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Anime News Network
I am a fan of both Ursula K. Le Guin's books, and Studio Ghibli's animation. I've read all of the Earthsea books, and I've seen most of Miyazaki's work, some of the movies dozens of times. I was putting off watching this adaptation, having read Le Guin's review of it, but I finally saw it and I am sorely disappointed. First of all, why are all the characters white? In the books, the peoples of most of the islands are dark-skinned (light brown to pretty dark), with the exception of the inhabitants of the Kargad lands, who are white. Notably, Tenar comes from Kargad and her white skin is the main reason why she is distrusted by the people in the village she lives in - in this adaptation, everybody is white, and so the women's dislike of Tenar was completely unmotivated, so they made her into a witch. The adaptation mixes together three different books, and rewrites all of the characters so that they are not complete and are unmotivated. If this was an adaptation of Lord of the Rings, it would be about the journey of a village of Hobbit-Elves in a fleet of ships to fight Sauron and his army of intelligent spiders. It is impossible for me to realize how anyone would be able to follow this movie without having read the books, and I myself was only able to figure out what I am supposed to think about why the characters in the movie did what they did because I recalled the original character and mentally "added" the aspects that the creators of the adaptation simplified, changed and botched. The characters are unrealistic and announce their lines with little motivation (as in you don't know why they're saying something and what it's supposed to mean), and not only they, but most of the elements of the plot and the world are unmotivated, like the people who made the movie introduced them but then forgot that they were supposed to make sense. One example is the very first scene of the movie, with two dragons fighting. Why are all those people so surprised when they see the dragons and when they fight? The books weave the world of Earthsea into one internally coherent and motivated whole, but in this movie all we get are like section titles on the index page. The main plot theme of the movie, of the wizards losing their powers, as well as the other main themes of dragons, the Equilibrium, the abuse and disregard of women from certain characters, Jungian shadows, and the story of Therru, are completely unexplained and just presented in a way that makes them pretty pictures but not a masterful story like in the Earthsea books. Even the typically gorgeous animation and artistic quality are in my view one of the worst in Ghibli's roster (apart from the beautiful backgrounds). The only thing that stands out is the Japanese voice-acting, which is top-notch, with Yuuko Tanaka's Cob the most masterful performance (although I had to get used to a female voice on that character), and Aoi Teshima's Therru also standing out. The score is also pleasant to the ear, as always in a Ghibli production. All in all, it's a hunge, washed-down, simplistic disappointment. Please do not ever watch it if you have not read the first four Earthsea books, even if you're not planning to read them - you may wind up with the whole set after a plane crash on a desert island one day, and then what you see in your mind will be sullied by having watched this adaptation.
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