Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride" by Cary Elwes

I was a freshman in college in 1987 when The Princess Bride was released in theaters. (Egads.) I didn't know what to expect from the movie, but I'm a big fan of noble quests, swashbuckling heroes, and true love, so it was no surprise I was completely enamored of it, and saw it twice more in the theaters. (What else was I going to do, study?)

Even though The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies of all time, it was only a modest box office hit. I had no idea 27 years ago that I was watching a movie that was destined to be a classic, and as I've learned from Cary Elwes' terrific As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, the film's actors and creators had no idea either.

The role of Westley, the film's protagonist, was a career-making one for Elwes, who was an actor with very few films under his belt when his agent told him director Rob Reiner wanted to meet with him. A fan of William Goldman's book when he read it as a teenager, he knew this was a movie he desperately wanted to be a part of, even though he had no idea just how it would change his life.

If you're a fan of The Princess Bride, you'll love this book. It's a great look at what it was like to make a movie like this with a small budget back in the 1980s (the descriptions of their "special effects" were very amusing, and they definitely have given me some things to look for the next time I watch the movie). There's also some behind-the-scenes stuff I had never heard before, like the fact than an earlier version of the film being pitched by a different director had a then-unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger as Fezzik. The book is also interspersed with reminiscences from Reiner and his producing partner, Andy Scheinman, as well as Goldman, and costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, and Fred Savage.

The anecdotes Elwes shares about his many costars, were fascinating, humorous, and, in some cases, touching. (His recollections of his relationship with André the Giant were really special.) What I loved about it was the fact that every actor (as well as Reiner and Scheinman) recognized they were part of something special, even if they didn't realize the lasting appeal the movie would have. But more than that, the book gives you a small sense of how much fun it must have been to be part of this movie, because it was fun simply reading about it.

I'm grateful to Cary Elwes for writing this book and giving me more reasons to treasure The Princess Bride. If you're someone who finds themselves uttering, "Inconceivable," "Have fun storming the castle," or, of course, "As you wish," occasionally, you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

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