Tales from Earthsea only just hit U.S. shores for general release this August due to conflicts over the name rights. But that isn’t the only reason you may not have heard of this movie, Goro Miyazaki makes his directorial debut and it is a poor showing to say the least. As the film opens we see dragons battling and are introduced to the concept that the balance of the world is off, it is further revealed much of this is being caused by the dangerous Lord Cob. That is about all the explanation you get for the plot of this movie. It is a world of magic (though it is dying out), castles, royalty, dragons, and wanderers. We meet Arren, Sparrowhawk, Therru, and Tenar in quick succession as troubling happenings seem to plague Arren’s journey with Sparrowhawk. But all of this, from characters to the pacing of the film to the dub, is flat, flat, flat. Arren is unsympathetic because there is never any moments where you really come to understand his point of view and his relationship with Therru develops unevenly at best never really making you believe the eventual bond between them. Most of the history of characters is just thrown out to you through poorly planned exposition, such as when we learn how Therru came to stay with Tenar. Though Tenar and Sparrowhawk fare a little better but only because they have an established, though minorly told, history together. The ending battle scenes and dialogue unfortunately elicited snickers and out loud laughter from not just myself but others in the audience. I think the only scene that had any real magic is when Arren tells Therru his “true name” which was rich, atmospheric, and tender. I really wanted to like this movie, and I want to believe Goro Miyazaki can develop as a director, but it was hard to keep the faith by the end of the film.
Sadly Tales from Earthsea was the train wreck that it has been made out to be. Part of me was hoping that people were unfairly trying judge Goro Miyazaki first efforts as a director in comparison to his father’s work. But the reason that this move gets panned so much is it is just riddled with major flaws. The plot is poorly paced, will often make inscrutable twists, and is often just uninteresting. Most of the characters were either banal or annoying. The dialog is clunky so that at points characters will drop a line that seems to come completely out of nowhere. Sparrowhawk and Tenar were fine for the most part but they never came close to being able to prop up the plot. The worst part in my opinion is Arren is an unsympathetic character. When you actively dislike the main character you should have an idea that the show is going nowhere very quickly. The dub did not help the film at all but you can tell that the source was terrible so the dub had little to work with. Tales from Earthsea certainly looked like a Studio Ghibli film but it had none of the heart or artistry of a proper Studio Ghibli film. The only really positive thing I can say is it made me interested in reading the original books just to see what his mess was based on.