Project #246: Tales from Earthsea

*As Nitsuj is walking through the Jack’s living room he spots Chibi Isis hard at work looking over graphs, data sheets, and equations on a blackboard*

(Nitsuj): Hey there Chibi, what’s going on in here?

(Chibi Isis): Oh hi Nii-chan. I’m trying to crack the code.

(Nitsuj): Code? What code?

(Chibi Isis): The one code that has plagued me for years, The Earthsea Code.

(Nitsuj): Oh~ that code. Yeah, definitely the black sheep in the Studio Ghibli library, Tales from Earthsea is one of the more overlooked films done by the studio. Based off the hit book written by Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, Tales from Earthsea served as the directorial debut of Miyazaki. No, not Hayao Miyazaki but Goro Miyazaki the son of Hayao. I really don’t know whether to call this guy brave or just a straight up masochist. When you go into the same job field as your dad everyone expects you to be just as good as him if not better and when you’re the son of possibly the greatest animation director of all time you just know Goro was feeling the pressure while working on this film. Even Hayao was concerned about Goro taking on this project saying that it was too big for a rookie to handle but Goro stuck up for himself and said he was going to do it. The film came out in the summer of 2006 where it did good in the box offices but received mixed reviews from the author herself and Hayao actually admitting that he walked out on the movie in order to get a smoke.

(Chibi Isis): But despite these mixed reviews no one can bring themselves to dislike it. Why is that? Despite this film’s major flaws why doesn’t anybody dislike this film? That’s what I’ve been wrecking my brain trying to figure out but I keep coming up with nothing.

(Nitsuj): Well Chibi, you won’t get answers using math. In situations like this it’s best to look at the source yourself. Let’s set a course for adventure and take a look at Tales from Earthsea. We’re looking at the dub as well.

(Chibi Isis): The film opens up at sea with a bunch of sailors trapped in a storm when all of sudden they see two dragons fighting each other (Nitsuj: This might just be the best opening to a Ghibli film I have ever seen). A wizard on the ship finds this impossible to believe because dragons never fight each other (yes they do. Dragons are very territorial. If you invade their land they’ll attack you) but this distraction allows them to sail through the storm safely and make it to land where we see a king meeting with his council about all the hardships happening (Nitsuj: Plaques, droughts, famines, wizards losing their magic, and now dragons fighting. It’s the end of days). As the king walks to his quarters alone he gets attacked and killed by his son Arren voiced by Matt Levin who steals his sword and leaves his father to die (so many questions racing through my mind).

(Nitsuj): He escapes into the desert on his llama horse (Chibi Isis: Clearly this world was an inspiration for the Avatar series) where he gets attacked by a pack of wolves (Chibi Isis: You mean saber-wolves? (Nitsuj): No, just regular wolves. (Chibi Isis): This world is strange) and saved by a wizard named Sparrowhawk voiced by Timothy Dalton who’s on a quest trying to solve why the world is out of balance (I can think of a few things but that’s a list for another time). After resting for the night, they decide to travel together and arrive in a big town known as Hort Town a turn known for slave trading. Sparrowhawk buys Arren a cloak and as they walk the streets Arren almost gets tricked into eating Hazia (pretty much the equivalent of heroin) until Sparrowhawk saves him. Arren decides to wonder the streets alone for a while where he comes across a slave trader trying to capture a girl with a burn mark on her face and even though he saves her his indifferent attitude to life of people as well as himself (Chibi Isis: He’s emo) makes her not trust him and she runs away.

(Chibi Isis): Since saving a life can be draining he falls asleep in the shipyard where he has a dream about seeing a bird (Nitsuj: And this means what exactly?) and gets woken up by the slaver trader who’s return with more soldiers and captures him. He gets sold into slavery where he kind of resigns himself to do it right away (not making the best first impressions Arren) until once again he gets saved by Sparrowhawk who takes Arren to a farm owned by his friend Tenar a nice lady who is taking care of that young girl with the burnt face who’s name is Therru voiced by Blaire Restaneo. While that’s going on we get to meet the villain of the film Cob voiced by William Dafoe (Nitsuj: Who is hands down one of the scariest villains you were ever come across. I mean it, this guy is just creepy. Anytime he talks he speaks in a low monotone voice as if he’s whispering to you. It’s like a snake slowly crawling up your leg or a spider crawling down your spine). Years ago Sparrowhawk defeated him after he tried to take control of the dead and was banished to the wastelands because of his actions. He’s now escaped from the wastelands (being there was a waste of time. (Nitsuj): That was Yin-Yang joke wasn’t it? (Chibi Isis): Yep) and destroyed the balance of the world in order to gain immortality.

(Nitsuj): Back on the farm Arren and Sparrowhawk do some work in order to earn their beds and food (those who don’t work don’t eat) and we see that Therru doesn’t like being around Arren all that much (young love. (Chibi Isis): Actually, they’re not attracted to each other at all. (Nitsuj): Really? That’s new). The next day Sparrowhawk heads out on business and leaves Arren behind on the farm where he finds out that Therru came from a broken home. Her parents abused and abandoned her and for good measures decided to burn her face (Chibi Isis: Parents of the year material right there folks). The slave traders (who are working for Cob) show up looking for Sparrowhawk but leave when they find out he’s not there vowing to return. Arren goes to get Therru where he finds her singing on the hillside and it brings him to tears for how good it sounds. He opens up to her saying that she was right about him being emotionless and indifferent to lives of others and even tells her that he killed his father and is now being followed by this strange presence. After seeing the more gentler side of Arren she begins to warm up to him (you sure they don’t get together? (Chibi Isis): Positive). Afraid of the danger he could attract Arren decides to leave where he gets pursued by that unknown presence once again only this time we get to see it and it’s in the form of himself. He runs away from it where he falls into a marsh and almost drowns but he gets saved by Cob who chases the unknown presence away (go back to the shadows) and takes Arren back to his castle (Chibi Isis: He needs an adult. (Nitsuj): Cob is an adult). On the farm the slave traders kidnap Tenar and leave Therru behind to give Sparrowhawk the message (the message that we have your woman and your boy).

