Tristan and Isolde

Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Computer Animation” with a minor in “Thomas Bowdler”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!

This week we watch the long lost animated classic, Tristan and Isolde!

Tristan and Isolde Poster

Before you ask, yes, this is the only trailer I could find.

Hoping to prove himself, earn knighthood, and avoid an arranged marriage, young Tristan sets out to battle evil and save his father’s kingdom from tyranny and slavery, but his life is complicated when he meets a magical fairy and a helpful leprechaun and falls in love with the beautiful Princess Isolde. Tristan must overcome swords, poison, magic, dangerous creatures, scheming villains, and his own recklessness to save the land and get the girl. Can the hero fulfill his destiny, or will betrayal and wickedness ruin Tristan’s happy ending? It’s a legendary adventure with Tristan and Isolde!

The original tale of Tristan and Isolde was made popular during the 12th century and through numerous variants and retellings, has become a hugely influential romance and tragedy. In the original story Tristan, a Cornish knight, travels to Ireland to bring back the fair Isolde for his uncle King Mark to marry, but along the way they ingest a love potion which causes the pair to fall madly in love. Although Isolde marries Mark, she and Tristan are compelled by the potion to seek one another as lovers and though the king’s advisors repeatedly try to have the pair tried for adultery, again and again the couple use trickery to preserve the façade of innocence. Tristan, King Mark, and Isolde all hold love and respect for one another, but the affair threatens not only their relationship but also the fate of a fragile kingdom. The legend predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian love triangle of Lancelot, Guinevere, and King Arthur and has had a lasting impact on western art and the idea of romantic love and literature in western culture. The 2002 computer animated retelling of Tristan and Isolde…is none of these things.

Tristan, Isolde, and Mark as depicted by Edmund Leighton in 1902. Tristan and Isolde (2002) is basically the opposite of this.

Tristan, Isolde, and Mark as depicted by Edmund Leighton in 1902. Tristan and Isolde (2002) is basically the opposite of this.

First released in France in April of 2002 and re-released Direct-to-DVD in the US in 2010, “Tristan et Iseut” took a page from the Walt Disney book of storytelling and abridged, distorted, and simplified the centuries-old tale until nearly all of the original impact and emotional weight of the legend lay twitching and gurgling on the writers room floor. The newly bowdlerized Tristan and Isolde features a pair of plucky sidekicks, a series of convoluted and unnecessary plot twists involving the leftover fragments of the original story (such as the love potion), and even a single out-of-place musical number. The comic relief characters within this high fantasy setting continually spout genre-breaking one-liners using words like “nuclear” and “supersonic”, while the English dubbing voice actors can’t seem to decide on which fake accent they want to stick with, switching between American, Irish, or Swedish depending on their mood. The bad lip-sync might be excusable, since the film was originally animated to French dialogue, but nothing can excuse the fact that the protagonist has trouble consistently pronouncing the heroine’s name correctly (“Is-old-ah” vs “Is-old”). Here’s a dating tip to all the fellas from your friendly neighborhood bad movie professor: remember your girlfriend’s name!

The film takes an incredible amount of liberty with the original tale, going far beyond a simple ‘happily ever after ending’ fix. Despite his bravado, Tristan is a horrible warrior. Every conflict is won with a combination of luck and deus ex machina as if the universe is taking pity on the hilariously pathetic Tristan and is shooing him through his own adventure. We could lambaste the quality of the computer animation, the off-putting proportions of the characters, and the confusing editing for another few paragraphs, but the true villain in the film is Puck, a wood sprite who looks like a cross between Chuck-E-Cheese and a raccoon. Puck not only hinders Tristan’s quest at every turn with his antics but also adds insult to injury by breaking the fourth wall and narrating parts the nonsensical plot to the audience – which might not be that bad considering how confused you’ll be by the story. However, we get the feeling that the production team used the narration as a cost-cutting mechanism, having Puck talk about scenes rather than actually animating them in full. So not only is Puck the Jar Jar Binks of the film, he’s also enabling the laziness of the production team. Then again, those scenes probably would’ve been horrible anyway! Never mind, all hail Jar Jar Puck!

Thierry Schiel: Illustrator, animator, new Supercult inductee.

Thierry Schiel: Illustrator, animator, new Supercult inductee.

Tristan and Isolde was directed and co-written by Thierry Schiel, a Luxembourgish animator who developed his skills on traditionally animated films and TV shows like Babar, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, and Quest for Camelot. Apparently not satisfied with working on mediocre 2D animations, Schiel decided to direct genuinely awful 3D animations by partnering with PorchLight Entertainment, the American production company responsible for Jay Jay the Jet Plane, Angelina Ballerina and other equally nightmarish Direct-to-DVD travesties. Tristan and Isolde was Schiel’s directorial debut. Three years later he directed the equally awful CG animated feature Renart the Fox before seemingly “getting the hang” of computer animation and directing several stylish animated shorts. We may laugh but hey, give him a little credit. He keeps getting hired, so maybe there’s something to learn here.

Then again, maybe not.

Tristan and Isolde has a 4.5 on IMDB, and no critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. CommonSenseMedia.org, a website dedicated to helping parents and teachers make educated decisions about the media they provide to children, rated Tristan and Isolde 2 out of 5 stars. “For kids who understand the fantastical, there’s nothing truly scary or sad…Stock heroes and villains, a complicated story, and a half-hearted effort to provide the traditional “quirky” comic sidekicks don’t add up to much. The animation is ordinary as well. The actual legend of TRISTAN & ISOLDE is tragic and very different from this offering…Other than having a recognizable title, it isn’t clear what motivated the filmmakers to make this movie and then be forced to venture so far from the original source material.”

IMDB reviewer “label-1” said it more succinctly: “86 minutes of crap.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen an animated film, Supercultists, and we’ve picked out a truly legendary turd for you tonight!

The Supercult show is proud to present, Tristain and Isolde!

Special thanks to Leslie Martin for providing some of the trivia for the film!

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