After the disappointing TV series based on Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, I was interested to see if Studio Ghibli could do any better. Studio Ghibli has forged an impressive reputation thanks to the superb quality of their animation and direction - the latter largely due to mastermind Hayao Miyazaki - as well as the thoughtful, emotional nature of their films. Having created masterpieces such as Spirited Away and the epic adventure Howl's Moving Castle, Studio Ghibli seemed well placed to deliver another stirring adventure in Tales From Earthsea. I certainly had high hopes; while not a massive fan of anime, I have nonetheless enjoyed the Ghibli productions I have seen so far and can appreciate the superb animation and production of their releases.
So it was a bit of a surprise to find that Tales From Earthsea falls well short of the standard I think we've all come to expect from Studio Ghibli.
The main problem with Tales From Earthsea is the storyline. I've only ever read the first book in the Earthsea series and that was a long time ago, but nonetheless I can remember fragments. Subsequently I hoped Tales From Earthsea would follow the storyline of the first book, where Ged the farmboy becomes a wizard. Instead the film follows what is allegedly a plot cobbled together from the third and fourth books in the Earthsea series. The result is an uninspiring tale about Ged (fully-grown) and Arren (a young prince who murdered his father) teaming up to defeat the evil wizard, Lord Cob. The disappointingly predictable plot plods along and only really gets going towards the end of the film, by which point I was past caring. Ghibli is known for its warm, distinctive characters but those in Earthsea feel strangely lifeless; there is no real spark. Arren's inner torment is not really illustrated enough, nor for that matter is Therru's. The only character that makes any real impression is the uncomfortably androgynous Lord Cob, excellently voiced by Yuko Tanaka.
Even the animation is a pale imitation of Ghibli's usual excellence; there are some nice backgrounds and the dragons are superbly done, but the usual atmosphere that Ghibli visuals evoke never really materialises. Earthsea is portrayed well enough, but doesn't sparkle as it should. Alongside the visual mastery of fantasy adventure Howl's moving Castle, Earthsea pales hopelessly in comparison.
Perhaps the failings of Earthsea are down to the fact that the film was directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of the renowned Hayao, and that it is his first film. Whatever the reason, there's no hiding the fact that Tales From Earthsea is a big disappointment. The fact that Le Guin herself commented "This is not my book"after watching the film indicates that she wasn't impressed either.
With the failures of the earlier TV series and now Ghibli's Tales from Eathsea, fans will have to wait longer for an adaption that does the series justice.