Like the Baz Luhrmann "Romeo + Juliet" a decade before, Kevin Reynolds' "Tristan + Isolde" uses a stylized plus-sign in its title to indicate that it's far from the stuffy period romance you may be expecting. Although it's set in the Dark Ages and it's full of scruffy, hygienically challenged actors speaking with a variety of mismatched accents, "Tristan + Isolde" is more of an MTV-inspired soap opera than the traditional Celtic and Wagnerian versions of the story.
He (James Franco, experimenting with a half-dozen accents himself) was a mangy Brit. She (Sophia Myles) was an Irish princess promised to his surrogate father (a surprisingly sympathetic Rufus Sewell). Their love could never be and yet it was as insatiable as the tides, as exposed as his unclad chest and as passionate as her heaving bosom. But might their affair be the undoing of the British Empire? That, as the Old English might have said, would be a bummer.
It's no coincidence that the star-crossed lovers and romantic triangle seem both Shakespearean and Arthurian, but just because this is a foundational story doesn't make it seem any less stale.
"Tristan + Isolde" is a worthy addition to Reynolds' career legacy of proficiently crafted, dramatically deficient period epics. Overflowing with beautiful vistas and a rousing score, but strangely lacking in developed characters and pacing, it's of a piece with Reynolds' "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Rapa Nui" and "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." The film has solid swordfighting for the men, a brooding James Franco for the women and yet, when it hit theaters in January, neither audience responded.
On the 30-minute making-of-doc "Love Conquers All," Reynolds describes "Tristan + Isolde" as one of the most difficult pictures of his career. This is a man who directed "Waterworld," so that's saying something. Unfortunately, the featurette doesn't go into much depth on the challenges in making the film beyond the superficial observations about attempting to make a period piece on a tight budget. At no point does anybody explain why the production failed to come up with a standardized pronunciation for "Isolde," which may have been an insurmountable obstacle.
On a surprisingly satisfying commentary track, screenwriter Dean Georgaris provides a detailed nuts-and-bolts explanation for the narrative choices he made in adapting the familiar story, readily noting when the results on screen differed from his script for the better or for worse. Producers Jim Lemley and Anne Lai provide a second commentary that was too dull to listen to for more than a few minutes.
The DVD also contains two different video versions of Gavin DeGraw's shrill "We Belong Together."
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: April 25
TIME: 125 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: Producer and writer commentaries; "Love Conquers All" featurette; music videos; image galleries.