Tag Archives: 80s movies

25 Years of The Princess Bride

Before you read any further, if you’re one of the many people who get directed here trying to find out if Robbie Coltrane is in The Princess Bride, IMDB says he isn’t. But now you’re here, I hope you enjoy the rest of the post.

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Today commemorates the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest films ever made, a tale of romance, heroism, villainy and giants, and is worthy of a thousand blogs. I am, of course, talking about The Princess Bride.

To briefly recap the plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy becomes a pirate, boy fights rats, boy rescues girl with the help of a vengeful swordsman and a giant. It’s not particularly complicated but it doesn’t need to be – it’s a fairytale, albeit a slighly snarky and subversive fairytale.

It follows a lot of fairytale traditions, of course, and acknowledges that from the start: the framing device involves a grandfather reading The Princess Bride to his sick grandson. The boy is outaged – he thinks it’s a ‘kissing book’ – but he relents and becomes both audience and commentator to the action. And that’s fair enough, because stories are meant to be interactive, at least to a degree.

(The novel, like the film written by William Goldman, plays with this idea a lot more – the narrator discovers that the original story of The Princess Bride was a political satire and that his own grandfather used to cut out the boring bits when reading it to him. Assume the film as an adaptation of the novel and so many people, both real and fictional, get in on the storytelling action that we never actually get to see the real story. Which is probably for the best, as what we get sounds way better than the original by S. Morganstern.)

The characters are as slippery as the narrative – that’s fair enough, this is a fairytale and its inhabitants are meant to be liminal. A shy, quiet farmboy becomes the biggest badass in town, enemies become allies, disguises are key to the plot, and even the gulf between life and death can be bridged by the semantic difference between the words ‘all dead’ and ‘mostly dead’. After all, this is about storytelling and so language is important: “As you wish” becomes code for “I love you”, we’re reminded that ‘concerned’ isn’t the same as ‘nervous’, and one of the best lines is all about using words you don’t really understand:

“Inconceivable!”
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

The only thing we can be clear on is True Love, which is eternal and unbreakable, which is the whole point of the movie. You know it’s heading for a happy ending, but that predictability doesn’t matter when the journey’s so much fun.

Because despite my lit-crit wibblings above, The Princess Bride is a really funny film. The casting is spot on (when Harry Potter needed to cast a giant, they called Robbie Coltrane. When The Princess Bride needed to do the same, they got, well, Andre the Giant), and the script is amazing, full of quotable one-liners and punch-the-air declarations if love and revenge. For instance:

You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”

“This is true love – you think this happens every day?”

“Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed, in Greenland?!”

“I’m not left-handed.”

“Never go against a Sicillian when death is on the line!”

“Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons!”

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…”

“I fight gangs for local charities and stuff.”

“Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”

“Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.”

(The problem with quoting The Princess Bride is that, like Pringles, once you stop, you can’t stop.)

But despite its subversive attitude, the film works because it has heart; declarations of true love may be over-the-top but they’re sincere, and the climactic swordfight between Inigo and the Six Fingered Man features the legendary line “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”. Apparently actor Mandy Patinkin spat that line at the cancer that killed his father and it shows – he means it. That’s what makes The Princess Bride a classic, towering over other films that go for a similar vibe (like, say, Pirates of the Caribbean). And that’s why people love it.

“Grandpa, maybe you could come round and read it to me again tomorrow.”
“As you wish.”

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Inconceivable! Some Thoughts On Why The Princess Bride Is Awesome

Before you read any further, if you’re one of the many people who get directed here trying to find out if Robbie Coltrane is in The Princess Bride, IMDB says he isn’t. But now you’re here, I hope you enjoy the rest of the post.

20111012-092444.jpg

Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and I couldn’t think of much to write about it, other than linking to news of the Pirate Party winning local elections in Berlin (and a short but magnificent joke). I realise now that I was blind, for one of my favourite films involves a pirate and it is truly worthy of a thousand blogs. I am, of course, talking about The Princess Bride.

To briefly recap the plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy becomes a pirate, boy fights rats, boy rescues girl with the help of a vengeful swordsman and a giant. It’s not particularly complicated but it doesn’t need to be – it’s a fairytale, albeit a slighly snarky and subversive fairytale.

It follows a lot of fairytale traditions, of course, and acknowledges that from the start: the framing device involves a grandfather reading The Princess Bride to his sick grandson. The boy is outaged – he thinks it’s a ‘kissing book’ – but he relents and becomes both audience and commentator to the action. And that’s fair enough, because stories are meant to be interactive, at least to a degree.

