Earthsea (TV, 2005)
From SFX 129 (I think). This is a review of the 2004 US miniseries, not the Studio Ghibli anime.
Director: Rob Lieberman
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Kristin Kreuk, Isabella Rossilini, Sebastian Roche and Danny Glover
Apparently Ursula Le Guin was displeased with this version of her much-loved Earthsea books, and it’s not hard to see why.
A Wizard of Earthsea is one of those rare fantasies that rises above genre boundaries to become great literature. It is a powerful tale about male arrogance and power. It’s the best coming of age tale for men ever written by a woman, and that’s just the first book.
Earthsea is a poor, hackneyed running-about-in-the-woods miniseries, full of bad casting, inappropriate one-liners and cliché mined from the bargain bins of failing SF bookshops – prophecies, destined love, a wicked, English-accented King, and a snog for the hero Ged at the end that would, if I were Le Guin, have me reaching for my attorney. None of these things are in the books.
As a standalone TV show it is diverting, but why do TV execs insist on paying good money for classic tales and then turning them into sub-Harry Potter rubbish? Surely purchasing something because of its name and then producing an unrecognizable school play from it upsets those viewers they hoped to attract? It beggars belief that when there are so many mediocre fantasies out there, they don’t just buy one of them to start with.
Hopefully someone will see sense and make a good film from this source material, because the most galling thing about this exercise is not its incapability at imparting some of the books’ deep wisdom, but that as it stands the first Earthsea book would have made damn fine television with minimal tinkering. Appalling.
DVD extras: You can watch the show in a couple of formats and see a documentary narrated by one of those men who sounds like he eats gravel about how the book was comprehensively buggered. Alternatively dispense with the terrible script and music, and listen to director Rob Lieberman cold-bloodedly describe his own genius.
Did you know?
There are Five Earthsea books, the original 1970’s trilogy being belated followed only recently by Tehanu and The Other Wind. Le Guin has also set several short tales there. Earthsea borrows heavily from Native American and Norse Legends, while its magic draws on Taoist principles.