6 August 2007 | benjamin_lappin
Though No Classic, A Solid Start For Miyazaki's Son
Tales From Earthsea does not warrant the overly critical criticism thrust at it by film critics, which lambaste this production as a cinematic experience which sacrifices substance for style. Tales definitely must be praised for its artistry and you can clearly see where Goro has picked up tips and learnt from his father. The set pieces are just incredible detailed and for want of a better word phenomenal. They are mind blowing in their detail, and successfully capture the spirit and feel of a world, which helps in the audience immersion. Accompanying this is a sensational swirling score, which really is nothing short of moving, and I would be incredibly surprised if anyone watching some of the epic grandeur of the scenery did not have their eye quiver even slightly. Style this film has in abundance, but what about substance?
Well, this is possibly and most probably the films undoing. Critics lambaste the film for having too many "convenient" moments, i.e. characters 'conveniently' turning up in certain places as a means of plot furtherment, with no real contextualisation. That's fair to a degree, but let's tackles the why nots before the why. The viewer must remember that this tale is the third installment from a book of four, that Goro Miyazaki (with the backing of Ursula Le Guin I might mention) has had to attempt in bringing this third installment to life in its own unique way while at the same time trying to make it stand out singularly, so that the other segments become superfluous. Obviously to the Le Guin fan this is impossible (as I have been told), but you have to try and give the director credit for this as he is somewhat successful. Yes there are many moments where you sit and think "what on middle-earth are they talking about?", but if the director were to reveal all it would take much longer than he 115 minutes than it does. Also, I was unfortunate enough to see the English dubbing in cinemas, although in my defence short of getting an illegal copy which really isn't my want, Tales From Earthsea is only being shown in about three cinemas UK-wide, so I had to travel an hour to Birmingham, so I'll take what I was given. But having said that, the voice-actors used for the parts did their jobs exemplary, and you never felt that they were out of place or wrong for their characters. However this it is from here the holes begin to emerge.
The script used in the English dub is severely ham and cheese. There are moments, which is seemingly typical in Japanese to English dubs that the English writers feel the must explain everything as opposed to let emotions speak for themselves so moments are hammed up, and there unnecessarily cheesy lines which are somewhat cringe worthy. But I feel where most people will feel let down is the character development. Most of these characters, yes whilst having been first created in the source novel, on screen appear as mere shadows of their former selves, as they have all been borrowed from previous Ghibli films. Eran comes across more as a fusion of Chihiro and Ashitaka than an individual character and a lot of the time we are expected to go along with plot moments without truly understanding the reasons as to why, or the reasons as to why the character has chosen this specific path. It's deeply infuriating, because the film is rather charming for all its flaws, but you cannot escape from the fact that the characters do not have moments to develop and those that do follow a very clichéd path. Various other plot moments go AWOL during the re dub and I wonder whether the English subtitled version will reveal much more. Perhaps it will push the film a star higher to seven, but I doubt much more than that.
Tales From Earthsea is by no means a write off, it is a thoroughly enjoyable film if you take it out of context. Its artistic flair is there in abundance and is as gorgeous a film as Hero or Spirited Away, coupled with the score it provides plenty of moments for jaws to be dropped. However, placing it into context what many critics, and I suppose myself to an extent, cannot forgive is that this film came from the hallowed Studio Ghibli, and while yes this is the legendary Miyazaki's sons first outing, and while certainly not a bad one, it just does not stand to be compared with the many greats Nausicaa, Laputa, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Grave Of The Fireflies. It certainly is a film you would be happy adding to the collection because it is inoffensive and if you store your critical instincts to one side for the two hour duration, you will really enjoy it as an engaging and enjoyable picture, but you will never be able to enjoy from a cinematic standpoint. It is a shame seeing as there is much going for it, and much indeed going for Goro, who as I previously stated has a keen eye for scene-scapes and detail in the animation. Tales scrambles up to be a solid three star film, but I do hope that at the Studio they do decline the option to do anymore of the source materials, at least for the moment, or at least until they script it perfectly. If Howls Moving Castle and Tales From Earthsea have told us anything, it's that source material is best left where it is, and that the imagination of Miyazaki (we've yet to see if the son matches the fathers talent) creates a far superior enjoyment factor, and a far superior film. We await in hope.