[box cover]

Tristan + Isolde

When a film is released in January, it's usually for one of two reasons — either the studio thinks it's horrible, or they don't what to do with it (ideas not mutually exclusive). And for Kevin Reynolds's Tristan + Isolde (2006), it definitely falls into the latter camp. The problem in selling the film is that Hollywood seems to only know how to market period pictures if they're epic. If a studio invests $100 million, they can sell the product for all it's worth, with its cast of thousands (or thousands of CGI characters) and epic scope. But setting a film in the Dark Ages and making it a character drama of modest scale doesn't fit into that schema. The other problem is that the picture is modestly successful: It's not a great movie, it's not a movie that stands out a month after it's seen, but it is successful on its own terms and entertaining enough to make the 126-min. journey worth watching. Such titles are easier to market if they have hook, or if there's a star name to put in front of it. Alas, Tristan + Isolde was a hard sell, and so it floundered to a $15 million take. James Franco is Tristan, the son of a slain leader and taken in by Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) as a youth. Once grown up, he becomes Marke's right-hand man and helps fight against the Irish, who regularly terrorize their lands. Marke hopes to unite England to stand up to the threat, but a few provinces jealously balk at having Marke as their leader. After an Irish raid to steal their town's women and children, Tristan leads an assault on the Irish, but his foe (and Isolde's fiancée) poisons him with a drug that paralyzes but doesn't kill him. He's thought dead and cast to sea, where he eventually ends up in Ireland, and in the care of Isolde (Sophia Myles), who begs him that they not reveal their names to each other. She heals him, but he must return home shortly after they fall in love because her father is the king of Ireland (David O'Hara). The Irish king has a plan to keep the British in line, so he uses his daughter to feign peace by marrying her off after a fighting tournament. And since neither Tristan nor Isolde revealed their names, Tristan fights and unintentionally wins Isolde for Lord Marke. Marke gets his bride, but Tristan and Isolde can't keep themselves from each other, which leads to Marke's kingdom being put in jeopardy by their affair. It's compelling stuff, and well enough put together by director Kevin Reynolds — and Franco is good, even if he looks too modern and a bit too urban-chic for the setting. Fox presents Tristan + Isolde in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include two commentaries, one by writer Dean Georgaris, the second by producers Jim Lemley and Anne Lai, the featurette "Love Conquers All: Making Tristan + Isolde" (28 min.), an image gallery, a music video, a trailer, and 11 TV spots. Keep-case.

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