(The novel, like the film written by William Goldman, plays with this idea a lot more – the narrator discovers that the original story of The Princess Bride was a political satire and that his own grandfather used to cut out the boring bits when reading it to him. Assume the film as an adaptation of the novel and so many people, both real and fictional, get in on the storytelling action that we never actually get to see the real story. Which is probably for the best, as what we get sounds way better than the original by S. Morganstern.)

The characters are as slippery as the narrative – that’s fair enough, this is a fairytale and its inhabitants are meant to be liminal. A shy, quiet farmboy becomes the biggest badass in town, enemies become allies, disguises are key to the plot, and even the gulf between life and death can be bridged by the semantic difference between the words ‘all dead’ and ‘mostly dead’. After all, this is about storytelling and so language is important: “As you wish” becomes code for “I love you”, we’re reminded that ‘concerned’ isn’t the same as ‘nervous’, and one of the best lines is all about using words you don’t really understand:

“Inconceivable!”
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

The only thing we can be clear on is True Love, which is eternal and unbreakable, which is the whole point of the movie. You know it’s heading for a happy ending, but that predictability doesn’t matter when the journey’s so much fun.

Because despite my lit-crit wibblings above, The Princess Bride is a really funny film. The casting is spot on (when Harry Potter needed to cast a giant, they called Robbie Coltrane. When The Princess Bride needed to do the same, they got, well, Andre the Giant), and the script is amazing, full of quotable one-liners and punch-the-air declarations if love and revenge. For instance:

You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”

“This is true love – you think this happens every day?”

“Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed, in Greenland?!”

“I’m not left-handed.”

“Never go against a Sicillian when death is on the line!”

“Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons!”

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…”

“I fight gangs for local charities and stuff.”

“Please consider me as an alternative to suicide.”

“Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.”

(The problem with quoting The Princess Bride is that, like Pringles, once you stop, you can’t stop.)

But despite its subversive attitude, the film works because it has heart; declarations of true love may be over-the-top but they’re sincere (that’s why the movie topped the Top Ten Romantic Movies for Geeks list at Funk’s House of Geekery), and the climactic swordfight between Inigo and the Six Fingered Man features the legendary line “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”. Apparently actor Mandy Patinkin spat that line at the cancer that killed his father and it shows – he means it. That’s what makes The Princess Bride a classic, towering over other films that go for a similar vibe (like, say, Pirates of the Caribbean). And that’s why people love it.

“Grandpa, maybe you could come round and read it to me again tomorrow.”
“As you wish.”

20111012-195320.jpg

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Who You Gonna Call? A tribute to, and some life lesson from, Ghostbusters

This blog is turning into a bit of an eighties movie nostalgia-fest this week – I’ve written about Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade (and, going back a bit, there are a bunch of Back to the Future posts); now it turns out that one the kings of eighties comedys is on its way back – yep, Ghostbusters is getting a re-release.

This is great news, as Ghostbusters is an undoubted classic. It’s one of those films that’s cast perfectly; the pairing of Bill Murray with Sigourney Weaver, while unlikely, doesn’t come across as completely impossible, and Dan Ackroyd’s puppy-dog enthusiasm does more to sell the plot than anything else (it’s also pretty obvious that Ray is the only reason Venkman ever made it through college). Throw in Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Rick Moranis and you’ve got something special (as well as the reason I’m terrified by all the rumours of a proposed sequel featuring a new team).

We can’t forget the writing either – after all, Ghostbusters has more quotable lines in one film than most modern blockbusters can manage across an entire franchise. They’re also life lessons! Don’t believe me? See below, the film has life lessons for every situation:

Signs of a crisis
“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats, living together… Mass hysteria!”

Health and Safety
“Don’t cross the streams.”

Religious Tolerance
“No-one steps on a church in my town!”

The Importance of remaining alert
“Listen… Do you smell something?”

Respect for rational enquiry
“Back off man, I’m a scientist!”

History
“During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveler came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Slor! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you.”

(Feel free to add your own in the comments section, hint hint.)

Long story short, assuming the rerelease makes it to the UK, I’ll be there on opening night, reciting the lines and singing the theme song – and, I bet, so will most of you. ‘cos when blockbusters are disappointing, when trips to the cinema seen perfunctionary…. Who ya gonna call?

