As much as I enjoyed many things about Tales From Earthsea when I first saw it, it’s taken about six years for me to watch it again. I put it off a few times. Even though I remember enjoying the beautiful Ghibli colours, especially in Hort Town, which is wonderful, I didn’t rush back.
I also loved Cob, both the way he was animated (in each stage of his character development) and the fantastic performance by Willem Dafoe. Almost as much as this, I enjoyed Sparrowhawk’s calm manner and the scenes at the farm, but in the end, this was a film that never quite came together for me.
Unfortunately, the film introduces him in a manner which ensures he is a completely unsympathetic character. From that point on (and this is very early in the film) I didn’t care about him as I should have – mostly because any motivation for his actions were not addressed until late in the film, and by then it was almost a moot point. I’d already made up my mind about him.
Which is a shame, because I understand that the direction of the film was fraught with tension, which doubtless contributed in some way to the issues as I see them. And it’s heartbreaking that Goro’s first film directing for Ghibli, wasn’t as strong as his follow up From Up on Poppy Hill (which I loved), and because it was sad to see a son strive and perhaps fail to meet his father’s expectations.
And for those curious about how the author of the Earthsea books, Ursula K. Le Guin, felt upon seeing the film – here is an interesting read. I feel like an author responding to criticism/adaptation of their own work is often risky, but she is both eloquent and respectful.
So, to sum up – an almost tragically flawed film with some wonderful elements.