Tales from Earthsea Review
Fans of Ursula LeGuin’s wonderful Earthsea sequence, who despaired at the ghastly Sci-Fi Channel adaptation that recast her dark skinned protagonists as blond, blue-eyed surfer dudes and reduced her complex Taoist creation to fantasy clichés, would have been heartened by the news that Studio Ghibli (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away) were developing a theatrical version. Sadly however, its not the master, Hayao, at the helm, but his son Goro, and he still has much to learn.
It begins well, with lines from LeGuin’s The Creation of Ea that send chills down my spine, comparable with Galadriel’s elvish at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Sadly, it’s pretty much downhill from there. The film muddles storylines from several of the Earthsea books – it’s mainly based on The Farthest Shore (book 3) but carelessly cherry picks episodes and characters from A Wizard of Earthsea (1), The Tombs of Atuan (2) and Tehanu (4).
The balance of the world is shifting. Dragons, who normally inhabit the lands in the far west of Earthsea, avoiding contact with humans, have been seen in the lands of men, and this unusual behaviour leads the Archmage, Ged (Dalton), to set out in search of the source of this imbalance that is driving men mad, turning dragons into witless beasts, and causing livestock and crops to sicken and fail. On his journey he encounters the young Prince Arren (Levin), who has fled his homeland, having committed a murder, pursued by a mysterious shadow. Ged seeks shelter with his old friend Tenar (Hargitay) and her mysterious adopted daughter Therru (Restaneo), and traces the disturbance to a wizard called Cob who, terrified of death, seeks eternal life…
The muddling of the storylines won’t concern anyone not familiar with the books (but suffice it to say that the mysterious shadow that pursues Arren actually pursued Ged in the novels and, taken out of context, doesn’t make much sense), but what may bother viewrs is the generic fantasy quality of the storytelling and the plodding pace. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be on a quest to save the world, Ged and Arrne spend weeks helping Tenar with her planting and general chores around the farm. The core of magic in LeGuin’s Earthsea is naming – if you know something’s – or someone’s – true name you have power over them; this is never explained, while Cob is a totally uninspired imagining of a dark wizard, all Cher hairdo and Goth robes.
I hope that one day a filmmaker will come along and do Earthsea justice. In the meantime, read the books.
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