The book was written by William Goldman and published in 1973. Goldman presents this book as “the ‘good parts’ version of S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.” In a European country called Florin, Buttercup and Westley fight for their true love in the face of murdering pirates and violent princes.
The novel was adapted to screen by Goldman, who had previous work with screenwriting. It was directed by Rob Reiner, and Cary Elwes and Robin Wright star as Westley and Buttercup. In the movie, a man reads the book to his sick grandson, similar to how William Goldman’s father supposedly read it to him.
For my few posts, this is the first where the author has adapted the screenplay. (As a writer, I’ll just say that would be hard! I’d actually like to try it sometime, just for fun.) Before The Princess Bride movie, Goldman wrote screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, and others. Since he was the author of the novel, though, the essence of the book transferred onto film nearly flawlessly, even while he hacked away the book’s story to include only the essentials. You have a lot of the same lines and everything.
Like other posts, I’ll look at Setting, Characters, Theme, What Was Gained by Film Adaptation, and What Was Lost by Film Adaptation.
I’m glad they still kept the idea that The Princess Bride was a book outside of our own world. It keeps that fantasy feel, and we got to see the sick grandson’s responses to different parts of the story, like we saw Goldman’s reactions in the novel. Of course, Goldman reacted to many things, including Morgenstern’s choice not to include the reunion scene (I’m glad they did in the movie!) and the original author’s 86-page tangents on politics. There were some asides from Goldman that simply wouldn’t transfer to film well.
As for Florin, I’m amazed at the simplicity of the sets and yet how real it seemed. The setting probably wasn’t give the same painstaking detail of a fantasy movie like Lord of the Rings, but it’s the simplicity of the movie that really makes the setting. It feels like it could be any country in Western Europe (or the idea of Western Europe that we have in our heads).
The Zoo of Death would have been cool on film, but I understand why they took it out. Can you imagine all those crazy animals, though?
There was a lot in the hefty book that missed the film adaptation: Inigo and Fezzik’s pasts, the humorous descriptions of Buttercup’s beauty, her later nightmares, the expansion on the prince’s character. I feel like the movie is high school algebra and the book is college algebra. You go into so much more depth! You have that issue with every book and movie adaptation, though. If only every book could be adapted into a TV series like Game of Thrones. (Sidenotes: but seriously, how awesome would a Harry Potter miniseries have been?? Seven seasons, one for each year?? Although the first three years would have been pretty sparse. . .)
Overall, the characters were so close to their original book counterparts. Fezzik is big, bumbling, and kind. Inigo is determined, even though he loses focus after Vizzini dies. Westley has the same courage and cunning. The prince is just as violent and cowardly. Buttercup was a more ditzy in the book, but I can see why they’d want to make her more likable and smart in the movie.
Wuv – twoo wuv! The most prevalent theme in the movie is true love, and this is certainly a theme in the book. Buttercup and Westley fall in love in the first chapter, and they fight through the entire book to stay together. Inigo’s quest for revenge drove much of the movie, too.
I think there was a lot that missed the movie, though, mainly because the screenplay didn’t have room for so many different storylines. I also think that the movie was more optimistic than the book. The book was dark at parts: the Zoo of Death and the absolute fear it drives into Inigo and Fezzik; Inigo’s and Fezzik’s slightly desolate pasts. The book actually doesn’t have a happy ending; it has a very ambiguous ending which alludes to death and misfortune, and Goldman uses it to drive a point home: life isn’t fair.
To be honest, I think this was a smart move for the movie. For some reason, books can get away with unhappy endings and bitter themes better than movies. I would have felt pretty gypped if Buttercup and Westley didn’t have the number one kiss at the end and the grandpa didn’t leave after saying, ‘As you wish.’
What Was Gained
Really, the movie is the ‘great parts version’ of the ‘good parts version.’ It takes the essence of the story and puts it into film: the basic story of Buttercup and Westley, the fight for their love. It’s stripped of the the dark humor, the strange pasts of the minor characters, the violence of Prince Humperdink and his Zoo of Death, and gives you a hopeful story with some hilarious lines. Like I said, movies really get away with more than books when it comes to optimism. If this movie were a book – and not the original book, but just what the movie was comprised of – it would be boring. There wouldn’t be enough conflict; it would be too simple. But as a movie, it’s awesome.
What Was Lost
I’m torn what to write here. Like I said, a lot of the narrative was left-out. But I don’t think the film adaptation suffered because of it. It was probably better because of it, even though the book was great with it. Say it with me: mini-series!