TRISTAN + ISOLDE Studio: 20th Century Fox Film Year: 2006 Film Length: 125 minutes Genre: Action/Drama/Romance Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Colour/B&W: Colour Audio: English 5.1 Surround English 5.1 Surround Spanish 2.0 Surround French 2.0 Surround Subtitles: English, Spanish Film Rating: Release Date: April 25, 2006. Film Rating: / James Franco (Tristan), Sophia Myles (Isolde), Rufus Sewell (Lord Marke), David O’Hara (King Donnchadh), Henry Cavill (Melot) Written by: Dean Georgaris Directed by: Kevin Reynolds Before Romeo & Juliet, there was…. In the gritty medieval days there were Tristan & Isolde; two lovers whom came together by chance and then separated by feuding cultures. They would soon meet again, but circumstances would not be in their favour. Their love was to be kept hidden and from it became an affair that proved to be everything but infinite. This is the film’s story of an ancient Irish myth that takes place after the Roman occupation of England. If you were to do a search on the myth of Tristan and Isolde you will find there are many variants and versions of the story. Which one is true? Who knows – it is a myth after all, and of course myths are distorted over time despite having being written down almost 1000 years ago by several writers who were influenced by the myth. This film, produced by Ridley Scott, tells a slightly altered version for film’s sake; but we can forgive the filmmakers because of the flexibility myths have in storytelling. Be aware as you read this, some of it may be considered as spoilers even though I don’t give the major events away. What I’ve written is the only way to explain the story without sounding vague and brief. In this film, Rome no longer controls England and King Donnchadh of prospering Ireland (untouched by the Romans) decides to brutally ransack England, a country that still lives in tribes. Young Tristan is orphaned by these attacks and is taken into the family of Lord Marke, the future King of England. When Tristan becomes a young man, he leads a group of English to battle the Irish for their atrocities. He is wounded heavily and his friends believed he was dead. Chance has it that he washes ashore into the hands of Isolde, the Irish Princess. A romance blossoms between the two, although Tristan never knows who she really is. Fearing his death after the Irish learn of his survival, she sends him off to escape. Much later, King Donnchadh decides to put his daughter Isolde up for an English suitor in a so-called attempt to bring peace to the warring nations. She is won for Lord Marke, Tristan’s “uncle” and finds it unbearable that Isolde can’t be with him. Isolde is equally heartbroken over their situation and they risk an affair for the peace between England and Ireland. This film certainly takes you down the grungy path of the Dark Ages. Everything appears lonely, cold, empty, brutal, and dirty. The filmmakers did an excellent job in portraying these feelings and I didn’t find much of the film to be glamorous – a very good thing. This is definitely a strong point for the film so it gets A++ all of the way for this. Rufus Sewell as Lord Marke, the future King blinded by his love, is the star performer in this film and is lovable as well as believable as a man that is too nice for his own good. Again, A++ for casting Sewell. You may have guessed this was coming, but the film does have its shortfalls – many of them. The first and biggest problem of all is the two main characters of Tristan & Isolde. They are 100% unconvincing as lovers. On screen, the way it was written and the way it was performed just wasn’t enough to believe that they were desperately in love. In short – there is no spark at all between these two. Their “love” just didn’t work in this film. Since this was my feeling from the start, the rest of the film was a let down because I really didn’t care about either of them and their actions seemed inappropriate for their characters. James Franco as Tristan can be compared to the whiny Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker – although Franco becomes more of a mute in the process. His portrayal as a fierce fighter is very good but is wrongfully contrasted with the pitiful man he has become over their “forbidden love.” Sophia Myles does a better job as Isolde, but the writing of the film leaves her lacking character leaving her more as a trophy to be won than a woman in despair. The film does have some good action sequences and some great dialogue parts. But I was left wanting more and somewhat unsatisfied as the film came to a close. It’s a story with great potential, but I think the filmmakers missed the mark. VIDEO QUALITY unrated / The video quality can’t be accurately evaluated because of poorly authored special screening copy I received. It looked terrible so I can’t comment until I receive an official release. It is upsetting that this seems to be happening more and more with 20th Century Fox. I will say this though: the video is intentionally dark with a muted appearance. You will need little to no light in your room to fully appreciate this presentation. Many of the night scenes are in blackness and there isn’t a lot of shadow detail. People with light bulb-based technologies may not be as bothered by this because their black level is higher (it just looks more grey) but