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Feature


The King of Enlad is killed by a boy, Arren (Matt Levin). A boy with seemingly two personalities, who flees the kingdom and is joined on his journey by Sparrowhawk (Timothy Dalton), an archmage who takes Arren under his wing. With Lord Cob (Willam Dafoe) finding out about the pair, he sends his slavers to capture them but what connection do all these characters have to the recent sightings of dragons?

 Tales from Earthsea
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro, Tales from Earthsea is a Studio Ghibli film I have never actually sat down to watch until now. I’d heard mixed things about the animated film and one way or another the chance to see it has slipped by me since its release in 2006. Sitting down to watch it for this review, there is an immediate difference between what Studio Ghibli has grown in popularity for and what we’re seeing in Earthsea but that isn’t such the bad thing I was led to believe it was.

Hayao Miyazaki wanted to make Tales from Earthsea for a good while but felt unable to adapt it. With his son taking on the challenge, there’s a sense that the sensibilities of the extremely psychological and even dark story (certificate 'U'??) must have been difficult to get a grasp on within the realms of what Papa Miyazaki does with his films. Earthsea is very much a full on fantasy piece, with themes such as masters and apprentices, Kings and kingdoms and plenty of walking. This often reduces the pace of the film to a non-child friendly pace. On top of that its psychological depths go to some very dark places (again certificate 'U'? Really?) and there are a fair few instances where the imagery is borderline horror, especially when it comes to Lord Cob and indeed Arren’s darker side.

 Tales from Earthsea
The film itself has a departure from the Studio Ghibli visuals that came before Earthsea as well, at least the two or three films that preceded it anyway. There are of course glimmers of familiarity but Earthsea looks much more akin to a TV show rather than an feature length animated film, sharing character designs that are reminiscent of things like The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Devilman, 3x3 Eyes and the larger world of anime. The style initially feels less detailed than what we’re used to from modern Ghibli titles but that’s not to say it’s not impressive. Expressions, especially within the eyes and specific character stances are all wonderfully depicted. Movement with swords or wind flowing through character’s hair are small things but the subtleness of this approach adds a fantasy flare the story thrives on.

Tales from Earthsea ended up being a strange one for me. I’m in no rush to revisit it but I am left with a lot from the character of Arren. He provided a fantasy hero that ticked all the boxes and provided a darker central role than I expected. Dafoe’s Lord Cob will stick with me because everything about the character makes my blood run cold with his eeriness and the visuals of the dragons throughout were very well handled. That said, the story doesn’t exactly leap off of the screen. It’s all quite typical with only the well written dialogue lifting key moments and the darker, adult tones shocking the audience enough to forget the slower scenes were sometimes the only things that snapped me back into the story. Tales From Earthsea is by no means a bad animated movie but it’s not exactly one that holds you in its grasp for the duration and takes you away with it, like many a Studio Ghibli film can do.

 Tales from Earthsea

Video


I’ve mentioned the slightly simpler art style already but that doesn’t take away from the presentation here at all. The water colour style backgrounds and softer colours look fantastic here. The character designs fill the frame with wonderful sharpness and there’s a few key moments where the depth of the HD image is astonishing, especially when we look over cities or take flight with dragons.

Edges are nice and sharp throughout, I didn’t detect any sort of wobble and there are scenes where light sourcing can look stunning (Sparrowhawk riding over the plains with his staff alight for example). As I mentioned, the movie shares more in common with a TV animation in some respects, so those limitations hold back the film from popping like Howl’s Moving Castle (also released at the same time) but Tales From Earthsea still comes with a solid presentation none the less.

 Tales from Earthsea

Audio


Earthsea might not win out in the video department but its audio mix is fantastic. There’s the usual strong score and crisp dialogue we expect from Ghibli releases but the atmospherics here can sometimes soar. Chirping birds, crowds and general ambience are all wonderfully placed in the rears. The balance between score, dialogue and sound effects all feels thought out and well presented and it ends up being one of those mixes that impresses without showing off.

Within the opening storm the creaking wood on the woodern ship as it battles the waves is amazing. The emotionally dirven score strengthens the depth of the character's situation at every turn. Elements like footsteps, raindrops and subtle things to add tension to the scene all work wonders and this track really does lift the film when it needs to.

 Tales from Earthsea

Extras


To start off, there's the usual 'Storyboards' option that enables you to watch the storyboard picture-in-picture as the film runs.

'The Birth of a Film Soundtrack' (01:00:00 SD) focuses on Tamiya Terashima's wonderful score. The 'NTV Special' (43:51 SD) is a nice in depth making of and the 'Behind the Microphone' focuses on the Japanese Cast.

'Behind the Studio: Origins of Earthsea' (04:05 SD) is a short and concise look at the production and could be watched as an introduction into watching the film and wrapping up we have TV Spots, the original Japanese trailers and Studio Ghibli collection trailers.

 Tales from Earthsea

Overall


Tales from Earthsea is a change of pace for Studio Ghibli. It doesn't quite have the magic many of the studio's other films have but it still provides a rich, character driven fantasy adventure, that relies more on human drama than simply swords and magic. The visuals are a mixed bag of simplicity and well studied human responses and it's all presented wonderfully here. The audio is also  strong and there's a solid spalattering of extras too, providing yet another great Studio Ghibli release.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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