Welcome to episode 10 of Adventures in Netflix! Today I’ll be reviewing the 2006 Studio Ghibli movie Tales from Earthsea, based on the book of the same name by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Before watching this movie for the first time just a few hours ago, I’d heard very little about it, despite being a big fan of Studio Ghibli. What little I had heard though wasn’t entirely positive, leaving me to expect a sub par film. An opinion not helped by the fact that the movie wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki, but rather by his eldest son, Goro Miyazaki. My expectations, however, proved wrong. While Earthsea might not quite be the masterpiece that many of Studio Ghibli’s other films are, it is by no means the disappointing misstep I was expecting.
One of the first things I noticed about Earthsea, and one of my favorite things about the movie in general, is the setting. Whereas most fantasy takes place in some version of Dark Ages western Europe, Earthsea takes place in a world that more closely resembles classical Greece or Rome. Don’t get me wrong, I love the standard fantasy settings of faux England as well, but it was nice to see something a little different for once.
The story of Tales from Earthsea follows the journey of Arren( voiced by Matt levin), a young man with a dark past and a magic sword who, while traveling through the desert, is saved from a pack of wolves by the wizard Sparrowhawk (Timothy Dalton). Sparrowhawk Offers to let Arren travel with him, and Arren agrees. The two make their way to the city of Hort Town, where they attract the attention of the evil sorcerer, Cob (Willem Dafoe).
After a run in with a gang of slavers, Arren and Sparrowhawk continue on their way, eventually coming to the farm of Sparrowhawks old friend Tenar (Mariska Hargitay) and her young charge Therru (Blaire Restaneo).
I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, but suffice to say that the conflict between Cob and the heroes intensifies, until finally culminating in a lengthy and thrilling final battle.
Having never read the book that Earthsea is based on, I can’t speak to how good of an adaptation the movie is, but taken on its own Earthsea is a compelling, well crafted work of fantasy that should please any fans of the genre. While the individual elements of the story are, each on their own, fairly standard, they’re put together in a way that feels somehow fresh and interesting. Part of it is the setting, as I’ve mentioned before, but I feel that there’s more to it than that, though I can’t quite put my finger on what.
While the characters in Earthsea might be fairy archetypal, they were all so well written and voiced that I never minded. Especially excellent is Willem Dafoe’s performance as the villein Cob. Every line is delivered with a chilling gentleness, every word soaked in evil and tinged with the edge of insanity. The other voice actors of the English dub are good as well, but non stand out so much, nor are as memorable as Dafoe.
Before I talk about the animation, I have to make a quick mention of the visual quality available on Netflix streaming. Earthsea is streaming courtesy of Starz, and is, unfortunately, one of the movies suffering from the poor image quality that has given the Starz content on Netflix something of a bad reputation. The resolution was so poor as to be distracting at times, and it made it all but impossible to appreciate the beautiful animation of studio Ghibli. Under other circumstances I might not mention this, but the title of this feature is Adventures in Netflix.
That said, the animation of Earthsea is quite pretty, as I can attest to having looked through a number of high res screenshots. Due to the nature of the landscapes and environments depicted, Earthsea might not be quite as stunning as Ghibli’s more recent The Secret World of Arrietty, but the level of detail and artistry is every bit as high.
While Earthsea is by no means the best studio Ghibli film ever made, it is still in impressive work of film, and one that any fan of the studio, of fantasy, of even just of animation should enjoy.