TRISTAN & ISOLDE

PG-13
Reviews

If Tristan & Isolde proves anything, it is that, at the moment, Hollywood is peculiarly ill-equipped at making the kind of sweeping historical epics which were once its glory. Troy, King Arthur and Alexander were all expensive and abysmal, while Gladiator barely squeaked by on the strength of Russell Crowe's committed performance. Tristan & Isolde has no such single strength to speak of, and you watch this benumbed retelling of the ancient legend thinking, "This, too, shall pass."

Tristan (James Franco) and Isolde (Sophia Myles) are star-crossed lovers, separated by the fact of their births as Englishman and Irish princess. Tristan's adoptive father, King Marke (Rufus Sewell), is bent on joining the English tribes to fight the Irish, while Isolde's daddy, Donnchadh (David Patrick O'Hara, of the impenetrable accent), schemes to give his daughter's hand in marriage to Marke. The covert love of Tristan and Isolde, however, does not abate, putting them in serious peril.

Any filmmaker wishing to tackle the epic form today should be forced to watch exemplars of the genre like the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood or the 1952 Ivanhoe, which, for all their cartoon-like simplicity, nevertheless managed to stir audiences to the quick, bringing out the awestruck, saga-loving child in all of us. In Tristan & Isolde, the simple yet true values of romance and logical storytelling are again lost in the commercialism of trying to make a desensitized movie as similar to violent videogames as possible, with monotonous battle scenes following one after another. And even the bang-bang here isn't all that effective, as Peter Boyle's hyperactive editing is so fast and choppy you can't even tell which side is winning or whose skull is being bashed in at any given moment.

It's rather a shame, as Franco (who was so amazingly good as James Dean in the 2001 television movie) and the feistily strong Myles have both enough talent and allure to implant themselves on our romantic psyches. But the PG-13-rated script gives them little to do besides gaze at and occasionally embrace each other longingly, while garbed in too-new-looking, modish, knit Medieval garb out of a Vogue magazine layout.

Sure, there are sweeping vistas of the Irish coast and such, but the cinematography never really sings. As for the music, with Wagner's immemorial score for the opera, probably the greatest of them all, in public domain, it almost seems an act of willful insanity on the part of the filmmakers not to employ it, however many times it's been used before, if only to introduce a new teen audience-at which this seems squarely aimed-to its always narcotically overpowering splendor.

-David Noh