Tales From Earthsea (Gedo senki)


 

Tales From Earthsea

Have fun storming the castle!

(2006) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Timothy Dalton, Mariska Hargitay, Willem Dafoe, Cheech Marin, Matt Levin, Blaire Restaneo, Kat Cressida, Suzanne Blakeslee, Pat Fraley, Jessica Gee-George, Tara Platt, Liam O’Brien, Terrence Stone, Karen Strassman. Directed by Goro Miyazaki

 

We are often driven by forces within us that we ourselves don’t understand. When asked why we do the things we do, sometimes all we can shrug and say “I dunno.” Usually, that’s not a sufficient answer.

Arren (Levin) is a prince of the realm in the world known as Earthsea. His father is a well-beloved king who is preparing Arren for a reign of his own but one dark night in the castle, Arren cold-bloodedly murders his father and steals his enchanted sword, fleeing into the night and away into the most distant lands of the realm.

Arren himself doesn’t understand why he killed his own father – he loved him. He is being pursued by a strange shadowy figure who frightens Arren although the prince should be paying more attention to the wolves who gather around him. It looks like Arren will receive karmic justice but he is rescued at the last moment by a sorcerer named Sparrowhawk (Dalton).

It turns out that Sparrowhawk is one of the greatest mages in the land. He seeks to return balance to his world, which of late has been beset by dragons. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly unexpected since dragons were thought to have left the world. At one time dragons and humans lived in harmony together but those days are long gone.

Into this mix comes Cob (Dafoe), another sorcerer albeit one whose intentions are far less benign than Sparrowhawk’s. Cob means to find immortality and doesn’t care if he has to blast Earthsea into nothingness in order to do it. The key to his immortality rests with Arren. Sparrowhawk knows that he must protect Arren from Cob at all costs and is joined by ex-priestess Tenar (Hargitay) and her disfigured teenage ward Therru (Restaneo) to help defeat Cob and restore Earthsea into harmony.

Although released in Japan in 2006, the movie didn’t make it to American shores until 2010. Much of that had to do with rights issues – the movie is based on the work of American author Ursula K. LeGuin (and mostly on the third book of her Earthsea saga, The Farthest Shore). Much has been made about the movie’s PG-13 rating, which is the second film from Studio Ghibli to receive such a rating (The Princess Mononoke was the first) and the first animated feature from Disney to get that particular rating. It certainly isn’t for small children.

The animation is gorgeous for the most part, not unlike a watercolor come to life. The dragons are nicely realized and there are some very nice bits of business here. However, this isn’t Hayao Miyazaki in the director’s chair, it’s his son Goro and the younger Miyazaki’s inexperience shows in places. The pacing can be downright slow (a crucial mistake in an animated feature) and the characterization is pretty shallow. For some reason, the decision was made to make Cob look a bit like David Bowie in his more androgynous phase and give him Willem Dafoe’s raspy voice. The combination is jarring to say the least.

LeGuin’s source material is rich in background and while she has disassociated herself from the movie, at least the palate that the filmmakers and writers drew from is vibrant. This feels like a lived-in world, for better or for ill.

This isn’t an easy property to bring to the screen, considering the hero commits patricide in the first few minutes of the film. You are left wondering if he is the villain from that point (if you’re not familiar with LeGuin’s work) and it takes a good long time to get behind Arren as the hero. Dalton, as Sparrowhawk, gives great depth and color to his character, projecting the gentle nature of the archmage as well as his infinite patience (Arren isn’t always the easiest companion to hang around with). Of all the characters in the movie, it is Sparrowhawk who remained with me the longest.

Even LeGuin admitted this isn’t a bad movie – in fact it’s a pretty damn good one, despite the fan base that decries it (both that of LeGuin and Studio Ghibli). It isn’t an easy movie to get behind in all instances but if you don’t give up on it, you might find yourself warming up to it as I did. This is far from the best film to come from the studio but it isn’t the worst either. Faint praise, I know – but believe me, this is a very good movie, worth looking up however you get your home video.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous animation. Dalton does a fine job vocally. LeGuin’s world is very much worth exploring, even if it isn’t exactly the way she wrote it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The film lacks spark and passion. It also drags in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images are fairly graphic and violent.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki originally petitioned author Ursula K. LeGuin to direct the movie but she was unfamiliar with his work and turned down his request. After she saw My Neighbor Tortoro she was sufficiently impressed and changed her mind; however by that time he was too deep into making Howl’s Moving Castle to direct himself and as a result his son Goro made this his feature film debut. LeGuin was seriously disappointed with the final results and said so on her website.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an interactive map and trivia game for previous Studio Ghibli features.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.7M on a $22M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: A Separation

