Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Studio Ghibli's Earthsea: Flawed But Still Beautiful

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Studio Ghibli's Tales from Earthsea.

As I noted in my earlier review of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Studio Ghibli films certainly produce varied reviews beyond just John Lasseter's glowing endorsements.  Tales from Earthsea, with its unusual Miyazaki pedigree, has received decidedly very mixed reviews to date, with many of the more critical dissertations being very harsh indeed.  As a result, I approached the film with quite low expectations and was, as I'd mentioned, pleasantly surprised.

It is indeed a beautiful film, though I would not go so far as to say it outshines all contemporary American animation, as one of my fellow Disney bloggers proclaimed (Sorry, George).  Japanese anime is so fundamentally a style all its own that any such comparisons tend to have little merit.  But in context to other anime, I found the film exceptionally well realized on a visual level.  The landscapes of Earthsea were vibrant, colorful, and occasionally even breathtaking.  Unfortunately, the film's character animation holds generally true to anime standards of static-exaggerated facial expressions that I have personally always had trouble with.  It is a design style that I've come to accept, but one I've never been able to understand or completely embrace.

Although lacking familiarity with Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books, I found the film to be accessible in terms of plot and story though not altogether compelling in execution.  The culture gap present in much Japanese animation does not present an obstacle in Tales from Earthsea, likely due to American pedigree of its source material.  But the adaptation is not without some degree of critical controversy.  LeGuin herself expressed disappointment with director Goro Miyazaki's liberal interpretations and reworkings of her stories.  Goro's father, celebrated director Hayao Miyazaki, distanced himself from the project, even though it was his initial interest in the material that prompted LeGuin to extend the movie rights to Studio Ghilbli.

The new DVD of Tales from Earthsea was curiously only released in standard format, despite Walt Disney Home Entertainment large scale efforts in supporting high defintion Blu-Ray.  That aside, picture and sound are top quality and optimize brilliantly on my PS3 Blu-Ray platform.  Extras include a making of feature entitled Behind the Studio. and Enter the Lands, an interactive feature that showcases Studio Ghibli productions.