reiner didn’t even think of the six fingered man as being him. I think it’s because Reiner secretly has that Memento disease.
- Reiner invokes The Superman Clause when explaining away how Buttercup wouldn’t recognize Westley in his little mask. Two wrongs apparently do make a right.
- Carey almost broke his ankle flipping a dune buggy during shooting. He’s noticeably hobbling around a bit in some scenes. Flipping a dune buggy would also be a tragic but hilarious way to die.
- The R.O.U.S.s were midgets inside ridiculous suits. One of them was fast and could scurry around, but the other one could only move slow and clumsy. That’s a sad story.
- All of the snarling/growling noises the R.O.U.S.s are making come from Reiner himself. He almost lost his voice doing it. Why doesn’t video of those recording sessions exist again?
- The Pit of Despair where Westley is tortured is a new creation. It replaces the Zoo of Death from the book, which would have been too expensive to create.
- Reiner seems to doze off when he’s watching movies. An hour in and we’re suddenly getting much longer stretches between his comments. If I start hearing snoring I’m going to be pissed.
- The scene where Inigo prays for his father to help guide his sword so they can find Westley was hard to film because planes kept flying overhead from Heathrow Airport. It was a couple decades later before filmmakers realized they should shoot their fantasy stuff in New Zealand.
- A lot of the dialogue from Billy Crystal’s character was ad-libbed and didn’t appear in the script. That’s probably why it isn’t funny and feels so out of place with the rest of the film.
- The closeup of Peter Falk saying “as you wish” was shot in Los Angeles, and is the only shot of the entire production that didn’t take place in England. Does that make this a foreign film?
- January 4th 2001 is the date on which Reiner recorded this commentary. He said to call him in ten years and he might have some new thoughts. Apparently nobody called.
Commentator: William Goldman (Author)
- A bunch of football players came in to audition for Fezzik, but they were too small. One other legit giant came in, but he was too skinny. If they didn’t get Andre, they didn’t see any way they could pull the character off. Apparently three kids on each other’s shoulders wearing an overcoat wasn’t an option.
- So far Goldman has dissed the effects work on both the shrieking eels and the cliff climbing sequences. He keeps mentioning budgetary constraints. It seems they weren’t quite able to make this movie look the way he saw it in his head.
- The Inigo and Westley sword fight was inspired by the Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn movies that Goldman watched as a kid. It’s a shame more modern filmmakers didn’t grow up watching them. Movies could definitely use more sword fights these days.
- Andre had a house built in North Carolina that was giant-sized so he wouldn’t go around smashing his head on things and getting stuck in doorways and whatnot.
- After watching Spinal Tap Goldman knew that Reiner was the right guy to direct this movie. And actually the torture machine that Westley is hooked to in the Pit of Despair was originally called the Love Pump (okay, so I made that last part up).
- It turns out there was some disagreement between Reiner and Goldman as to whether Kathy Bates should have been cast in Misery. Goldman was pushing for her, and he uses this commentary track to gloat that he was right. For like five minutes.
- The Fire Swamp set was so cool that Goldman liked to just hang out in there. But he ruined a take of Wright’s dress getting lit on fire when he girlishly shrieked, “Her dress is on fire!” Yes, even though he’s the one that wrote the scene.
- In the book there was more tension between the kid hearing the story and the grandfather. At one point the kid gets so upset with the way the story is going that the grandfather gets up and leaves.
- Goldman didn’t plan on killing Westley in the torture sequence, but found himself randomly writing a line saying that he lay there dead while in the process. After reading what he wrote he then burst into tears and ran to a mirror or something. They did a lot of drugs in the 70s.
- During a scene where Andre was delivering his lines too slowly, Patinkin eventually slapped him across the face to light a fire under his ass. Everybody on set just about messed themselves, but it worked.
- The priest presiding over the marriage was inspired by a famous Chicago Rabbi who gave Goldman the giggles because he had a speech impediment.
- The Princess Bride tested better than every other movie of that year other than Back to the Future. Consequently, there seems to be some bitterness on Goldman’s part that it didn’t make more money. He blames the studio for not knowing how to sell it.
Best in Commentary
“There’s the miracle pill. It looks like a Godiva chocolate.” – Rob Reiner
“You gotta admit, these are two of the better looking people on the planet.” – Rob Reiner
“If Schwarzenegger tells me somebody’s strong, I believe it.” – William Goldman
“Nobody went to go see Little Nicky. Why didn’t they? I don’t know why!” – William Goldman
I’ve learned a lot from finally listening to these commentaries. Primarily I’ve learned that despite the fact that he’s a famous movie director, Rob Reiner dozes off in the middle of watching a movie just like anybody else’s dad. And even though William Goldman has enough spark and imagination to write something as happiness-inducing as The Princess Bride, he can be pretty boring when he’s just sitting alone in a room rambling. There are some long stretches between comments on both these tracks. Couldn’t they have got these guys together in the same room to get some chatter going or something?