Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride

I enjoy a good biography and memoir, but I tend to prefer ones where I didn't know too much ahead of reading or watching the story.  For example, I can't really get excited by any more movies or books about Abraham Lincoln because, well, we pretty much know what he did and what happened in the end.  Unless a huge secret is uncovered about his life, I can't find myself rushing to read any more news bits about him.

However, present me with something I like but know little to nothing about, and I'll eat up every bit of trivia I can.

Such is the case of The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favorite comedy movies.  I know the lines, I know the actors, I know the story by heart...but I know very little about how it was made.  What was set piece, what was shot on location?  Did the cast like each other?  Did anybody get injured?

Fortunately, Cary Elwes came along and told me.

Well, not personally.  I mean I read his book.

It's always been disappointing to me that Cary Elwes hasn't had more of a "leading man" role in Hollywood.  He reminds me a lot of the classic suave actors from Hollywood's "golden age," but he never really took off like your Pierce Brosnans, Brad Pitts, or Tom Cruises.  Reading through his remembrance of making this film, however, makes me happy that while he may never have reached the heights I wanted him to, he still has a truly special film under his belt that will probably stay with him forever.

Right off the bat, reading the first few pages of the book, you immediately get the respect and affection Mr. Elwes (can I call you Cary?  I can?  Thanks!) has for everybody involved in the project.  The only time he or anybody else is ever harsh is when they're dealing with bad things people are saying about themselves.  There's no stories about knock-down drag-out fights (the presence of Andre The Giant probably helped with that), no intense drug use, no real scandals outside of a broken toe.  It's simple, funny, and loves everything about itself.

You know, just like the movie.

There are a lot of things I never knew about the making of the film that this book filled in.  The extensive amount of sword training required, one actor's severe lack of confidence in his ability to perform the role (believing every day that he'd be fired), the risks taken for several stunts that today would simply be a matter of CGI, there are fond and funny memories of every piece of filming that are a joy to read.

The book also has a lot of, for lack of a better word, cameos from the other actors and crew.  The story will be interrupted by short paragraphs or full stories from people like Rob Reiner, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, even the original book's author, William Goldman.  Stories are sometimes presented from more than one point of view, but mostly people fill in holes in each other's story, giving you a complete picture of what was happening on and off the set.

The story is also presented extremely conversationally, and since Cary Elwes has a distinctive voice (unlike other Robin Hoods, he can sp- wait, wrong film), you start to hear the entire thing in his voice.  Or, if you like, you can get the audio book version and actually have it read to you in his voice.  Either way, whether you're reading his words or not, you can tell that it really is his story and his perspective.  There's a wide smile and just the hint of mischief, the twinkle in the book's proverbial eye.

As I read on, I found myself more and more impressed not just with what everybody was willing to do to get the film made, but that the film was even able to be made at all.  I knew a little about how the story The Princess Bride was almost believed to be cursed by Hollywood studios, and after learning about the struggles, the delays, the injuries, and how Hollywood (spoiler) has no idea how to market the film once it actually was made, the fact that it's become so beloved in today's culture is just a reminder of how great it is.

Just writing about the book telling about making the movie makes me want to toss the DVD in right now.

It's a fun, fun read, and just further cements the film's place as a truly wonderful thing that the universe allowed to exist considering everything that could have gone wrong.

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