Back in the day, movies used to be bad. I mean, really fucking terrible. But these days (since the mid-90's), everything has become so studio-hacked to death, with test audiences and market research and such, that just as the heights of the best films has dropped, so has the bottom of the worst films risen - for just like the greatest masterpieces of the cinema, the lowest depths have always been the result of a maverick individualist, and they're in short supply right now. There are occasional exceptions, of course (the breathtaking joy of my first viewing of Battlefield Earth will never leave me), but dammit, movies just aren't bad enough anymore!

This is a roundabout way of saying that I really don't want to write about Tristan & Isolde. The trailer gave me a great deal of hope - it appeared to have the "MTV Generation" vibe to it, and casting James Franco as the hero of a medieval romance seemed monumentally idiotic. But like most of the great trailers, it lied to me. The film isn't bad at all - just deeply, deeply functional. It looks like every other post-Braveheart film set anywhere in Europe between Rome's fall and the Renaissance, with artfully designed mud and tattered finery as far as the eye can see. And the inevitable string heavy soundtrack that just shoots right through you brain without pausing to register in your consciousness.

The plot only goes far enough from the original to reflect a modern distaste for love potions: Tristan (Franco) is a Cornish warrior who ends up unconscious on the Irish coast (due a series of brutally ahistoric machinations and intrigues) where he is nursed to health by Isolde (Sophia Myles), the daughter of the demonic Irish king. Long story short, she marries the English lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) whom Tristan is sworn to serve, but they just can't keep their hands off of each other. Tristan and Isolde, I mean. Not Tristan and Marke. Although that would have been colorful enough to make things interesting.

A big part of the problem is that the film is shackled by its PG-13 rating (dull battle scenes), and an unengaged director (Kevin Reynolds, hand-picked by Ridley Scott, who has wanted to make this film since the 70's). Mostly, it's so concerned with the minutiae of Dark Ages living that it bogs down in its own mechanics: when there are more maps and discussions of battle strategies than actual battles in your medievel action love story, you need to give the script a bit of a facelift.