for those of you still fortunate to have the deep and accurate black levels and low contrast of a CRT display will find this picture dim. The aspect ratio is correctly framed at 1.85:1. AUDIO QUALITY / You know that sound of sharp metal screeching and making that abrasive high-pitched noise? That is the best way to classify many of the sound moments in this film. I found it uncomfortable to listen to. To me, it doesn’t sound re-equalized for home theatres and even if the top end were, the sound was still hollow and lacking in the midbass to give it a nice warmth and more balanced sound. The sound design is good offering a wide soundstage up front and some very integrated surround effects giving it a very good sense of deep space behind the listener. This is one of the fewer soundtracks that have sounds in the distance that actually sound like they are far away 100 feet past my back wall. Good job! It’s just that the sound was too loud and too aggressive for home theatre and this soundtrack doesn’t keep in mind that speakers in the home are far more revealing than movie theatre speakers and far more unforgiving (presuming the speakers are designed properly). The only part of the soundtrack that sounds better (even dialogue sounds too forward) is the music. It never disappoints and is always the highlight in terms of performance and recording quality. That’s not too hard to do considering most of the movie soundtrack is manufactured anyway. For you bass lovers, there isn’t a whole lot and that kind of surprised me. I guess that’s also why I felt the audio tipped to the brighter side because there wasn’t a lot of bass in the main channels and not much at all in the LFE. To be fair, there is little need for deep bass in this film, but it would have been nice to have a more presentable lower region. Both Dolby Digital and DTS options are available. They are not selectable on the fly and as with other comparative reviews, the half-bitrate DTS is different sounding than Dolby Digital, mainly in terms of soundstage width and subtleties in the sound are more revealing. When listening to the music score, it is clear that the orchestra sounds wider on the DTS soundtrack and dialogue has more air around it. Dolby Digital, on the other hand, has much better high frequency resolution but sounds more “direct” than spacious. These differences are subtle but it can’t be denied they are there. Both soundtracks are lossy and they both are not considered high fidelity by any means so they’ll offer their own strengths and weakness based on their perceptual coding techniques. TACTILE FUN!! / TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: OFF I didn’t feel that the transducer offered any value when watching this film. The LFE supplements only horse galloping and an occasional low note from the music. While the galloping made it feel a little more like I was standing beside the group of men passing me on horses, the rest of the LFE shaking my sofa was intermittent and odd with the visuals. Most of the bass is located in the front main channels and still provides a bit of punch. If I were to ever watch this movie again, I’d leave the tactile effects off. SPECIAL FEATURES / Ahhh…Fox has listened to my calls! While not all created with widescreen in mind, the features on this disc are cropped/OAR’d to be enhanced for widescreen televisions so we don’t have to waste time adjusting aspect ratios, etc. While I know how to do that (and find it annoying), it is good Fox is doing this for the not-so-tech-savvy crowd. Thank you Fox! Several features of interest will be a making of featurette that is almost 30 minutes in length. It features interviews from the actors, director, producers, etc, and show location shooting, story, characters and myth, etc. and is all behind the scenes footage. It is not a feature that’ll have you watching clips of the movie. So on level of interest from 1-10 I give it a nine. There are also many stills to skip through. There are three options to select; 122 stills in the behind the scenes, 47 in production design and 38 in the costume design section. There are both short and long versions of Gavin de Graw’s music video “We Belong Together” and features scenes from the film. Lastly, two audio commentaries are included; writer Dean Georgaris appears on track one and is much more interesting to listen to than commentary track two featuring Executive Producer Jim Lemley and Co-Producer Anne Lai. Georgaris talks more about the evolution of script to film whereas the producers discuss more about shooting the film and more behind the scenes material. They aren’t the liveliest bunch and they are quiet speakers so it’s kind of easy to lose attention after a while. It’s also too bad I can’t change audio on the fly either to switch commentary tracks while watching the film. That would make it a little more flexible in entertainment. Instead, you have to travel back to the main menu, select “special features” and select commentary and then the one you want to listen to. In this lazy world, that is a lot of steps for the fingers! IN THE END... The myth of Tristan & Isolde ancient, but the story of forbidden love is continuous. It’s a love that is guaranteed to hurt others, destroys relationships and life that one lives. This is their story…watch how it happens. Michael Osadciw April 24, 2006.