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Kevin Reynolds
James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David O'Hara, Henry Cavill, JB Blanc, Jamie King, Leo Gregory
Writing Credits:
Dean Georgaris

Before Romeo & Juliet, there was ...

From executive producer Ridley Scott a sweeping, action-packed saga of epic battles, political intrigue and forbidden passion, set in a time when the lines between heroism and savagery were etched in fire and carved out with broadswords. After the fall of Rome, visionary warlord Marke (Rufus Sewell) seeks to unite the squabbling English tribes to form one strong nation and defeat the brutal Irish king Donnchadh. But when Lord Marke's greatest and most loyal knight, Tristan (James Franco), falls in love with Isolde (Sophia Myles), a beautiful Irish woman, it threatens to destroy the fragile truce and ignite a war. In the spirit of Braveheart and A Knight's Tale, Tristan + Isolde is a rousing tale of trust and treachery that will leave you breathless!

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$7.612 million on 1845 screens.
Domestic Gross
$14.732 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 125 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/25/2006

• Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Jim Lemley and Co-Producer Anne Lai
• Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Dean Georgaris
• “Love Conquers All: The Making of Tristan + Isolde” Featurette
• Image Galleries
• Music Video
• Trailer
• TV Spots


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Tristan + Isolde (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 28, 2006)

If you want to look at the direct inspiration for 2006’s Tristan + Isolde, you might want to look at the film’s logo. The use of “+” instead of “&” clearly elicits thoughts of 1996’s Romeo + Juliet. This is no coincidence, as both adapt classics for a modern teen audience. Heck, the DVD’s cover tells us that “before Romeo and Juliet, there was Tristan and Isolde”!

Set in the Dark Ages, Tristan tells us that after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Britain is a mess of separated tribes who fight with each other. On the other hand, their Irish neighbors to the west suffer from no such disunity, and they thrive. The Irish also suppress the Brits, which leads to talk of rebellion.

Led by Aragon (Richard Dillane), they plan a union of the tribes that will allow them to fight back against the Irish. However, Irish forces attack against these covert dealings. Aragon and his wife (Bronwen Davies) die in the raid, and that leaves their young son Tristan (Thomas Sangster) an orphan. Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) loses a hand in the defense of the boy and takes the kid into his family, though he does so as a widower since his wife also gets killed in this battle.

From there the movie jumps ahead nine years to meet Tristan as a young adult (James Franco). He now serves as a knight under his adoptive father’s command. Marke and the others have rebuilt their community, but they remain held down by the Irish. We learn a little more about their lives as we meet their King Donnchadh (David Patrick O’Hara) and his teen daughter Isolde (Sophia Myles). We briefly encountered her as a child (Isobel Moynihan); her mother died about the same time Tristan lost his parents. King Donnchadh promises her as a wife to his faithful lieutenant Morholt (Graham Mullins), a prospect that doesn’t exactly excite her.

Tristan kills Morholt in battle, but the boy himself apparently dies as well. His compatriots give him the requisite burial at sea but it turns out rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Tristan turns up on the Irish shore where none other than babealicious young Isolde discovers him.

She nurses him back to health and they fall in love. However, he can’t stick around forever, so he eventually sails back toward Britain. In the meantime, Donnchadh attempts to divide the British tribes via a contest: he’ll offer the hand of Isolde and some property to the winner of a competition. Marke sees this as a transparent attempt by the Irish to further splinter British alliances, but a returned Tristan convinces him they can use it to their advantage – if he wins.

Tristan wants to win the tournament so he can make the Irish princess the wife of Marke. Of course, he does this because he doesn’t know the identity of the babe he romanced back there. The movie follows all these romantic and political complications.

I’ll give the filmmakers credit for this: at least they didn’t gussy up Tristan in a transparent attempt to appeal to a teen audience. Sure, the flick’s promotion pushes it in that manner, but the movie itself manages to avoid that form of pandering. It presents things as a typical period piece with romantic overtones; we don’t discover many nods in the direction of modern storytelling styles.

While Tristan seems more subdued and less sappy than expected, that doesn’t mean it does much to exceed my expectations. The film’s main problem stems from its lack of passion. It tells a legendary romance and all the complications of the love affair, but it fails to make us really care about the main parties. Franco and Myles certainly look terrific in their parts, but they don’t manage to produce any heat. They come across as lovely mannequins without much spirit or fire between them.

That becomes the film’s major undoing. A romantic movie with a drab love story can’t prosper, and the main thrust of Tristan leaves us cold. There’s simply no passion at the heart of the film.

I do like the even-handed portrayal of Marke, though. I expected that character to be arrogant and overbearing, especially since Sewell has played roles like that in the past. However, the movie goes out of its way to make him seem like a good guy. In fact, that almost turns into a negative since it makes Tristan and Isolde look selfish. This dude lost his hand to save little Tristy and then raised him as a son and this is the way the kid repays him?

Sure, Tristan rights himself at the end, but the tale sure doesn’t portray him in a favorable manner. Again, the lack of fire in the main relationship undoes matters. If Tristan and Isolde demonstrated greater spark, we’d better accept their irresistible attraction. As it stands, they feel more like hormonal teens than legendary lovers.

