May 9, 2011
sen_mcgrath (All reviews)
I have not read the Earthsea novels, and have only seen this film once, so I am going by first impressions, and while admitedly this may not be particularly thorough, first impressions do count for a lot.

I did not enjoy this movie as much as other Ghibli, or anime films in general. Most of this was because I felt that many questions I had about the film and the world in which the film was set were left unanswered. This may have been because I did not read the book, however, I believe an addaptation should be able to stand on its own without needing to be familiar with the source material. For example, Gankutsuou still makes sense to those who did not read Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Christo and can stand alone as it's own piece of work. The Earthsea movie for me left too many questions. "Why are there slaves? Are there only certain people who become slaves or is everyone free game?" "Why do people fear witches and wizards if they're so useful? What's the basis for this prejudice?" "Why did the Prince stab the King? Why is this problem not addressed? How can people not notice a missing Prince and stabbed King?" These are only a few of my questions.

Secondly, the magic of the worlds did not seem adequately explained or built up. 'True Names' have power, but this is only really brought up halfway into the movie. Unlike Spirited away, this magic not based on an already well known or established folk lore or canon, so more explanation or build up would have helped to make it more effective.

Characters do not seem quite as sympathetic as subsequent Ghibli films. When reasons are given for characters to be sympathetic, it is simply mentioned in exposition, while showing it through flashback or dream sequence might have been more effective. Tennar mentions how Sparrowhawk once saved her a couple times during the film, but this and her relationship with Sparrowhawk is mostly left up to exposition which is not nearly as effective as showing it. Theru is a mysterious abuse victim who hates people who do not value life, why not show the audience why rather than having a character simply mention it? Why not give the audience more clues about her past to build suspense? And then there's Arran, who is supposedly our main character who seems entierly unsympathetic and uninteresting. I honestly did not see, throughout the whole film any good qualities what would draw me into his character or psyche. For a character with a past and backstory like his, I was really expecting more, and what was built up felt like a letdown by the end of the film. Really, his 'shadow'/split personality seemed far more complex and interesting (though that was not really explained either). What really makes it disappointing though is that the cover of the DVD and film posters show a picture of Arran with a Dragon, giving the audience the impression that this will be a film about a boy and a dragon, which, it isn't.

The sound was excellent though. Unlike other ghibli movies, it went with a very medieval and Celtic sounding soundtrack with reed instruments and even what sounded like bagpipes in some segments. It was truly beautiful to listen to and was a refreshing deviation. It helped drive home that this is a medieval fantasy world. The art and animation were stunning as usual, with breathtaking scenery. The film honestly did create its own, beautiful world.

My overall problem with the film was that the rules of the world were not properly explained and left too many questions. I am very aware that certain aspects of the story are lost in medium translation, but the audience should not be left thinking at the end of the film, 'I think I would have understood what that was all about if I had read the book.' As for the 'moral of the story' it feels like the writer is trying to beat it into the audience's head rather than let them figure it out. In past films, it is left up to the audience to be mature and clever enough to figure out the moral, whether it was environmentalism, pacifism, increased urbanisation, or even just being yourself. In this fim, it was repeated over and over until it honestly became annoying to listen to. I think after the second or third time, we get it already.

This film, unlike other Ghiblis, is certainly not for young children who are easily frightened. There is blood, hints of drug usage, human trafficing, violence, abuse, and frightening images that can upset young children and those who are easily frightened.

Overall though, it was not a terrible film. The story had potential, and was unafraid to touch on dirty, gritty subject matter. I would equate it to a well done B-movie, but it was a very far cry from being an A-lister. For a first film, it was very well done, and hopefully Goro Miyazaki can step up his game and fill the shoes of past directors. This film and director really do have potential, and I hope to see great things in the future.