Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde (2005)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Rufus Sewell, James Franco, Sophia Myles
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentary, Image Galleries, Music Video

Taking place during the dark ages and after the fall of the Roman Empire, all the land is in ruins and divided among feuding tribes. Thanks to the brutality of Irish King Dunnchadh, the people have successfully subdued the Britans.

The King realizes if Ireland has any hope of survival, the warring tribes cannot be united. Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) is aware of this as well, and therefore wishes to unite the English and Irish tribes in order to form an all powerful singular nation.

"Tristan & Isolde" opens with Tristan as a young boy. One evening during a meeting, his father proposes the tribes unite in order to defeat their enemies. Somehow, word of this secret meeting has gotten out and a band of Irish warriors ambush them in a sneak attack which kills Tristan's parents and most of the tribal leaders.

In the melee, Lord Marke saves Tristan and adopts him as his own son; raising Tristan into a brave knight over a period of nine years. In the meantime, the ruthless king of Ireland offers his daughter Isolde (Sophia Myles) in marriage to his chief warrior as thanks for making the king wealthy and powerful. The now grown Tristan, (James Franco) unknowingly interrupts these plans when he leads a retaliation attack from an earlier incident; and ends up killing the King's chief warrior.

During the battle however, Tristan is wounded by the warriors' sword in which the blade was laced with a paralyzing toxic herb. Tristan's men, thinking him dead, hold a funeral sending his body off to sea in a pyre boat. Tristan's boat never fully catches fire and washes ashore in Ireland where it's found by Isolde who is fleeing her arranged marriage, not knowing Tristan killed the chief warrior in battle.

After being nursed back to health, Tristan sets sail for his home; all the while never knowing Isoldes' identity. In the meantime, as a ploy for peace, the Irish king now decides to offer Isolde as a prize to the winner in a battle tournament. Not knowing the prize is Isolde, Tristan offers to win her hand for Lord Marke.

Based on an ancient Celtic legend which predates the Arthurian myth, Tristan and Isolde is a story that has been told time and time again. In this version, it's an effective sweeping romantic epic along the lines of Braveheart.

Directed with a steady hand by Kevin Reynolds, and executive produced by Ridley Scott, the production values and cinematography are top notch and at times stunning to look at. Great attention to period detail was obviously taken from set construction down to the costumes. Rufus Sewell gives an effective performance as Lord Marke; caught in the middle of a triangle that hearkens one back to the story of King Arthur, Lancelot and Guineviere – not to mention a dash of "Romeo & Juliet" thrown in. James Franco and Sophia Myles are nicely cast as the tragic duo whose love is not meant to be thanks to forces greater than the two.

"Tristan & Isolde" contains enough exciting action sequences, (though not heavy on blood or anything too graphic due to the PG-13 rating) sneak attack battles and tournaments to hold the attention of even those not really interested in period romance pieces.

Filmed in Ireland and the Czech Republic, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment debuts "Tristan & Isolde" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen preserving the film's original theatrical presentation. It's a beautifully filmed movie with sometimes stunning cinematography.
Action takes place in various locales from forests, high cliffs, oceanside beaches etc, giving the film an open epic feeling.

The color palate is intentionally muted with hues of brown and earthtones being predominate. Whether scenes are taking place during the day or at night, contrast is well balanced, while black levels are rich and deep, thus allowing for excellent shadow delineation. Grittiness and some lite grain is present but perfectly suited only occurring during the battle sequences. Flesh tones appear natural. No edge-enhancement was noted, though some very minor compression issues creep up every now and then in mostly long shot scenes as the camera pans past trees and mountains. It is nothing to be too worried about however. Overall, this is a crisp, sharp transfer.

Audio comes to "Tristan & Isolde" via English dts and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround tracks. French and Spanish Dolby Surround tracks are also offered as an alternative. During the battle sequences all channels were quite active with the dts track displaying a nice range of sound separation and clarity. The center channel was clean and free of distortion.

Two commentary tracks are offered on the release. The first one features writer Dean Georgaris discussing how the story of "Tristan & Isolde" has morphed over time, and the changes he did to make it his own. The track is interesting and insightful. The second track features executive producer Jim Lemley and co-producer Anne Lai. Both people were recorded together and share the trials of bringing a big film with limited budget to fruition. They also discuss location shooting as well as production costs. Once again, a very informative and intersting track.

Though minimal, the special features section contains a 30-minute documentary, "Love Conquers All-The Making of Tristan & Isolde." An interesting discussion from the cast, director Kevin Reynolds and the producers. The discussion revolves around the themes of love, honor and filming a period piece on location and what they accomplished with a limited budget. Interesting to note-Ridley Scott had wanted to make this film for 30 years, and at one point even had a storyboard for the movie… in a science fiction setting!

Rounding out the disc are some image galleries and two versions (short & long) of Gavin DeGraw's music video, "We Belong Together."

Sadly, the film failed to catch on at the box office but hopefully now that this timeless story with it's steady direction, acting and production values is now on DVD, "Tristan & Isolde" will be discovered and appreciated for being a really fine movie.