Friday, July 31, 2015

As You Wish: Why this audiobook about the making of The Princess Bride is inconceivably good

Image courtesy of Simon & Schuster
As an audiobook reviewer for the prestigious publication AudioFile Magazine and a gun-for-hire audio proofer and editor, I don't often get to listen to a book that hasn't been assigned to me. But when I discovered As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride (on my top 10 list of Liz's personal favorite films of all time) written by Cary Elwes (Westley himself!) and Joe Layden and narrated by most of the cast, I knew this was one adventure not to be missed.

Being the progeny of a rather nerdy literary family, I was already well-versed on high fantasy involving castles, and more importantly, PIRATES. To this day, I'm pretty much on board (pun intended) with anything that involves pirates. Whether it started with The Princess Bride or something earlier, I can't be sure, but I can tell you Elwes in that black getup set my tender childhood heart aflutter and charted a course for a young woman who would thrive on high adventure. I remember the first time watching it: I was probably about eight years old, and my Aunt Sherry and Uncle Jack had a TV room and kid's play area set up in their basement. I'll never forget seeing the VHS tape cover of Robin Wright looking resplendent as Princess Buttercup, and her clinging to Westley as he raised his sword high. This very picture you see below that they reused for the original DVD release (if it ain't broke, don't fix it!):

One of the major films that defined by 80s movie childhood. 

I have watched the film several times since then. I own the special edition DVD, and I knew my now-fiance was potential long-term material when he sat through repeated viewings with me, uncomplaining, reciting the familiar lines right along..."Never cross a Sicilian when death is on the line!" and so on. My mind was blown a few years back when said fiance developed a special fascination for the show Columbo and I realized that the same actor (the sorely missed Peter Falk) was the grandfather in the film.  It warmed my heart that something I felt like I knew as well as the back of my own hand could still surprise me. I have also since read the novel by William Goldman who also wrote the screenplay, and not surprisingly it holds the same level of tongue-in-cheek humor. I was pleased to discover, when listening to As You Wish that Goldman was a very prominent player in the production - getting to hear the man himself narrate his reactions of seeing the tale he wrote for his children come to life is a delight. 

As You Wish is very special in the sense that it does what the ideal audiobook is supposed to do - give the writing further dimension and make it a richer experience. Not every book is cut out to do this, of course, but this one seemed made for the audio realm. Not only do we get treated to hearing Westley himself narrating most of the book to us, but also hearing the expertly edited and timed feedback from the people themselves - director Rob Reiner (who wrote and narrated the forward), Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), Mandy Patinkin (better known as Inigo Montoya) Robin Wright, and many others. For someone who has never seen the film, or saw it many years ago, Elwes provides helpful background about the tale, and it works well as a standalone for anyone interested in the conversion process on how to take a book and make it into a successful movie - and more importantly, how to do it right. The backstories from Cary breaking his toe before a major scene to the epic tales of Andre the Giant's humongous tolerance for alcohol (he apparently could drink a whole case of wine and barely be buzzed) will make you see the film in a whole new way. 

I couldn't get enough of this book. Hearing  the real voices as well as the actors doing their impressions of each other was entertaining as well as endearing. You can tell this book was a real collaborative process; it is clear the cast and crew are thrilled to be back together reminiscing on what was so clearly such a positive experience for all of them. I can't say enough about the good people in charge of producing this book at Simon & Schuster, whose proofing, editing, and splicing all the voices into a seamless, clear, and consistent narrative deserves a medal all by itself. 

There could never be a sequel to top The Princess Bride, but this audiobook is better than a sequel - it is a satisfying nostalgic journey for people like me who grew up with the movie, and a fascinating look into the world of filmmaking for the uninitiated. 

So what are you waiting for? Take a listen to a sample here, and have fun storming the castle! 

Toby sez: I couldn't have wished for more!