Two films drown in
Issue date: 1/20/06 Section: Entertainment
The crime of Tristan & Isolde is how it always positions itself as something on caliber with - or better than- Shakespeare. The trailers literalize this sentiment: "Before Romeo and Juliet, there were Tristan and Isolde." Apparently, this cockamamie love story has some legendary precedent in tales of old, but the end result will leave you begging for the Bard. As the Roman Empire lay in ruins, a war emerges between the Irish and the English, the latter of which divided into a number of tribes, unable to attain a partnership to rise up and defeat their mutual enemy. Seriously poisoned during battle, English Lieutenant Tristan (James Franco) is thought dead and sent on a funeral pyre on the sea. He lands on the shores of Ireland, where Isolde (Sophia Myles), the daughter of the king, nurses him back to health. In the interests of shortening a two-hour film, the two fall in love and jump into bed somewhere around the twenty-minute mark of the film, but because their love is "something that cannot be," Tristan is sent back to England as soon as health allows.
In a desire to attain peace -or is it?- the King of Ireland organizes a battle between the English tribes to determine who will win his daughter's hand in marriage. Sadly, although Tristan wins the day, he has only won Isolde's hand in the name of his leader, Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell), who hopes that this union can finally unite England once and for all. But the passion between Tristan and Isolde lingers.
Perhaps realizing that it has rushed through the foreplay, so to speak, of a romantic relationship, Tristan & Isolde lays on the heavy schmaltz as the pair explore their forbidden love - a thousand repetitions of such romantic gems as "a fire burns within me" and "just tell me to stop breathing." It's only several notches better than George Lucas' horrifying "passionate" dialogue, the dreamy, sugary fluff right out of Seventeen magazine, in other words. The two leads are barely any help either: Their intense yet lifeless stares always seem to be more at home on the covers of GQ and Cosmo. Franco, at least, attempts to inject some passion into his scenes, but unfortunately he's stuck in brooding mode for three-fifths of the film. Myles, on the other hand, can't grasp the theatrical subtleties of a relationship; her half-whispered speeches and choked-up pleas do not convey love for another human being so much as the insurmountable desire to have sex. Quite different, methinks.
But the film completely loses its senses when it tries to move beyond its romance film center and enters Braveheart territory, because if there's a war that's tearing a love asunder, I suppose it would be wise to include some actual scenes from that war. Unfortunately, such scenes boil down to two categories: massive, hundred-man sieges that are given all the dramatic weight of "and then a bunch of stuff happened," or hyperactively-edited mano a mano battles that sorely lack that cheesy fight music from "Star Trek."
But for all of its shortcomings, at least the film can be considered misguided rather than outright stupid, unlike the video game-inspired BloodRayne, a horse of a decidedly different, and worse, color that still finds its setting in medieval Europe. It adds vampires to the equation and somehow ends up being less engaging. As the film finds her, titular self-hating vampire Rayne (Kristianna Loken) grunts and moans a lot (no, not that kind) before spouting out such amazingly dramatic lines as "I'm not going to harm you; I only kill vampires." Escaping from a life as a circus freak - but becoming an awkward sex object, a horrible actress and a poor action star in the process - the slayer-cipher discovers her true destiny: protecting the world from vampire king Kagan (Ben Kingsley), teaming up with non-vampire Vladimir (Michael Madsen) and encountering all sorts of other mannequins along the way.
Director Uwe Boll, he being the most infamous name in film today, doesn't deliver something unspeakably awful - kind of disappointing, in a way - but manages to deliver a roundly bad product anyway. The editing is fatally off, not really performed MTV-style so much as it is chopped up arbitrarily. Dialogue is atrocious, and the performances are appropriately wooden. The big names involved just end up embarrassing themselves for a paycheck, as big names often do. Kingsley approaches his part with all the gusto of recollecting the contents of an answering machine, and Madsen proves once again that he is incapable of a good performance without Quentin Tarantino reining him in.
But even with all of the non-ironic geysers of blood and women-as-objects mentality that BloodRayne has to offer, it would all be just a tad more bearable if Uwe Boll didn't back up his Ed Wood-caliber skills with a lethal dose of pretension. There's no other way to explain the faux-Lord of the Rings cinematography e.g., a lot of helicopter shots of people riding horseback alongside cliffs, although maybe the blasting orchestral music and shrieking choir that often drowns out the "action" scenes were meant to distract us from our own yawns and giggles.
Overall, I'll take the immature self-importance of Tristan & Isolde over the self-important immaturity of BloodRayne, but the unbearable, holier-than-thou attitude of both makes me wish that I didn't have to make a choice.
2/5 Tristan & Isolde
James Franco, Rufus Sewell, Sophia Myles
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
20th Century Fox
Kristianna Loken, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley
Directed by Uwe Boll