Tales From Earthsea Review
There aren't a great many offspring who have surpassed their fathers as film directors. Most who have followed dad into the business have suffered by comparison and failed to have their work recognised as anything other than a pale shadow of their parents. A recent example that springs to mind is Kenta Fukasaku who finished off Battle Royale 2 when his father fell ill and died, the resulting movie isn't all that bad but it seems poor when it is compared to his father's work and particularly the original Battle Royale. Kenta would have been justified in pointing out his father's misfires when comparisons were made, but just imagine the situation Goro Miyazaki finds himself in following a father whose misfires simply don't exist. Hiyao Miyazaki's record in cinema is almost entirely unblemished in creating some of the finest of all animated films. Goro Miyazaki's Tales From Earthsea can not hope to compete with dad, and shouldn't have to.
Tales from Earthsea is adapted from Ursula Le Guin's novel and is set in the kingdom of Enlan where harbingers of doom are circling and where Prince Arren stabs his ruling father and flees from justice. Bewildered at his own actions, he runs and finds himself set upon by a pack of wolves and he is ready to surrender to his fate when Sparrowhawk, a travelling magician, intervenes. Following Sparrowhawk as he travels, Arren finds himself fighting off slave catchers from a young woman, but then he is captured himself. Sparrowhawk releases him but in doing so reveals his own existence to Lord Cob, another magician, and soon Cob wants to settle old scores. Sparrowhawk takes Arren to his friends, Tenar and, her ward, Therru, who recognises Arren as the boy who freed her earlier. Soon all of them are under attack from Lord Cob whose desire is revenge and an eternal life for himself which will bring evil to the kingdom.
Animated to the usually high standards of Studio Ghibli, Tales From Earthsea is a competent and enjoyable fantasy of witches, dragons and kings. The story considers the battle between good and evil personified in Sparrowhawk and Cob but also represented in the battle within Arren as he fights the darkness that overcame him and caused him to commit his crime. There is, of course, an element of romance but this is a more adolescent tale than Ghibli have made for a while with little concession made to serious minded or adult themes such as the movies of Miyazaki senior and Isao Takahata. The tale has some obvious failings as it is a little long and contains an introductory scene that has little purpose other than setting mood. Similarly Miyazaki junior's handling of morality is not quite as confident as in earlier films from the studio.
Rather than look at previous Ghibli films the proper comparison to make with this film is a movie like Shinkai Makoto's The Place Promised in Our Early Days. Even on this score, Miyazaki's film is nowhere near as involving and moving and lacks the personal style that made Makoto's movie such a delight. Miyazaki's film is a kid's movie that will not reach adults in the way of both his father's films and Makoto's do, and there is little being said which will make you think as it is simply a reassuring fable. Still, reassuring fables are always welcome and Tales From Earthsea passes muster as animation and kid's drama and will compare well with any of the other children's fare on offer at the moment. It is worth watching but the audience most likely to be pleased by it are the adolescents it aims for.
IVL release Tales From Earthsea in a two disc set with dust sleeve enclosure. All the extras are saved up for disc two which is entirely English unfriendly. Disc one contains the feature film with scene access, subtitle and language menus, all in Chinese. For an English viewer the menus are navigated with great difficulty and need constant guesswork as they offer no indication of what the Chinese characters could possibly mean. The second disc includes storyboard comparisons which play alongside the whole feature and are accessible at any point by using the Angle button on your remote, but again without English subtitles it is difficult to use this option and to still follow the movie. Additionally, there is a 12 minute reel of trailers for the film and a 48 minute set of interviews with the voice cast, both of these come with Chinese subs only.
The transfer is sharp and colourful with good contrast and generally little to find substandard other than the huge overscan box that Ghibli discs seem to be blighted with in Hong Kong. The Dolby sound options include a 6.1 mix of the original Japanese dialogue and a 5.1 of a Cantonese track. The Japanese dub is powerful and atmospheric with good definition in the louder moments of the film and dialogue is clear and mixed well with the effects and music. Effects are distributed across the whole range of the speakers but voices only come from the front of the mix which given that all dialogue is delivered facing the viewer is perfectly fine. The English subs start off a little weakly and struggle with some of the archaic language although overall they are sensible and grammatical.
Tales From Earthsea is a perfectly competent and entertaining animation aimed at a youngish audience. Don't expect a continuation of Miyazaki senior's masterly work and let junior be judged on his own merits and you won't be disappointed. This IVL release has a second disc filled with extras which you won't enjoy unless you speak either Japanese or Chinese, but the main feature is presented well and this will prove a budget way for the impatient to own the film whilst it is still doing the UK cinema round.
7 out of 10
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