(For an explanation of this year-by-year cultural exploration, check out this introductory blog post)
I’ve spoken before about my maternal grandpa’s keen ability to tell stories, but it was my paternal grandpa who had the market cornered on bedtime stories. Each night, my Grandpa Welman would sit with my sister and me and tell us a bedtime story. Thing is, Grandpa never settled for a conventional fairy tale. He would make stuff up on the fly, inserting random characters like bears or talking dogs, taking requests from both of us, leading to very interesting twists and turns.
That is why I always think of Grandpa Welman when I watch The Princess Bride. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Peter Falk so perfectly captured the loveable, funny grandpa type from the moment he burst through his grandson’s door like a vaudeville star. Like The Neverending Story, this is a movie based on a book and is presented as a book within a book (say that five times fast). The way the movie handles the questions from the grandson (Fred Savage) is exactly how stories with Grandpa Welman would go with us.
There is so much more to The Princess Bride than the Falk character though. I have easily watched this movie 50 times and I think it might be the perfect blend of genres that appeals to every demographic there is (I’ll get to the king of this kind of movie in 1991). Yet, the older I get, the more I encounter people who have never watched it. Given its absence on Netflix and basic cable these days, I legitimately worry that this movie will be lost in time, which really would be a tragedy.
I think much of the quick-witted and quirky humor of thirtysomethings in today’s society was instilled in us with this movie, which is packed to the hilt with zingers and one-liners. At least once a week I tell someone, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The entire sequence with Prince Westley and his trio of nemeses played by Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant is genuinely flawless, so while portions of the movie can drag a touch, the perfection of the first act more than makes up for the rest.
Nowadays, the smash family movies not made by Pixar tends to divvy up the humor into adult and child. Think about a movie like Shrek, which appealed to young and old mostly through a ton of pop culture references only adults will understand. There are no cultural references for Princess Bride to fall back on. It is a timeless movie that holds up almost 30 years later precisely because of that reason. I often wonder if these timeless flicks like The Wizard of Oz or Snow White and Cinderella might fade in the face of shiny and new things. The whole impetus of this blog project started with this obsession on making new versions of perfectly fine things. If I find out that someday they are making a Selena Gomez-starring Princess Bride reboot, I may just give up on movies altogether. I’ll die. Or, at least, mostly die.
I am a bit of a hypocrite though, as I have always cited Star Trek: The Next Generation as my favorite version of the Star Trek franchise. It is a reboot of the original Star Trek concept that has since been rebooted eight or nine times. You’ll have to cut me some slack though, as I am playing the dead dad card here. This was his favorite show and we would often watch it together. He watched since he was a big sci fi fan, while I watched because I really loved the Reading Rainbow guy. The show grew on me though. Rather, it was kind of forced upon me, as many people in our extended family were particularly into Star Trek to the point where they would attend conventions and us kids collected action figures of even the most obscure characters.
There are movies and TV shows you love because of what they are, like The Princess Bride, and there are those movies and TV shows you loved because of the traditions surrounding them. Talking Star Trek with the family, sitting at the foot of my dad’s La-Z-Boy watching along, these are moments I can’t get back and will treasure forever. In some odd attempt to rekindle them, my love for TNG grows.
The show itself has its interesting elements. The Holodeck episodes, which managed to somehow create strange universe after strange universe where some malfunction puts everyone’s life in peril (at what point did they ever decide maybe the Holodeck, while fun, wasn’t safe?). The mysterious Q (John De Lancie) was a personal favorite of mine, as he created mischief in a fun villainous way, like an old school Batman villain, as opposed to truly sinister or a metaphorically disconcerting view of the future, like the Borg.
I don’t think underrated is the right word for TNG, but it is drifting into that same space of cultural obscurity as The Princess Bride. Maybe there was some sort of portal in 1987 that ensured quality content not mired in the timeliness of the 80s gets lost without just cause.
There were certainly many artifacts of the 80s that were justifiably discarded and forgotten. Think about how you watch movies and listen to music now compared to your childhood. My life started with records and a device I am sure most of you haven’t heard of called a VideoDisc Player, which was like a large 8 Track for movies instead of music. When my sister and I started to get to the age where we wanted to have our own collection of music, we had some cassettes, but Debbie made me insanely jealous when she got a Pocket Rockers player. It was like a Walkman, but instead of playing cassette tapes, it played tiny tapes that kind of looked like the ones you’d put in an answering machine. Ring any bells?
Each cassette contained one or two song, cause, you know, that doesn’t get annoying at all. Every once in a while my sister would let me borrow hers and I would always listen to The Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian. Gliding around in our front hallway with wooden floors in my socks like a tiny Tom Cruise in Risky Business, I would practice some of my moves from dance class to a song that will probably get cast aside sooner or later by contemporary society given the fact it is very catchy, but also kinda racist.
I can’t tell you how much I wanted a Pocket Rocker back then, but it is mostly because you always want to be like your big sister. You want to wear what they wear, go where they go, and essentially get to grow up alongside them instead of waiting your turn. She could have worn a bag on her head and, out of principle, I would have insisted to my parents I should be allowed to as well.
Now, there are very few things my sister and I share in common. We are such different people and have such different taste that we agree to continue watching shows each of us both kind of hate like The Strain to have something for us to talk about. There are very few, if any, things she gets before me nowadays, save for her children. These days I get to watch my younger nephew pout when his big brother gets to do something while the little guy stays home. I could tell him this relationship will eventually fade into obscurity and be replaced by a very different adult sibling relationship, but I know it won’t stick.
It’s a frustrating feeling, wanting something to stick and knowing that it won’t despite your best efforts. No amount of love and dedication could keep the Pocket Rocker going. Star Trek will continue to reboot and reinvent despite even the most loyal Trekkies begging them not to. But I am not quite ready to give up on The Princess Bride. That is one I hope I can save. It would be inconceivable to live in a world where it is forgotten, but if it does, t is par for the course I suppose. Like Prince Westley says, “Life
is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
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