Thursday, 11 September 2014

Tales from Earthsea (2006)

"Not Recommended" is not a thing I thought I'd write about a Ghibli film, but unfortunately Tales from Earthsea is not a good movie.  I mean, it's not anywhere near as bad as the SyFy Earthsea miniseries, but that's like saying "it's not as bad as being set on fire".

Ursula Le Guin gave permission for a film adaptation of her Earthsea novels because of the success of Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, which I reviewed not too long ago.  Alas, the grand old master was busy with Howl's Moving Castle (also reviewed on this blog) at the time, and the directorial duties fell to his son, Goro.  The elder Miyazaki was apparently opposed to this appointment, but the film's producer liked Goro's willingness to make rapid decisions.

If only he'd checked that those decisions were also good, this might be a better film.

Something is amiss in the world of Earthsea: Dragons are fighting each other, magic is failing, and pestilence and drought stalk the land.  The Archmage Sparrowhawk, and a young traveler named Arren (actually a prince) set out to find the cause of these woes.  Well, that's what they state is their aim.  They seem to do very little to achieve it however.  Ultimately the story only progresses because the bad guys keep coming to them.

Melding elements of the 3rd and 4th Earthsea books into a rather uneven whole, the film largely focuses on Arren in the first half of its running time, which is a mistake because he is (a) a bit of a jerk and (b) an idiot.  I mean sure, part of the movie's thematic arc is him growing into a decent person, but I've had forty minutes of wanting him to go away by then.  Not a good plan.

The film also makes a mistake in centering Le Guin's Taoist concepts in the narrative, but being slow to explain those.  I've read the books (and some critical theory on them), so I understood what was happening, but I suspect the average western viewer is going to find it all a little murky.

We finally get to the climactic encounter around the 90 minute mark, and it's here that the movie completely fell apart for me.  It's twenty minutes of meaningless activity and dragon ex machina.  A terrible conclusion on almost every front.

Even the usually reliable Ghibli visuals seem muted in this: the character designs are pretty simple, and it looks to me more like one of their early works than a contemporary of the visually lush Howl's Moving Castle.


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