On The Best Adaptation

“There’s nothing new in Hollywood today.”  With all the remakes, reboots, and adaptations coming out year-round, it’s no surprise that this sentence has become an aphorism.  And who doesn’t shudder when they hear what beloved and nostalgic story is being considered next?  Oh sure, it would be great if they made a movie that captured the magic you fell in love with originally, but how often does that actually happen?

Rarely.  But it does happen on occasion.  I’ve seen it.

The best adaptations I’ve seen in theaters are Watchmen and The Lord of the Rings.  The cast and crew took great pains to recreate the worlds the authors had carefully crafted, and for the most part they succeeded in bringing those tales to life.  Watchmen was almost like a motion comic but with real people, and Lord of the Rings, well, let’s just say that there were people who were waiting their whole lives to see those movies, and I don’t think they were disappointed on the whole.  Sure, both had to cut some things out, but that’s not surprising given how long the source material is in both cases.

Why did those succeed where so many others fail and fall short?  Because, in my opinoin, they were made out of genuine love for the original books.  Yes, the studios want to make money, but they wanted to bring something they loved to life and share it with the world.  Which means that both films have to bow to the master of the adaptation.

The Princess Bride.

This is a movie that, since its lukewarm release in 1987, has become a genuine classic. A movie that doesn’t dumb itself down or play to its audience, and yet is suitable for all ages and, more importantly, enjoyed by all ages.  Was I scared the first time I saw the ROUS’ on my parents’ TV screen?  You bet!  But after hiding upstairs for a few minutes I came back to watch the rest of the movie in avid anticipation.  It is one of my favorite movies that I can always watch, right along with Hook.  And then I found the book.

Not only was The Princess Bride‘s screenplay written by the book’s author, William Goldman, but the movie managed to convey the exact same tone as the book.  The only real change made was converting the Zoo of Death to the Pit of Insanity for budget reasons.  And really, it works just as well.  If you’ve seen the movie but never read the book, you are missing out.  It’s a brilliant piece of work and Goldman’s matter-of-fact way of writing the absurdities make it all the more wonderful.  If you’ve never read the book and never seen the movie…really, what are you doing reading this when you could be experiencing the joy, sorrow, wonder, love, and humor that is The Princess Bride?

I bet you think that’s what I read today.  Sorry!

Today’s book is titled As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (with Joe Layden and foreward by Rob Reiner).  It is an autobiographical look back on the time and experiences that went into the beloved movie.  Several of the facts and stories within I already knew, because I am the kind of fan who’s discovered that there are two commentaries on any special edition DVD of The Princess Bride: one from William Goldman (the author) and one from Rob Reiner (the director).  Goldman talks about how the movie actually got made and Reiner talks about all the stuff that went on behind the scenes.  Well, a lot of the stuff.  There are a large number of stories that Cary Elwes relates that I had never heard before.

Which I loved.  I promise you, I’m not a rabid fan of the movie, though I do love it dearly.  Of course, that’s like me saying I’m not a Trekkie.  I greatly enjoy Star Trek, but I don’t define my life by it.  If you ask me what my favorite book is, I’ll probably give you my favorite that I’ve read in the past six months because figuring out one out of all the hundreds I’ve read in my life is far more work than it’s worth, weighing everything to determine which I appreciate most.  If you ask my favorite movie, it’s Hook, though that might be because Hook is more likely to be on TV at any given moment than The Princess Bride.

So I love The Princess Bride even if I don’t make that love obvious in my daily life.  Sure, I own the movie, I own the book, and I own this book about the movie.  And I’ll recommend all of them to anyone who hasn’t experienced them.  But I don’t have any t-shirts or board games or other merchandise.  I don’t go to any specially themed events or conventions or seek out other media simply because there’s someone in common between them.  I don’t need to be a fan in fandom, if that makes sense, because I don’t see a need to be that obsessive.

Do I know the movie by heart?  Yes.  Do I know a lot of the commentary offhand?  Also yes.  Do I have most of the book filed away in my head?  Most definitely yes.  I just don’t feel like sharing these things with the world on a regular basis.

Am I probably going to watch the movie in the near future, now that I’ve read As You Wish?  Almost certainly.  It’s a book that helps everyone remember just what it was that they loved about The Princess Bride and see how it became the phenomenon we know and adore.  And while the book is mostly from Cary Elwes’ point of view, there are comments from the author, director, producer, and several of the other actors all throughout, plus some photos.

So why are you still sitting there, reading this?  Go on!  Have fun storming the castle!


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