by Robert Lieberman (dir)
Review by Ernest Lilley
Sci-Fi Channel Media ISBN/ITEM#: 0553262505
Date: December 2004 List Price - Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Official Site: Earthsea
IMDB Entry: tt0407384
Directed by Robert Lieberman
Writing credits: Ursula K. Le Guin (novel) Gavin Scott (script)
Cast: Shawn Ashmore .... Ged / Kristin Kreuk .... Tenar / Isabella Rossellini .... High Priestess Thar / Danny Glover .... Ogion / Sebastian Roch? .... King Tygath / Chris Gauthier .... Vetch / Jennifer Calvert .... Kossil / Mark Hildreth .... Jasper / Alan Scarfe .... Archmagus / Alessandro Juliani .... Skiorch / John Tench .... General Doar / Heather Laura Gray .... Penelope / Erin Karpluk .... Diana / Dave 'Squatch' Ward .... Dunain / Mark Acheson .... Gebbeth
If you don't know the story of Earthsea, you're in luck. At least you won't be confused by the choices made in the Sci-Fi Channel's latest book adaptation, and without that dissonance, you stand an excellent chance of really enjoying it. The rest of us will be taking deep breaths and trying to let go of what we'd wanted for Christmas. It's not like no one has made a faithful book adaptation in a movie. Look at the Harry Potter films for instance. And it's not as though the Sci-Fi Channel can't do anything right...their Dune miniseries was a considerable improvement on the original film. IMHO. But condensing the three book saga into two movies is more dehydration than the story can stand. And everybody is too clean and pretty for the kind of world they're supposed to live in besides. Harrumph. Well, the sets are great, the scenery is nice...but the dialog makes you want to run to a bookshelf to see where they went wrong, for they went very, very wrong. If you've read the books, you'll be surprised to find that the central character Ged/Sparrowhawk has had his names reversed. His "truename", the name that holds magical power and his true nature is Ged in the book, and his common name is Sparrowhawk. In the movie, it's the other way round. Does that really matter much? Maybe not. But why?
The standard for LeGuin movie adaptations is the 1980s PBS production of Lathe of Heaven, aired once interrupted by a blackout, and lost for decades. A few years back it became available again on VHS/DVD with a Bill Moyers interview of Ms. LeGuin. Understated, simple special effects, brilliantly performed. Unfortunately there won't be many favorable comparisons made to this piece, which has been too heavily influenced by the Lord of the Rings films.
Time compression is no doubt to blame for much of the change. Instead of going into a waking coma after spending his magical powers saving his village from raiders, he goes over a cliff and drowns, or near enough, only being restored when the wizard Ogion visits his house to find him lying amidst mourners.
It picks up a bit after Ged leaves with Ogion, learning that power isn't something you use just because you have it. That power isn't the end, but the means, and the end is power over oneself. Like Luke Skywalker, who came after him in another universe, Ged is in too much of a hurry to gain his power. Unlike Luke though he unleashes a dark power by accident.
To confuse things a bit, the first two books, Wizard of Earthsea and Tombs of Atuan, are rolled together into one story, shifting back and forth between the two. I'd suspect that going from movie to book would be considerably less jarring than the other way round.
Though Earthsea is only just coming to the screen, it predates other works, and quite possibly has influenced them. The training of Ged at the Wizards school at Roake has a very Hogwarts air to it, and once I got past the dissonance between movie and my wish that the whole thing would move more slowly, I found myself enjoying the whole thing. It's considerably better than having a gebbeth eat you whole, and you can always read the books again.