Through the years, director Kevin Reynolds have proven himself to be an average filmmaker at best, and his mediocre talents come through in Tristan. I can’t say Reynolds does much to harm the film, though the editing of the fights often makes them difficult to follow. I also can’t claim the director brings much to the piece.

Indeed, a more skilled director could have better explored the nuances and complexities of a story such as Tristan + Isolde. Instead, it stays on the surface and ignores potentially interesting threads. It provides a watchable piece of romantic history but fails to stretch and become anything better than that.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Tristan + Isolde appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer featured many positives and very few negatives.

Sharpness was strong. Virtually no softness crept into the presentation. The film exhibited a crisp, detailed image at all times. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed only a sliver of edge enhancement. Source flaws also seemed absent.

The filmmakers opted for some stylized tones in Tristan. The movie stayed with desaturated tones and favored darker hues. We saw subdued greens and blues through much of the flick, with virtually no brighter bits on display. All these colors seemed well reproduced within the movie’s palette. Blacks were also deep and dense, while shadows offered appropriate definition. Overall, this was a very satisfying image.

I also really liked the audio of Tristan + Isolde. The DVD included very similar Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. I thought the DTS mix was a little more robust, but I didn’t detect substantial differences between the two tracks.

I had no problem with that since the pair sounded great. The soundfield seemed involving and active, especially during the battle scenes. Those offered the showiest moments, though all parts of the flick depicted a nice sense of environment.

Audio quality was similarly positive. Dialogue appeared distinct and natural, with no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Music sounded clear and bright and displayed good range. Effects were clean and accurate, while low-end boomed nicely. This was a very good mix that supported the material well.

In regard to extras, Tristan comes with two separate audio commentaries. The first features screenwriter Dean Georgaris. He presents a running, screen-specific discussion. Despite a few lulls, Georgaris offers a generally solid chat.

As expected, the commentary mostly addresses script issues. Georgaris tells us about the project’s long path to the screen, as he originally created it as a writing exercise back in the mid-Nineties. Georgaris goes over his collaboration with director Kevin Reynolds and producer Ridley Scott as well as changes made through various drafts, cut and altered sequences, influences and elements he does and doesn’t like. Georgaris keeps things fairly light and engaging as he discusses his work and how the final product represents his vision. This ends up as a nice little chat.

For the second commentary, we hear from executive producer Jim Lemley and co-producer Anne Lai . Both sit together for their running, screen-specific track. They get into the expected mix of topics. We hear a little about the adaptation and other story issues. We also learn about the cast and characters, sets and locations, crew and their work, and general notes from the production.

Lai and Lemley get into various problems and challenges. We find out how weather negatively impacted on the shoot as well as injuries to actors. At no point does this threaten to become a particularly scintillating conversation, but it also never flops. Lai and Lemley offer a perfectly serviceable and informative discussion that digs into appropriate topics with reasonable depth.

Next we find a featurette called Love Conquers All: Making of Tristan + Isolde. This 29-minute and 10-second piece mixes movie clips, behind the scenes elements and interviews. We hear from Lai, Georgaris, Lemley, director Kevin Reynolds, production designer Mark Geraghty, stunt coordinator/second unit director Nick Powell, cinematographer Artur Reinhart, and actors James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, Henry Cavill, JB Blanc, Bronagh Gallagher, Thomas Sangster, and Mark Strong.

“Conquers” looks at the development of the script, the influence of prior versions, and this one’s path to the screen. From there we get notes about the flick’s low budget and related concerns, the cast and their performances, various visual design decisions and attempts at historical accuracy. Next we learn about complications on location, costumes and sets, cinematography, stunts and actor training, Reynolds’ work,

I must admit I expected the usual promotional fluff from “Conquers”, but the program offers much greater depth than that. It presents a nice encapsulation of the production and benefits from a number of insights. The documentary boasts a lot of solid behind the scenes footage and covers the shoot well. Take this one as a fine overview.

Inside the Image Galleries, we discover three separate areas. These include “Behind the Scenes” (122 shots), “Production Design” (47), and “Costume Design” (37). These provide surprisingly solid photos. The “BTS” pictures are more candid than usual, and all offer nice elements of the production.

In the advertising department, the DVD includes trailer as well as 11 TV spots. We also discover two music videos for Gavin DeGraw’s “We Belong Together”. The “long” one goes for four minutes, 36 seconds, while the “short” version fills two minutes, 30 seconds. The long one includes lip-synch shots of DeGraw mixed with movie clips and a story that shows a modern girl who gets involved in the story when she reads it. The short take just offers a cut rendition of the longer one. It’s a decent video for a sappy song.

While I like the fact that Tristan + Isolde never becomes a piece of pandering pop puffery, I can’t say the movie does much to rise above mediocrity. A lack of complexity and a passionless romance cause it to sputter and never become anything memorable. The DVD provides excellent picture quality as well as very good audio and a fairly useful set of extras. This is a solid DVD for a lackluster movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.45 Stars Number of Votes: 20
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