William Goldman’s The Princess Bride is a romantic love story with action, drama, comedy, and interesting, loveable characters. The transformation of the book to the film loses detailed character development and location description, but, on the other hand, brings each character to life and does not have all of the lengthy, but funny, aside commentary. The book includes many more details about backgrounds of each character, their lifestyles and the motivations for their actions. The film does not have the time to go as deep into each character’s background or their lifestyle.
Well-written characters come to life on the screen through the actors that were chosen to portray them. Buttercup and Westley’s love for each other is real on screen. He is passionate and steadfast in his pursuit of Buttercup. Without Westley, Buttercup is depressed and lonely, but at the castle she is hopeful that her love will return for her. Vizzini, the mastermind of the kidnappers, is portrayed as he is described in the book as a short, angelic-faced, crafty villain. The film captures Fezzik as a giant, strong man who loves to rhyme. He brings a lot of humor to the film. Then Inigo’s most famous line is brought to life when he says, “Hello… my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father… prepare to die.” The audience is brought into the chase and fight between Inigo and the Count. Not including the ongoing aside commentary Goldman included in the book is a major gain to the film. Although it is funny, there is so much of it that the reader may become a little lost in all of the asides. Goldman’s vivid cast of characters comes to life through the film and the commentary is concisely stated through the grandfather’s film version character.
The character’s foundations are not as strong on film as they are in the book. Stories of Fezzik’s childhood are told and, in reading them, one gets to know this interesting and likeable character well. From a young age, he was tall and strong, but he would not hurt a fly. He would avoid fighting one man at a time because it was too easy for him and he did not think it was fair. In the book, the way that Buttercup’s beauty affects everyone around her is described well, yet in the film it is not well described that she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her personality is flighty and emotional. Westley even said of her, “You have never been the brightest…” She doesn’t seem too focused on anything but riding Horse. The film version makes her look smarter and more composed. The reader sees that Westley is driven by true love in everything he does. He educates himself so that when Buttercup eventually realizes that she loves him as much as he already loves her, he already has plans to prepare their future. Prince Humperdinck is written to be a robust, physically unappealing man who only thinks about hunting and conquering Guilder. He has a weak and selfish character that wants everything to go his way. Yet in the film he is portrayed more as a handsome man who is less masculine and less driven to hunt. These characters’ full personalities are not shown as well in the film.
Character development isn’t the only loss in the transition from book to film. Locations described in the book are lost as well. The Zoo of Death, in the book, is an intimidating place filled with creatures found all over the world. Its purpose is to cage animals so that Humperdinck can challenge himself and fight them each day. He and the Count designed a Trap Zoo that they filled with deadly animals to kill anyone who tries finding the real Zoo. Fezzik and Inigo accidently pass through the Trap Zoo as they are trying to find Westley. In the movie, there is a Pit of Despair and no animals are described as being in it. Westley is tortured in the film, but not as harshly as in the book. These two places are definitely missed in the film because they provide fear to the story, which adds heroism to the characters that have to endure them. If the filmmakers had added more about the Zoo of Death, the movie could have been much more intense and suspenseful.
Overall, the translation of The Princess Bride to the film lost more than it gained. It did capture the true essence of the book and make the characters come to life. The characters’ foundations are not as strong, but the characters themselves feel more realistic and less fairytale-like. Locations are not described as well as they were in the book either. It seems as though the filmmakers did not focus on making places like the Zoo of Death a focal point of the storyline. Both the film and the book are humorous and enjoyable. If one has the opportunity, reading the book is recommended in addition to watching the film.