Goro, son of Hayao Miyazaki (that most Dairy Cup of filmmakers) directs Tales of Earthsea, a fairly loose adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s famous fantasy quartet. I say loosely because not only does the screenplay pick and choose from the series, but it’s also apparently inspired by the manga ‘Shuna’s Journey’ by Hayao Miyazaki. The majority of the film seemed to focus on the third book, ‘The Farthest Shore’, and though my memory of the novels is hazy, it seemed to reference all of them at one stage or another.
Tales of Earthsea is a bit of a disappointment as it doesn’t seem to capture the spirit of the novels. The look of the film also seems wrong. Only once did the visuals match the pictures I’d had in my head since childhood. Most of the time the setting was a strange mix of Japanese, Russian and European styles. The animation itself is interesting. Extraordinarily dull the majority of the time, there are a dozen significant moments that are splendidly brought to life. The dragons seem to be the only thing they got perfect, and each time they appear the film becomes wonderfully grandiose.
This is typical of the film in general. A lot of the 115 minutes are dull, but it also has the uncanny ability to tug at the heartstrings in the moments that really count. The climax in particular is beautifully handled, which makes the confounding nature of the rest of the script all the more frustrating. This is the second film in a month that has shown instants of brilliance within rather irregular narratives, the other being The Messengers.
I’m really craving a big budget, live action adaptation of Le Guin’s books now, and with the current popularity of fantasy, you’d have thought it was possible. Apparently the Sci Fi Channel own the screen rights in the US to the Earthsea books until 2009, so I imagine it will be a while before we could see another adaptation. That’s of course assuming that Le Guin would even let it happen after being disappointed with the last two.Rating: