TALES OF EARTH, SEE? @ 16 March 2011 08:58 PM
For those of us who cherish the films of Studio Ghibli and especially the master animator Hayao Miyazaki, it's always something of an event when a new film comes out. Tales from Earthsea is such an event, though it's actually the first film directed by his son, Goro, but according to the brief special feature doc, the Ursula LeGuin fantasy book and short story series was long envisioned by the senior Miyazaki as an animation project -- with Ms. LeGuin very much in favor of the full Ghibli treatment for her creation.

And that it does. Tales from Earthsea is a grand epic fantasy with astonishing design and scope. Though cel animated, CG is also used to enhanced the movement over ground surfaces, for depth and other imagery that would be more cumbersome (if possible) to be done by hand. It must be made clear that the CG serves the 2D animation rather than overwhelm it, much as it did in Beauty and the Beast and The Great Mouse Detective, only on a much bigger scale.

I'm no expert on the Earthsea stories, but from what I can estimate from various synopses, this film takes several characters and situations and crafts its own cohesive storyline, avoiding the intense intermingling of characters and arcs that weave throughout the LeGuin works. Overall, the film stands on its own, though we are left with a few loose ends here and there.

Few movies have the layered intelligence of Tales from Earthsea, with its musings on life, death and human existence within a very engrossing story about a youth who starts out on the run because of a murder he can't explain. He's mentored by an elder wizard and do some farming as well engage in as swashbuckling action...well you have to see it.

Perhaps in part because this Earthsea is Goro's first feature as director, it's been released at the same time as a new Blu-Ray version of Miyazaki's first feature directed for Studio Ghibli, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (I would  assume an Earthsea Blu-ray is forthcoming).

Completely by coincidence, Nausicaa takes on a staggeringly prophetic tone in the shadow of recent natural and man-made disasters in Japan, making it all the more hard-hitting as allegory.

Virtually all of Miyazaki's film convey this theme with varied intensity. In Nausicaa, pollution and industrial waste is the major element as this fantasy world is plagued by a deadly poisoned jungle and the relation between people and animals, in this case bug-like creatures that young Princess Nausicaa understands and champions.

The film is lentgthy for an animated feature, yet does not flag or sag. It's an overall dark story without much humor, but the subject matter holds little room for flippancy. The voice cast, showcased on one of the bonus features, matches that of a major Hollywood live action movie, the case including Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman and Edward James Olmos.

For DVD owners, you will find that a few of the bonus features have been moved to the new disc. But again, Blu-ray especially accentuates that remarkable, meticulous detail of the world of Nausicaa and the imagination of Miyazaki.

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