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20th Century Fox presents
Tristan and Isolde (2006)

"Did I love him like a son, or did I misuse him for my own purposes?"
- Marke (Rufus Sewell)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: July 06, 2006

Stars: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell
Other Stars: David O'Hara, Mark Strong, Henry Cavill, Bronagh Gallagher, Ronan Vibert, Lucy Russell
Director: Kevin Reynolds

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense battle sequences and some sexuality
Run Time: 02h:05m:20s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 024543237297
Genre: historical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+B+B B

DVD Review

Myths and legends make nice fodder for film; being what they are, they allow for easy and sometimes necessary manipulation by the filmmakers. So it is with Kevin Reynolds' adaptation of Tristan and Isolde, one of the older legends of the British Isles. The titular duo were star-crossed lovers long before Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, but Reynolds' film, with a script by Dean Georgaris, dilutes the tragedy and removes the magical elements of the story. As such, it's a passable period piece for those who like fantasy-esque romantic action movies, but it lacks the punch of the original tale, in whatever form you recall it.

The movie boils the tale down to its essentials; Tristan (James Franco), is rescued as a child by Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell). Marke leads one of several squabbling English tribes after the fall of Roman rule in England. The tribes are at the mercy of the Irish, led by the ruthless Donnchadh (David O'Hara), who periodically sends men to gather tribute and to squash any incipient rebellions. Tristan, thought dead after a pitched battle with the Irish and sent off in a funeral boat, is nursed back to health by Isolde (Sophia Myles) when he washed up in Ireland. They fall in love, but Tristan is forced to flee before he is discovered. When Tristan wins Isolde for Marke in a tournament, he doesn't realize who she is until it is too late. Their attempts to restrain themselves are destined to fail, and Donnchadh plans to use their affair to destroy the new alliance of English tribes.

Purists may be dismayed at the filmmakers' departure from the basics of the original tale, which most importantly include a love potion, a wife for Tristan, and a tragic end for both of the main characters, but when making an adaptation, I don't consider a source sacred, and if changes are to be made, so be it. The film does well in establishing the love triangle, one of the keys being the portrayal of Marke. Marke is written as an eminently likable guy, and his basic goodness makes Tristan and Isolde's choices that much more difficult, knowing they are betraying someone who does not deserve it.

The film's major problem comes in the character of Tristan. Or, more to the point, Franco's acting, which never seems to rise above a general stupefied look. The interview segments with Franco on the making of documentary would indicate that he is like this in real life, but this role requires someone who can do more than look pouty and upset. Myles, for her part, is passionate, and Sewell carries off Marke's anguish well. The rest of the cast are little more than cardboard, with the sneeringly evil Irish amusing to watch.

The film also can't quite seem to make up its own mind as to what side we should fall on in its main argument of love versus duty. Tristan stands firmly on the side of duty for much of the early part of the film; Marke is a surrogate father, and rescued Tristan from death, and Tristan feels he owes Marke for that. But Isolde tells him that love is a gift, something from God, etc etc, and to do without it is like living half a life. So he switches sides and the affair kicks into gear. But when Marke offers the pair a chance to escape, the choice comes down to love versus duty again, and the choice an audience usually expects, given the title couple's, plight, is thrown by the wayside so Tristan can be a hero.

The film's battle scenes earned the film a PG-13, and they are bracing enough, though never pushing into anything too gory or graphic. The budget restrictions mean that there is a fair amount of subterfuge going on to give the impression that there are more people fighting than actually there, but it doesn't always work; I felt like this was a tiny conflict between very small groups of people, which lessened the impact a bit. There are a handful of tame sex scenes as well, but no naughty bits are on display, keeping the film in line with the teen audience it was largely aimed at.

Reynolds' previous period epic, The Count of Monte Cristo, didn't take itself as seriously as this film does; Tristan and Isolde is almost completely without mirth or happiness of any kind; the story lives under a constant stress of one kind or another, whether it is the threat of the Irish, fear of discovery, or imminent death. While an outrageous comedic presence like Monte Cristo's Luis Guzman would be too much for this film, some lightening of the tone would have been appreciated, although Bronagh Gallagher's lady in waiting provides some minor work in that direction.

The film, like most Hollywood films these days it seems, aims squarely for the teen demographic, what with Franco's casting as the lead, and judging from online sources like the Internet Movie Database, found an audience, even though it didn't light up the box office. That then will likely remain its future audience as well, as the film lacks a general sophistication and presence to captivate the rest of the crowd. The film is what it is: a solid enough entertainment, but nothing much to remain in the memory beyond the time it takes to watch it.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Some reviews of the disc published mention abysmal image quality, but I saw none of that in watching my review copy. The image quality on my copy was solid and clean, looking every bit the film of modern vintage it is. While not razor sharp, it will likely please most watching.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks are on hand, and each provides a more than adequate stage for the sound work here. These aren't going to blow your doors off, but they're suitable for the task at hand. Also present are French and Spanish 2.0 tracks, which I did not sample.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Executive producer Jim Lemley and Co-producer Anne Lai; Screenwriter Dean Georgaris
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music video by Gavin DeGraw (two versions)
  2. Image galleries (behind the scenes, production design, costume design)
Extras Review: Fox has outfitted Tristan and Isolde with a nice array of extras; first are two commentaries, one featuring executive producer Jim Lemley and co-producer Anne Lai, and the second with screenwriter Dean Georgaris. The commentary with Georgaris is more interesting than the former, but I can't imagine the target audience for this film listening to either, to be honest. The documentary Love Conquers All covers most of the bases in terms of talking with the actors and crew and so on. The staging of the action scenes is perhaps the most interesting element of this, as the limited budget forced the crew into certain compromises. Image galleries collect photos from different part of the production. The theatrical trailer and no fewer than eleven TV spots are included, as is the marketing gimmick video of singer Gavin DeGraw's We Belong Together, in both a short and long version. The long version mostly tells the story of the movie, thus saving you the trouble of watching most of it, and it has the added bonus of new footage of Sophia Myles on a beach imagining the story. The song is not featured in the movie in any way.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If your taste runs toward romantic period epics, Tristan and Isolde will probably do enough to at least entertain, but it contains too many flaws to achieve anything special. James Franco's soporofic performance in the lead role cripples the picture, though Sophia Myles and Rufus Sewell turn in admirable performances on their end. The DVD provides some decent bonus materials for the fan, including a pair of commentaries and a lengthier than usual making-of.


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