Four-Warned: August 2010


Four-Warned: August 2010

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE 

1. SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (1.5)
2. THE EXPENDABLES (2.4)
3. NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS (2.5)
4. THE OTHER GUYS (2.7)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE) 

1. LEBANON (1.9)
TIE. TALES FROM EARTHSEA (1.9)
3. THE TILLMAN STORY (2.2)
4. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED (2.4)

TIE. THE WILDEST DREAM: THE CONQUEST OF EVEREST (2.4)
 

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

AUGUST 4, 2010

SICILIAN GIRL (Music Box) Genre: Crime Drama. The true story of a 17-year-old Sicilian girl who broke the Sicilian code of silence by testifying against the Mafia. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.0 Sounds like a powerful drama; hope I can see a trailer for this soon.

AUGUST 6, 2010

CAIRO TIME (IFC) Genre: Romantic Drama. A 40-something fashion editor is assigned to Cairo and finds that the exotic city awakens strong feelings in her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A Harlequin romance for the indie film set?
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED (Anchor Bay) Genre: British Crime Thriller. A young heiress is kidnapped and held for ransom by two ex-cons, but she doesn’t intend to be used as a pawn. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.4 This looks to be the sleeper suspense movie of the summer.
FLIPPED (Warner Brothers) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Boy meets girl in grade school. Girl thinks its love, boy thinks she has cooties. Boy and girl grow up. Stuff happens. Release Strategy: Limited (Opening wide on Aug. 27). RATING: 3.0 Could be a really sweet coming-of-age story despite my smart-assed summary.
LEBANON (Sony Classics) Genre: War Drama. An Israeli tank crew gets caught up in a life-or-death situation during the first Lebanese War of 1982. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles on Aug. 13). RATING: 1.9 Could very well be Das Boot for tanks.
MIDDLE MEN (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Comedy. An entrepreneur gets involved with Internet porn and makes a fortune but turns his life upside down. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 These “based on a true story” Internet tales are coming thick and fast.
THE OTHER GUYS (Columbia) Genre: Action Comedy. Two deskbound NYPD detectives are called upon to support the department’s reigning supercops. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.7 Anything that reunites Talladega Nights director Adam McKay with Will Ferrell is aces in my book.
THE OXFORD MURDERS (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. A professor of logic and one of his students races against time to solve a string of murders. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 John Hurt is one of my favorite actors so this is a slam dunk for me.
STEP UP 3D (Touchstone) Genre: Urban Drama. A tight-knit break dancing team from the Bronx enters a global competition. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Not a single thing about this movie appeals to me, but then again I’m as far from their demographic as you can get.
THRU THE MOEBIUS STRIP
(Hannover House) Genre: Sci-Fi Animated Feature. Age-old enemies must learn to work together against a common enemy to save their humans. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Supposedly based on the works of Heavy Metal artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who I must admit I admire a great deal.
TWELVE
 (Hannover House) Genre: Gritty Urban Drama. A drug dealer on the decadent Upper East Side sees his life turned upside down when his cousin is arrested for murder. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 An impressive cast but the trailer held no magic for me.
THE WILDEST DREAM: CONQUEST OF EVEREST (National Geographic) Genre: Documentary. A young British mountaineer attempts to re-create George Mallory’s ill-fated 1924 climb to see if it’s possible that he might have summated Mt. Everest before perishing. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 I love these types of documentaries; nobody does ‘em like NatGeo.

