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Movie Review: Tales from Earthsea

2013 July 6
by pam artiaga

I’ve finally gotten around to watching Studio Ghibli’s Tales from Earthsea!

I was a bit apprehensive about doing so because I was afraid it might be a terrible adaptation of the original book series. My verdict?

The posters for Tales from Earthsea show a boy facing a dragon. I assumed that that was Ged facing the Dragon of Pendor, and therefore that the story was based on A Wizard of Earthsea (Book 1) and, since I know that Tenar was in the movie, with parts of Tombs of Atuan (Book 2). It turns out, the story mostly resembles The Farthest Shore (Book 3), with parts of Tehanu (Book 4) and a bit of The Other Wind (Book 6).

I think that was a very good choice for Ghibli. One can’t take the story of the boy Ged, and by extension Tenar as a young girl trapped in the Tombs of Atuan, and retell it in the style of Ghibli without violating the whole point of the story. That was mainly the reason why I was so apprehensive about Ghibli ruining Earthsea. When I realized that it centers around Arren and Tehanu, with a much older Ged and Tenar, I rested easier knowing that their story at least can be retold Ghibli-style without violating my understanding of the story.

I am not saying, however, that the movie told the story as it was in the books. It is a very loose adaptation and there were several parts that strayed very far from what actually happened in the books.

Arren and Tehanu were much closer in the movie than they were in the books, but I expected that particular change from Ghibli, and it was kind of nice seeing them that way. Tenar and Tehanu lived in Hort instead of Gont, but it was required of the plot and I’d rather have them live in another location than for the geography of Earthsea to be altered. The confrontation with Cob happened in Hort instead of far-away Selidor, and none of them entered the “dry land”. I was disappointed by that because the imagery of those scenes, with the bright blues and greens of the island and later the grays of the “dry land”, would have looked really awesome.

My biggest protest about the movie, however, is Tehanu’s physical appearance. The only evidence of her horrible childhood is a pink burn mark on the left side of her face. In the books, the whole left side of her body was maimed — her arms were burnt, she only had two fingers, and the burn mark on her face was far uglier than a smooth pink mark. Tehanu’s story of growth is very closely tied with her physical appearance, so making her prettier is a disloyalty to her character.

Even with those disappointing alterations, I thought that the movie was pretty good overall. I will always prefer the book, but I enjoyed the movie.   That is surprising for me. Then again, maybe not. It is Ghibli after all.

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