This 2006 Ghibli Studios adaptation of the Ursula K. Le Guin novels is the handiwork of first-timer Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao—and the lack of the master’s poetic control shows. Miyazaki movies (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away) are always bewitched by dream logic, but this cookie-cutter fantasy saga—a good wizard and bad wizard battle over the karmic “balance” of the titular kingdom, with a troubled prince caught in the middle—is slack and often incomprehensible, full of vague magical rules and eruptions of nonsense without explanation. There are dragons, but to no significant purpose, nightmares about tar, out-of-nowhere body/spirit schisms occurring only for plot convenience, and so on. Goro Miyazaki certainly lacks his father’s charm and humor, though he obviously worked the studio’s army of background painters to the bone creating yet another gorgeous medieval Euro-city. And despite the Willem Dafoe–whispered, androgynously evil mage and the incongruous presence of Cheech Marin dubbing the villain’s head lackey, Earthsea seems to be a stupendously dull place. It would try the patience of any kid.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 11, 2010