Friday, September 12, 2008

Tales From Earthsea, movie review

I got to watch it last night.

There's a good movie in there, somewhere--maybe two or three scripts down the line. That makes it more frustrating, really. I kept wanting to like it and not quite managing.

Part of the problem is it tries to retell the first, third, and fourth books as one, mashed together story; I think there are bits of book 5 floating around in there as well, but I'm not sure about that; I've only read that one once and long ago. The odd mix actually might almost work since the books carry a number of the same themes and share some of the same plot concerns, and a really thorough, careful script job could tie them together. However, insufficient thought has gone into merging the books, and Goro Miyakazi has thrown in a couple of extra touches that only add to the confusion.

Or rather, one big extra touch: Shortly after the movie begins, Arren, one of the heroes, kills his father and runs off to join Ged. This is not mentioned again until 3/4 through the movie when he tells his new friend, Therru, "I killed my father. Why would I do such a terrible thing?"

Why indeed?

The plot continues to muddle its way toward the end, and it emerges that Arren gave in to despair, leaving his "light" side to follow him around (and give him nightmares, for some crazy reason) eventually reminding him of the importance of life and death. So I guess he murdered his dad because he was having a really bad day? Or something... Arren gets his selves together and triumphantly tells Therru that he's going to go back to his home to pay for his crime but will come see her later. Much smiling and waving and happy music, since patricide and regicide are such minor things and everyone will understand and it will all be ok now that Arren has (finally, mercifully) grown up a bit.

This is decidedly the most annoying bit of the film. The rest--I was busy filling in gaps from my memory of the books, which is patchy because it's been a while and I've only read book 4 once (It is not my favorite, for several reasons). There's a bit about the dragon-human relationship that never gets developed, a lot about the Balance and man's place in it, which does actually get some screen time, a whole lot about the relationship between life and death which gets said over and over again but which needed better grounding in the characters--Cob embodies it, but he's a one-dimensional villain (albeit a really creepy one); Arren is supposed to be the hero struggling with the issue, but unfortunately what emerges on screen are some sermonettes, his peculiar murder, and a lot of falling unconscious.

The frustrating part is, the movie clearly is a labor of love; one or all of the people involved in making it have actually read the books--really read them, thought about them, and loved them. There are moments when everything really does work: Sparrowhawk and Tenar greeting one another for the first time, talking around the fireside, Tehanu's haunting solo, Cob's decay from a polished villain to a witless creature with only one focus, pathetic and terrifying at once, some of the views of Hort... It keeps wanting to be a good movie--maybe even a great movie--and then falling back into confusion.

I wish that Miyakazi (one or both) had been a bit more patient and perhaps a bit less ambitious: Had taken time for those further rewrites or had lowered his sights a bit and filmed just one of the books instead of trying for all of them at once.

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