Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the premiere of The Princess Bride [released on September 25, 1987]. In a nice bit of synchronicity, last month in an online “Hero’s Journey” class I’m teaching with 15 really sharp middle-schoolers, we read William Goldman’s novel “The Princess Bride,” comparing it to the movie’s script. While I was at it, I watched the movie again. And after all that, I came to this inescapable conclusion:
The Princess Bride should not work as a movie… that is if you subscribe to the so-called “rules” of screenwriting.
For the next few days, I’d like to spotlight some narrative elements which should certainly mean that The Princess Bride fails as a movie.
Today: Too much of the action takes place off-screen.
Here is a list of events we don’t see on-screen in The Princess Bride, information only related through exposition:
* Westley taking off for America.
* Westley’s experiences with the Dread Pirate Roberts.
* Montoya’s father killed by the six-fingered man.
* Vizzini, Montoya and Fezzik kidnap Buttercup in order to start a war between Florin [Prince Humperdinck’s country] and Guilder… a country we never see!
* Count Rugen’s fascination with studying pain and creating The Machine.
* Fezzik and an inebriated Montoya end up in the Thieves’ Forest.
* Miracle Max fired by Prince Humperdinck.
* Max gives Fezzik a holocaust cloak.
All of these happen off-screen, only communicated through exposition. This goes entirely against the age-old screenwriting adage: “Show it, don’t say it.” And yet The Princess Bride is one of the IMDB’s Top 250 movies in part because of wondrous bits of whimsy like this:
The simple fact is The Princess Bride works. Indeed it is an utterly delightful movie. And yet there are several reasons why it should not work.
What does that tell us about so-called screenwriting “rules”?
Tomorrow another reason why The Princess Bride should not work as a movie.