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Blu-ray Review Tales from Earthsea Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Tales from Earthsea Blu-ray Review

Legendary Oscar-winning Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki had always wanted to film some of the stories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series of books, but it was a project that never got off the ground. In 2005, Miyazaki’s son Goro decided it was time for him to direct his own animation project at Studio Ghibli, and he chose a couple of books in the Earthsea series to serve as the plot of his film. The 2006 film offers some striking imagery and a decent message on the meaning of life, but the movie doesn’t quite achieve the mystical power of his father’s best efforts, and the film, though successful at the box-office, offers a somewhat garbled story with a less than compelling narrative drive.



Studio: Disney

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, French 5.1 DD, Other

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 1 Hr. 56 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD

keep case in a slipcover

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: ABC

Release Date: 02/03/2015

MSRP: $36.99




The Production Rating: 3.5/5

Magic in the realm of Earthsea is starting to wane due to a dangerous imbalance of light and dark forces, and it’s up to the supreme wizard Ged Sparrowhawk aka Lord Archmage (Bunta Sugawara, Timothy Dalton in English) to right the balance by a facing dangerous wizard Lord Cob (Yûko Tanaka, Willem Dafoe in English) who’s interested in achieving everlasting life. Along the way Sparrowhawk meets the troubled Prince Arren (Junichi Okada, Matt Levin in English) who has killed his dominating father and fled the country and takes him under his wing introducing him to a simpler life with farm widow Tenar (Jun Fubuki, Mariska Hargitay in English) and her unhappy ward Theru (Aoi Teshima, Blaire Restaneo in English). But Cob senses the lad’s weaknesses and lures him to his castle as a way of trapping Sparrowhawk knowing he’ll attempt to come to the boy’s aid and thus catch him on his home turf.

Since the script by director Goro Miyazaki and Keiko Niew is based on the third and fourth books in the series by Ursula K. Le Guin, that’s a great deal of backstory for these characters that only gets a brief brush over in the script not making the viewer’s job any easier in understanding motivations for actions (the boy killing his father, for example, or his fear of his “shadow” self) or character connections prior to what we see in the film itself. Though it’s a tale about magic, there’s not actually a lot of it present in the film; it’s talked about far more than it’s shown, and some of the animation that we’d expect to be dazzling (the early battle between dragons, for instance) seems rather mundane and thrown away. As with some other Studio Ghibli efforts, the running time is a bit long for the story being imparted with time taken away from the narrative for toney mood-establishing songs and far too much brooding by the two youngsters in the story. The tale touches on some serious themes such as the evils of drugs especially when used for decision making, and there are dark sequences concerning child slavery and patricide with a decent amount of blood shown (the PG-13 rating is no accident). The animation features some dazzling use of color (some orange-red sunsets overwhelm the senses), and the climactic face-off between wizards while not technically stunning gives us the dramatic conclusion we’ve been craving, but there’s a definite lack of emphatic tension through much of the film even though it should be fraught with it due to the numerous perils present and the sense of possible disaster looming in every frame.

Both casts do very good work with the original Japanese cast edging out their English-language counterparts. Bunta Sugawara and Timothy Dalton both score top marks in their respective casts with their firm control of their Sparrowhawk character. Mariska Hargitay doesn’t quite seem as comfortable playing Tenar as Jun Fubuki is. Oddly, though Lord Cob is pictured rather androgynously on the screen, actress Yûko Tanaka voices the role in the original version while actor Willem Dafoe does it in English, quite a contrast in styles but rather effective in either interpretation. Playing Cob's head henchman, both Teruyuki Kagawa in Japanese and Cheech Marin in English get to play enjoyably broadly much to our considerable delight.



Video Rating: 4.5/5  3D Rating: NA

The film’s original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully presented in 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is outstanding with solid lines and no break-up or aliasing in the animation. Color can be bold or subtle depending on the situations, and all hues are solidly presented without ever becoming overly hot. There is some banding present in a couple of scenes later in the film, but it’s not overly intrusive. The white English subtitles are large and very easy to read. The movie has been divided in 23 chapters.



Audio Rating: 5/5

Both the Japanese and English-language tracks are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mixes. Both are very accomplished efforts with impressive sound effect pans through the soundstage from back to front, and the very evocative music by Tamiya Terashima gets an extensive spread through the fronts and rears with excellent bass treatment. There is some directionalized dialogue on both tracks (more so in the English-language version) though most of the dialogue has been excellently recorded and has been placed in the center channel.



Special Features Rating: 4/5

Japanese Storyboards (1:55:28, HD): the entire film may be watched in Japanese with storyboards in place of the finished animation.

TV Spots and Trailers (10:01, HD): three TV spots and three theatrical trailers are presented in montage form.

The Birth Story of the Film Soundtrack (1:00:18, SD): composer Tamiya Terashima explains what he wanted his music to accomplish in the film, greatly praised by producer Toshio Suzuki and director Goro Miyazaki. With the director’s father Hayao Miyazaki occasionally glimpsed in the background, the composer introduces us to a series of unusual instruments used in playing his score, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the talented musicians from around the world who play them are also shown.

Behind the Studio: Origins of Earthsea (4:07, SD): a brief promotional featurette about the film and its place in the Studio Ghibli universe.

DVD Copy: disc enclosed in the case.



Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Not a great addition to the Studio Ghibli canon, Tales from Earthsea offers a decent if somewhat less than compelling narrative in a kind of variation of Middle Earth unique to the series of books from which the film was adapted. The Blu-ray does offer excellent picture and sound for those who enjoy this Japanese style of animation.


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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Mark-W

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Thanks for another exceptional review, Matt!


I keep wanting to watch this, but I think I need to rent it first due to yours and so many of my friends' assessment of the muddled story-telling.
 

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