Tales from Earthsea

Tales from Earthsea (2006) movie poster

(2006) director Gorō Miyazaki
viewed: 04/01/11

Great idea? Master Japanese animation film-maker Hayao Miyazaki to take on the “Earthsea” saga of science fiction/fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin.

Much lesser idea? Son of Hayao Miyazaki, Gorō Miyazaki, not an experienced film-maker to adapt some of the later “Earthsea” stories of Le Guin, through his father’s production company, Studio Ghibli.

Unfortunately, Tales from Earthsea is the latter.  And while it’s not a disaster of a film by any means, it does feel like a painfully squandered opportunity.

When I was 13, I read Le Guin’s “Earthsea Trilogy” (as it was at that point) over the summer and really enjoyed them.  I’ve never been a pure science fiction nor fantasy aficionado, though I’ve dabbled over the years.  I couldn’t recall much of the story if you asked me today, but I recalled liking it.  I rank Hayao Miyazaki among the greatest animators of all time, some of his films among my favorite cinema period.  So, I loved the idea of Miyazaki tackling such material, especially since he was drawn to it.

But the reality is that Miyazaki wanted to do a film of The Wizard of Earthsea or something back in the 1980’s.  At that point, Le Guin refused, Miyazaki not by that time established as he would later be.  But when she finally relented to have her books adapted, the work was done by Miyazaki’s son, who had spent most of his career not in his father’s shadow, working in different fields and media.

The story is a complex fantasy featuring wizards, dragons, and personal responsibilities, dramatic, complex, apparently re-working much of Le Guin’s work into something that she liked OK but disowned as her own.   And that’s really it.  It’s not a bad film.  I watched it with the kids and they liked it pretty well, but it’s not a great one by any means.  One expects more from Studio Ghibli and presumably expects more from Le Guin.

It’s only too bad because one can imagine what might have been.  It’s been suggested that Ponyo (2008) will be the elder Miyazaki’s final feature film, and doubtlessly, he can retire and rest well upon his creative laurels.  And Ponyo, quite frankly, is a wonderful movie, a much greater film by far than Tales from Earthsea.  But Tales from Earthsea is not a bad film, yet not a great film most assuredly.

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