Grails and Grace: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours?

Yesterday I wrote about Raiders of the Lost Ark and about how great it is. But let’s not forget it’s part of a franchise, one of the rare kind where the other films mostly stand up to the original. And, as I was talking about how Raiders is based in Judaism and the Old Testament, today I figured I’d go to the other end of the Bible: step forward Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and its quest for the Holy Grail.

Only despite the whole Da Vinci Code kerfuffle, there’s a problem. Because the Holy Grail isn’t in the Bible, or at least not in any direct way.

Jesus coins the wine/blood symbolism at the Last Supper but there’s no great description of a Grail, they just use a cup to drink from. Boring and conventional I know, but there you go. No, the Holy Grail is basically a medieval plot device.

See, somewhere between 1181 and 1190, a French poet called Chretian de Troyes wrote Perceval: The Story of the Grail. During the poem, Perceval manages to impress King Arthur, fall in love, meets the Fisher King and has a vision of the Grail. Here it’s an object of power, capable of healing the Fisher King if only Perceval asks the right questions – which he fails to do. It’s nothing to do with the Bloodline of Christ, it’s just the cup that the King’s communion is carried in, important because that’s the only food and drink he’s receiving.

The Grail became holy around a decade later, when Robort de Boron fills in the gaps of its history – Joseph of Arimathea uses the cup from the Last Supper to collect some of Christ’s blood after the crucifixion, eventually making his way to Britain (which links in with an early tradition that had Joseph and a bunch of other minor characters from the Gospels making their way across Europe, as well as being the source of the idea that Jesus once visited England as a boy – cue Jerusalem). None of this really has anything to do with the Bible – effectively it’s New Testament fanfic. Somewhere along the line the Grail became the object of a quest carried out by Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and it became enshrined in literature as a sacred macguffin.

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And in a lot of ways, that’s the Grail’s purpose in The Last Crusade – it’s an excuse to reconcile Indy with his father, and once this happens, the Grail is lost again. However, it’s this story, contrasted with the actions of the film’s antagonists, that shows that Indy is capable of understanding, and experiencing grace.

Look at the film’s bad guy. Donovan is a suave but ruthless businessman obsessed with the Grail and its potential to bring him immortality. To this end he aligns himself with the Nazis and manipulates both of the Joneses; after all, they’re all really just tools to help him live forever. It’s that arrogance, however, that ultimately damns him – when confronted with a roomful of potential Grails, from which he must drink to receive eternal life, he picks the most ornate. He sees the world from a pedestal and the Grail as his prize – of course it’s going to be shiny and jewel-encrusted. But whoops, it’s the wrong one and it ages him to death instead – “He chose…poorly,” the Grail’s guardian wryly comments. Donovan’s Grail quest was all about the prize, not the lessons learned along the way – after all, he never learned them because the other characters did all the work.

Indy, on the other hand, has purer motivations – he just wants to save his dad’s life and go home. And yet because of this, because his quest is noble and involves risking his neck for that of another, Indy is able to succeed. He does his homework (“Jehovah is spelled with an ‘I!'”), he risks his life, and he’s finally able to act with humility and wisdom – he doesn’t want to be a king, he just wants his dad back. “That’s not the cup of a carpenter,” he mutters about Donovan’s false grail, before picking the cheapest and most inconspicuous cup on offer. This is the right choice, because this is the Cup of Christ and the Grail and it’s associated quest reflects this – humility, wisdom, self-sacrifice, reconciliation. The Christian concept of humanity being reconciled back to God is symbolised through the Spielbergian theme of a son’s relationship with his father, and once this happens the Grail is no longer needed – it disappears and its temple collapses, job done, and all that remains for our heroes to do is return home wiser than when they set out.

Heck, even the audience is enlightened in the final moments – we find out that Indy named himself after the family dog.

I guess it’s appropriate that a trilogy (let’s put aside The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the moment) that began with Indy confronted by the Wrath of God (in the form of the opened Ark of the Covenant) should end with him encountering God’s grace – judgement and mercy meet around the Easter story in which the Grail myth has its origins. The prodigals return home and a fracture family is reunited. We’ve seen wrath – and melted Nazis – now we get to see healing.

There’s another Indy film after this, of course, but that plays with sci-fi more than it does with myth and somehow it’s weaker for it – it tries to emulate fifties B-movies, but bringing in aliens and Communists (the interchangeable ‘Other’ of films like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers) weakens it somehow – Indy seems to be the detrrmined hero who doesn’t know when to stop even when divine forces are moving around him. It’s that determination and heroism that brings him a measure of healing in The Last Crusade. I’d say he deserved it, but that wouldn’t be grace – Indy’s always been a rough diamond for all his heroism.

But even rogues can sometimes be pilgrims.

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Raiding the Lost Ark: What Indiana Jones and the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have in common

20110913-140932.jpgApparently yesterday saw an anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, hosted by Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. I can only assume that my invitation went missing in the post somehow, because I wasn’t there alongside Simon Pegg and Lost creator Damon Lindelof (who recently wrote a love letter to Raiders).

Raiders is an awesome film, of course, one of those movies where everything, from the direction to the story to the casting to Harrison Ford’s dysentery conspire to capture lightning in a bottle in a way that modern blockbusters often fail to manage. It’s a pure-blooded classic, from the opening scene (BOULDER!) to the ending (BOXES!) via divine retribution (GOD SMITING NAZIS!) and it’s fantastic. Ford could go mad and take the lead role in a new Catwoman movie and we’d still forgive him, simply because he’s Han AND Indy. The guy gets a pass just because of that. He’s even inspired the coolest Mr. Potato Head.

But part of the power of Raiders is that it’s rooted in religion and folklore, the stakes of the movie hanging on both the evil of the Nazis, and concepts of the Old Testament Wrath of God. The Ark has power beyonf human imagining and that raises it beyond a plot MacGuffin to something far scarier – frankly, none of the characters, good or bad, should be going anywhere near it.

This is pretty true to the Biblical accounts. Here’s the story: Moses leads the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt after God rains down plagues on Pharoah and parts the Red Sea. Following this, God makes a covenant, or agreement, with the fledgling Israel – this is marked by the 10 Commandments and a box – ark – in which to keep them (I wrote a little about the guy who built the ark here). This Ark became a physical symbol of God’s presence with the Israelites, going before them in battle, infused by the holy power of God and impossible to touch with your bare hands.

This is where Raiders draws upon the biblical texts – there are stories of people dying after touching the Ark and, when it’s captured by the Philistines, they’re struck by a plague of, well, hemorrhoids. The Ark is not something to be messed with.

Anyway, eventually the Babylonians conquered Israel and the Ark disappears from view. No-one knows what happened to it, and it’s at this point that it passes from religious history into rumour, folklore and mythology. Raiders suggests it ended up buried in Egypt, waiting for some hubristic Nazis to dig it up. There are, however, other ideas…

One of the apocryphal (non-canonical) biblical texts, 2 Maccabees, says that the prophet Jeremiah realised that Israel was going down and buried the Ark in an unknown cave, not to be revealed until God Himself made it known.

Meanwhile, others lay claim to safeguarding the Ark, most famously Ethiopia. Apparently there is an artifact kept in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, Axum, that may of may not be the Ark. The Glory of Kings, a text written in 1225 to legitimise the Ethiopian royal family, says that it’s there, and all Ethiopian churches contain a replica of the Ark. Interestingly, a while ago the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church said he was going to reveal the truth about the Ark; the next day he changed his mind. This doesn’t exactly help quash speculation.

Then there are the Lemba people of southern Africa, who have a tradition of a mysterious but sacred artifact known as the Ngoma Lungundu, “the drum that thunders” (implying the voice of God). What may a replica of the Ark is on display in Zimbabwe, after being hidden away in a storeroom for years… Which sounds a little familiar.

It’s not just Africa making claims. At the turn of the 20th century there was even speculation that the Ark was in Ireland, with some enthusiasts starting to dig up the Hill of Tara until someone had the sense to stop them before they destroyed one of the country’s spiritual centres.

The fact is, we don’t know what happened to the Ark of Covenant, and that worked in the favour of Raiders – at the end of the film the Ark is lost again, this time to the forces of bureaucracy. Maybe it’s for the best – you don’t mess around with the infinite, to paraphrase another movie. For an archeologist, Indy doesn’t have much success with getting his finds back home – he’s not working with history, he’s working with faith, religion, the divine. “It belongs in a museum,” he says during another of his adventures, but that’s not always true – in the case of the Ark he has to close his eyes and stay out of the way. It’s not often that a movie has something visceral to say about the power of God.

Fortunately Raiders isn’t any old movie.

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