ray / DVD. Studio Canal.
you think of Studio Ghibli films as lightweight, wholesome adventures,
then Tales of Earthsea might come as a bit of
a shock. Not that the film is exactly edgy, but compared to the
usual Ghibli output, it’s pretty dark, with severed limbs,
patricide, rape-threats and more.
Based on the series of books by Ursula K. le Guin (because fantasy
writers always have to write series, it seems), the film
was directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of Ghibli main man Hayao, it’s
an overlong, overly convoluted film in which very little actually
happens (that, at least, but it firmly in the tradition of fantasy
novels), but it looks pretty stunning, which is something.
The story – cobbled together from elements in various novels
in the series – follows teenage Arren, who we first see
murdering his father, the King of Enland, for reasons that are
never explained. It’s hard to accept him as a hero after
this, but that’s what he is set up to be, as – on
the run – he meets the wizard Sparrowhawk, the pair travelling
to the city of Hort Town, where Arren battles slavers who are
trying to kidnap a young girl, Therru, and the pair end up at
a farmhouse with the girl and Tenar, a woman who Sparrowhawk has
an existing relationship with. For a while, all is pastoral peace
and quiet, but evil magician Lord Cob is determined to capture
Sparrowhawk and turn Arren against him, and the second half of
the story deals with this conflict.
mentioned, Arren is a pretty unsympathetic hero, especially as
his opening act of murder is barely addressed or explained. This
is a problem, as we are supposed to sympathise with his plight
and his battle to free himself from the evil influence of Cob
– but given his actions, being on the side of evil seems
right for him. Sparrowhawk, on the other hand, is such a clichéd
sub-Lord of the Rings wise old wizard (I have
no idea how the character plays in the novels, but if they are
like any of the other sub-Tolkein, Dungeons and Dragons overblown
fantasy tat I’ve encountered, I suspect it’s a fairly
accurate depiction) that he’s hard to take seriously.
The film is, admittedly, gorgeous. There are some truly stunning
visuals here – though you could argue that the film more
closely resemble what we generally think of as anime, rather than
the Ghibli style. Miyazaki does his best to keep the drama flowing
– but story wise, the film is a bit of a mess, and often
grinds to a halt. It feels like the middle episode of a series,
and the film is about thirty minutes too long (a common problem
with Ghibli films, it has to be said).
In the end, Tales from Earthsea is an ambitious
effort thatseems to have fallen between two stools, appealing
neither to the fantasy fiction crowd (le Guin herself was not
exactly full of praise for the film) nor more general audiences.
It feels like a good try – but ultimately, an unsuccessful
IT NOW (UK)