MacGuffin Film Review – Tales from Earthsea

Film Review – Tales from Earthsea

So on Monday morning my little shit-for-brains dog wakes me up at 4: 00 am for what I think is his desire to drop a deuce outside, but in actuality his highness just wants a drink of water (and he’s little and sleeps on our bed and so you have to let him down and escort him outside and wait in the cold dark while he thinks about taking a crap and doesn’t and then tries to run back into the house to try to sneak into a corner in the basement to shit and pee on stuff). After this, I laid in bed for half an hour and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I watched the second half of The Guns of Navarone and then went on with my day.

In the interest of full disclosure, I tell you all of this so that you know that 15 hours later, when I found myself in a screening of the new Studio Ghibli anime film Tales from Earthsea based on the series of novels by local fantasy writing legend Ursula K. Leguin, I was tired. Damn tired. I stayed awake for the whole movie, but just barely. I tell you all this in case it colors your reading of my take on this film when I say “M’eh”.

While directed by a Miyazaki, this movie was not created by Hideao (though it was based off of some of his ideas). At the beginning we are told that humans and dragons used to be as one, but over time had separated into different beings. Early on, a young prince murders his father for reasons that I’m still not able to grasp (my family who was with me say it was the darkness within him that drove his evil deeds). So he flees, meets up with a burlier version of Gandalf/Obi-Wan Kenobi, and ends up farming with one of Ob-Wan’s ex-girlfriends. There is a mysterious girl on the farm who he is sure has something important about her, and they are all stalked by an evil wizard (again, not quite sure why).
This is an example of a certain kind of anime that attempts to explore deep philosophical issues. Trying to raise the level of meaning through animated film is admirable. Sometimes I find myself in the mood for it (eg: Ghost in the Shell) and sometimes I don’t (eg: Ghost in the Shell 2). Often it can result in a cartoon with talking heads spouting long, ponderous speeches. It can feel like watching still photos on the projector with a lecture during your Philosophy 101 class. This movie was an example of this for me.

Not being familiar with the Earthsea books, I don’t know how true to Le Guin’s original vision this is, but I would hope there is at least some more actual action in the books. In Ghost in the Shell or Akira, while pontificating happens, it is at least offset with exciting animation. In a film about dragons, wizards, and sword fighting, there is too little of any of them to offset all of the navel gazing. Even when we build up to the climactic showdown between the boy and the evil wizard, you think “all right, now we’re gonna see something”, but we get maybe two slow motion swipes of a sword and then more whining.

While this sneak preview was subtitled (always preferred), Disney will be releasing this with celebrity voice dubbing as they have been with all of the previous Studio Ghibli films.

If you want sword and sorcery anime, go rent Record of Lodoss War. If you want some Studio Ghibli goodness, go get Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle or Kiki’s Delivery Service or Castles in the Sky.
Now, maybe if I give that dog some laxative…

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