Obviously we’re big fans of The Princess Bride around here (who isn’t??). Sarah even coined the phrase “pull a Fred Savage” to describe that look of disgust that crosses yr face when presented with something you hold in absolute contempt, like kissing books (except we’re actually big fans of kissing books, OBVS). But did you know the 1987 masterpiece was based on a book? I didn’t, until my 9th-grade English teacher mentioned how much she hated the book when passing out our suggested reading list (Gasp! Sacrilege! It’s always been wuv, twue wuv with this movie), and so of course I had to read the book. William Goldman (not Golding — this is no Lord of the Flies) wrote the book AND the screenplay, so no matter which work loses this cage match, it’ll be Goldman for the win.
Meet the Contestants
Title: The Princess Bride
Basic Plot of Both
Do I really need to include this? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles… basically, the best story ever. Oh, and kissing (sorry, little Fred).
Round 1: Narration
The book is framed as an “S. Morgenstern’s classic tale of true love and high adventure (the ‘good parts’ version),” which Goldman has edited to do away with all the boring description and detail, just as his father did when he read it to Goldman the youngster (enter grandpa and little Fred in the film). This is done with loads of Voltaire-esque parenthetical asides in the first few chapters, something that’s funny in both Candide and The Princess Bride for about the first 20 snarky comments, but gets old after awhile. Luckily for Goldman (not so much for Voltaire), he cuts it out once the story gets going. so, +1 for the book.
But the movie has little Fred Savage! Back when he was cute (ahem. True confession: my first crush was Fred Savage in The Wonder Years). And Columbo as Grandpa! And lines like, “When I was your age, television was called books.” I love the little cut-in scenes of Grandpa reading at the beginning of the movie, and Goldman wisely ditches these interruptions once the story gets going, so +1 for the scenes and an additional +1 for Fred. +2 for the movie.
Round 2: Cast
The cast! Oh, no matter how good yr imagination is, it’ll never come up with better images of the characters than Andre the Giant, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright and that short guy who plays Vizzini. Billy Crystal as Miracle Max automatically counts for 2 extra points — have fun stormin’ the castle, film version! +3 for the movie.
But since the book has the characters, albeit minus the audiovisuals, I give it +1 for the book.
Round 3: Differences
Many of the book’s scenes are directly translated to the screen, dialogue and all. But there are a few minor changes that make a major difference, like changing sharks to shrieking eels. How much cooler are shrieking eels than sharks? Answer: a BILLION TIMES cooler, no matter what you say, Discovery Channel Shark Week. Also, the book’s Zoo of Death becomes the Pit of Despair. Actually, that may be a point for the book, except for the whole “animal cruelty is one of my dealbreakers” thing. +1 for the movie, +1 for the book.
Round 4: Length
The movie is only an hour and a half long, and the book is a whopping 317 pages (that’s including the 2 introductions, but not including the sneak of Buttercup’s Baby, a sequel to The Princess Bride). So if you only have a couple of hours, great — see the movie. But if you have time to read 300 pages, the book has room for lots of background on the characters, including the whole story of how the Count killed Inigo Montoya’s father and how Fezzik ended up unemployed, in Greenland (also, there’s a lot more of Fezzik’s rhyming game in the book). I really like the background info, so the book gets +1 here.
Also an advantage of the printed medium is the infinite capacity for snarkery. Unless you have constant voiceover in a film, which would cancel out any amusement from the snark due to the HIDEOUS ANNOYANCE from constant voiceover, you can’t do snark in a movie like you can in a book. So while all the dialogue is pretty much a verbatim transfer book to movie, the movie lacks all the snide comments by the omniscient narrator and things going on in the characters’ heads. so +2 book for snark, cos we love some snark around here.
Round 5: Ending
Hm. So the movie ends happily ever after, with Buttercup floating down from the castle window a la Mario after he defeats Bowser and gets the wand in every level of Super Mario Bros. 1 and riding off into the sunset with Westley, while Inigo becomes the Dread Pirate Roberts. But the book is more ambiguous, although tres exciting — as the couple is riding off, promising each other to each outlive the other, Inigo’s Count-induced wounds reopen, Westley relapses to mostly dead, Fezzik gets lost (again) and Humperdinck has escaped his bonds and is nowhere near ultimate pain. And I gotta say, maybe I’m feeling a little cranky, but I like the “life’s potentially not fair” realistic ending of the book better than the movie. +1 for the book.
So what’s the verdict? I think, for the only time in my experience, it’s a tie. The movie obviously is very dear to me and I don’t have the heart to say anything’s better. And although I came to the book much later in life than the movie, and it’s colored by my near-perfect mental replay of the film every time I read it, the book is awesomely hilarious and much more sarcastic and snarktastic than the movie could ever hope to be. So to both the book AND movie (and therefore William Goldman):