AUGUST 13, 2010

ANIMAL KINGDOM (Sony Classics) Genre: Aussie Crime Drama. A young boy is brought into a notorious Melbourne crime family after his mother dies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 This has been getting all sorts of accolades worldwide; might be the real thing.
EAT PRAY LOVE (Columbia) Genre: Dramedy. A married woman chucks her marriage, her house and her life in order to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Despite the presence of Julia Roberts as the lead, I’m thinking this is an ode to self-worship.
THE EXPENDABLES (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. A team of mercenaries finds themselves fighting for their lives after a job goes horribly wrong, and may end up having to do the right thing in spite of themselves. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Nearly every notable action star of the last 20 years is in this; either it’ll be classic or a real mess.
LA SOGA (7-57 Releasing) Genre: Action Thriller. A sensitive young boy witnesses the brutal murder of his family by a Dominican drug lord; he is eventually transformed into an amoral assassin for the Dominican Secret Police. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.1 Haven’t yet seen a trailer for this, but the concept is intriguing, sort of a Latin La Femme Nikita.
SALT OF THE SEA (Lorber) Genre: Romantic Drama. A Brooklyn-born woman of Palestinian descent returns to her homeland to claim what’s hers. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.3 This could pique my interest, but again I haven’t seen a trailer for this one either.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Universal) Genre: Trendy Comic Book Action Mash-Up. A young dweeb who plays in a band falls hard for a much cooler girl than he deserves and is forced to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends for the right to woo her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 My son Jacob has an absolute chubby for this movie, which means that seeing it might make me hipper or merely depress me over the state of modern youth culture.
TALES FROM EARTHSEA (Disney) Genre: Fantasy Anime. A young ambitious wizard must right the wrongs he loosed on the world through his own recklessness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 The latest from Studio Ghibli and the first from Goro Miyazaki, the son of the legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki; also based on the beloved fantasy novel by Ursula K. LeGuin.

AUGUST 18, 2010

VAMPIRES SUCK (20th Century Fox) Genre: Horror Spoof. A young human girl must choose between competing boyfriends – who happen to be vampires. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 I agree that the Twilight saga richly deserves a spoofing but lately these types of movies have been majorly craptacular and at worst, unwatchable.

AUGUST 20, 2010

DOWN TERRACE (Magnet) Genre: Dark Comedy. A father and son struggle to keep a crime family together even while an informant in their midst threatens to tear it apart. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Sounds a bit like “The Sopranos” on Ritalin.
LOTTERY TICKET (Warner Brothers) Genre: Urban Comedy. A winning lottery ticket puts a quiet neighborhood into an uproar. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 Sorry, the trailer looked kinda awful.
MAO’S LAST DANCER (Goldwyn) Genre: Biography. The story of international ballet star Li Cunxin who overcame tremendous odds to realize his dream. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 I’m not usually a big fan of movies about dancing but the trailer for this one looked very good.
NANCY MCPHEE RETURNS (Universal) Genre: Family. The magical nanny comes to rescue a family whose father is off at war. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 I actually liked the first film very much, so interested in seeing what they do with the second.
PIRANHA 3D (Dimension) Genre: Horror. Mutant flesh-eating fish take over a Spring Break hangout and prepare to munch on a co-ed buffet. Release Strategy: Wide (3D). RATING: 2.9 The original wasn’t John Sayles’ finest hour; did we really need a remake of it?
THE SWITCH (Miramax) Genre: Comedy. A neurotic man switches the donated sperm for his best friend’s baby with his own. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The trailer made this look like 90 minutes of awkward.
THE TILLMAN STORY (Weinstein) Genre: Documentary. The story of the pro football star that gave up the NFL to serve his country and would later be killed by friendly fire. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 This could well be the Best Documentary Feature Oscar winner.
WHAT IF… (Jenkins Entertainment) Genre: Christian Drama. A man who gave up the cloth and his high school sweetheart for a business career gets to see what his life would have been like if he’d chosen differently. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 Sort of like It’s A Wonderful Life for the God squad.

AUGUST 27, 2010

CENTURION (Magnet) Genre: Swords and Sandals. A Roman legion charged with wiping out the savage and terrifying Picts find themselves battling for their own survival behind enemy lines. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Looks like a cross between Gladiator and Last of the Mohicans.
CHANGE OF PLANS (IFC) Genre: Indie Drama. A group of ten friends gather for a summertime dinner party, where their personal issues begin to surface. Release Strategy: New York Only. RATING: 3.3 Yet another look at the failing relationships of a group of 20-somethings.
GOING THE DISTANCE (New Line) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple fall madly in love, then have to continue their relationship via long-distance. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 An attractive young couple (Drew Barrymore and Justin Long) make this appealing.
THE LAST EXORCISM (Lionsgate) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A priest agrees to document his last exorcism, with unexpected results. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Looks like a real good frightfest.
THE MILK OF SORROW (Olive Films) Genre: Indie Drama. A woman is severely affected by the psychological effects of a war on terror in Peru. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles Sept. 3). RATING: 3.3 Not for the squeamish or the sensitive.
TAKERS (Screen Gems) Genre: Action. A group of high-tech bank robbers try to stay one step of the cops as they pull off their biggest heist yet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 The trailer didn’t excite me any.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES

The Other Guys, Middle Men, Eat Pray Love, The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Nanny McPhee Returns, Going the Distance