(Chibi Isis): Arren wakes up in Cob’s castle where he stupidly drinks some black liquid offered to him (does this kid learn nothing from his past exeriences?). This liquid gives Cob control of Arren’s mind (assuming he has one to begin with) and he uses it to turn Arren against Sparrowhawk. Therru tells Sparrowhawk what happened and he heads for Cob’s castle alone to rescue Tenar. He gets past the slave traders and gets inside the castle where Cob tells him he’s responsible for the balance being broken and is trying to become immortal. He then has Arren fight him where Sparrowhawk manages to snap him out of it but being in Cob’s domain drains him of his magic and he gets captured (and we’re doomed. (Nitsuj): Yeah we’re doomed). Therru sees the other Arren off in the distance and goes chasing after him where the other Arren leads her to Cob’s castle (Nitsuj: Man this place was a lot closer than I thought). The other Arren reveals himself to be Arren’s light who’s become separated from Arren because of his fear of death and is now slowly going insane because of the darkness in his heart and the balance of the world being out of order (wow, it got Persona 4 up in here).

(Nitsuj): So Therru infiltrates the castle and finds Arren full of guilt and hopelessness (Chibi Isis: Our hero everybody) but she brings hope back to him by telling him that life is beautiful (and hard but beautiful nonetheless) and that death is a part of life whether we like it or not. This returns Arren to his true-self and they set out to rescue Sparrowhawk and Tenar before their execution. They arrive at the execution where Arren finally draws his magic sword and chops off the arm of Cob severing his magic and revealing his true form, a giant black blob monster (Chibi Isis: That acts like the Green Goblin from the Spiderman movies). He grabs Therru and flees to the top of the castle with Arren in hot pursuit where he strangles Therru to death but she gets back up like it was nothing because she’s immortal and turns into a dragon where she burns Cob alive (what!? (Chibi Isis): I’ve got nothing this makes no sense to me as well). Therru than rescues Arren from the collapsing tower and they fly back to a field where Therru returns to her human form. Arren then says he’s going to return to his kingdom to answer for his crimes but vows to come back and see her again. In the epilogue Arren and Therru reunite with Sparrowhawk and Tenar where Arren reconciles with Sparrowhawk and they return to the farm where they all pitch in to finish the chores, have dinner, and then Arren and Sparrowhawk depart for Arren’s kingdom where Therru looks up in the sky and sees the dragons flying peacefully indicating that the balance of the world has been restored (for now).

Final Thoughts

(Nitsuj): So that Tales from Earthsea. As far as Studio Ghibli films go this one didn’t draw me in as the others. The characters are interesting but we never get that much time to explore them as we would have liked in other Studio Ghibli films. The world they’re in is cool but they never explain the rules of said world. The film takes a huge deviation from the source material and the third act is where the film starts to go downhill for people. It’s rushed and it tries to add in too many things all in one movie and this results in a poorly done climax. The music was good. It’s different from other Studio Ghibli soundtracks as it takes on a medieval feel to it and sounding incredibly good in my opinion. The animation is nice as you would expect from Ghibli production. The world they’re in looks beautiful and the designs of the dragons are stunning to look at. The action was good as well as it has some of the most violent animation Studio Ghibli has done in their films and you can tell they were proud of it as they drew a lot of attention to it. All in all, despite these changes and flaws of the film I thought it was alright.

(Chibi Isis): But that still hasn’t broken the code on why people can still like it despite its major flaws.

(Nitsuj): Well the answer to that is quite simple Chibi, effort. Despite the flaws of the film you can sense Goro’s efforts. You can tell he really went all out and tried to make this film as good as he possibly good while also trying to add his own spin on the story. Even Hayao said it himself, he could sense Goro’s passion and effort in the film. The biggest mistake that Goro did was he bit off more than he could chew and tried to fit too much into one film. As a result we got a rushed and poorly done third act and the film that had a lot of interesting and cool ideas but just didn’t have time to explore them or properly explain them. If the film had of been split into 2 maybe 3 films than this could have been avoided, something I think Goro wish he would have done when he got started.

(Chibi Isis): Hmm~, I think I’m starting to see it.

(Nitsuj): Effort is very important in whatever we do. Even if it’s something that doesn’t entirely look good or turn out the way we had hope, as long as we put 100% of our effort into something and let people see how passionate we are about what we’re working on they’ll be less cruel. They’ll still be critical of your work but it’ll be criticism meant to help you get better, not tear you down.

Final Score

(Nitsuj): My final score for Earthsea is a 6/10. How about you Chibi?

(Chibi Isis): I’m going to give a 5/10. This one is definitely the weakest Ghibli film I’ve watched. I don’t hate it but it didn’t draw me in like the other films or left me with anything like the others. But at the same time this film has a high level of effort and passion thrown into it that you can’t help but admire.

(Nitsuj): So with these 2 scores the score averages out to a 5.5/10 as the final score for this film. Next to My Neighbor Totoro this is definitely the weakest of the Ghibli films for me and one that while not bad, I think you be better off picking up the books rather than watching the film. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time on Project Nitsuj.

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