Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TV Review - Earthsea

Based on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Erin Karpluk, Danny Glover, Alessandro Juliani, Richard Side, Chris Gauthier, Mark Hildreth, Heather Laura Gray, Alan Scarfe, Katharine Isabelle, Sebastian Roché, Jennifer Calvert, Emily Hampshire, Kristin Kreuk, and Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: December 13th-14th, 2004
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

King Tygath longs to subdue all of Earthsea and achieve immortality through the Nameless Ones. Two people stand in his way, Ged and Tenar. Yet he knows neither by name. Ged is the wizard prophesied to unite Earthsea in peace while Tenar will guard the labyrinthine prison of the Nameless Ones. Despite never meeting, Ged and Tenar know each other, through visions they have had for years. But their inevitable meeting isn't to happen. Yet. First Ged must leave his small village on the isle of Gont. He feels that he will forever be trapped there, the son of a smith, when he longs to do magic. He uses what little magic he knows from an old woman in the village to save his townspeople from the Kargides who arrive searching for the wizard of the prophecy. Ged dies in the attack. But the wandering magus Ogion arrives and revives Ged, taking him on as his pupil and giving him his true name, Sparrowhawk. But Ogion sees that he isn't the teacher for Ged and sends him to Roke, where he will attend the wizarding school there. Yet Ged doesn't understand why there are limits to magic and in a forbidden duel with a fellow student he releases a Nameless One. This act will haunt Ged and also signals to King Tygath that Ged is the wizard of the prophesy.

Ged is hunted by the Gebbeth, who eventually takes on Ged's form. His battle though will bring him to Atuan and Tenar. Tenar is the prized pupil of the High Priestess Thar. Thar is obstinate against King Tygarth and his desire to release the order's prisoners, the Nameless Ones. The King therefore is plotting with Thar's second in command and his lover, Kossil, to poison Thar and therefore make Kossil the one with the knowledge to release the Nameless Ones. Yet things don't go according to plan when Thar names Tenar as her successor. They therefore plot to tarnish Tenar's perfect image and achieve the immortality they seek. But on her deathbed Thar mutters a warning that what King Tygarth seeks is impossible. Little does she know that it is impossible because of the disgraced Tenar who is now captive in the order's dungeon with Ged. The two of them have been destined to meet. Destined to save Earthsea. But will they be in time to bring peace to the land or will King Tygarth rule forever?   

Here's the thing about this miniseries, if you go in expecting it to be in ANY WAY like the books by Ursula K. Le Guin, you are going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you take it at face value, don't over analyze, and yes, that's ironic coming from me, then it's entertaining. It's good for what it is but what it is is not the books you know and love. Driven by the success of the Harry Potter film franchise which in 2004 had adapted the first three books by J.K Rowling and by the success of The Lord of the Rings film franchise, which released it's final film a year prior this series was tailored to be a combination of the two. Therefore the action was predominately split between the wizarding school on Roke and the war on Earthsea led by King Tygarth and his Kargides. While in the books Ged's education is important, it's not such a focal point, as for the raiding Kargides? They're hardly mentioned except in passing. This miniseries was trying so hard to be an amalgam of something that it wasn't that it missed the opportunity to bring Le Guin's groundbreaking books to a great public. So while I did enjoy it I could help thinking what if?

Because what this could have been, what this should have been is an epic fantasy version of Roots. And you can tell looking at the DVD cover, well... Shawn Ashmore, he's, um, he would not be a protagonist in Roots. In fact Danny Glover is about the only thing they got right with regards to the source material, and personally, I felt a little bad for him. Did he sign on knowing the books? Did he think this would have been the epic it should have been? Whitewashing is being talked about more and more in regards to mainstream media. When Le Guin wrote her scathing tirade lambasting this production whitewashing wasn't discussed as readily as it is today. I feel that while the race issue has become more polarized at least audiences are getting more and more savvy, just look to the recent failure of Ghost in the Shell, casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead was an insult and audiences showed their disdain by not going to the film. Then there was the convoluted whitewashing of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. I say convoluted because they went a step in the right direction by casting a woman in a male's role, but then it was a white woman who then started badmouthing her own casting... Any way you look at it, the lack of diversity on the screen is an insult to Le Guin's vision and I'm surprised she didn't find a way to fully distance herself from the production.

What I felt though really took this miniseries away from Le Guin's vision wasn't just the whitewashing, which is unacceptable, but the refocusing on war and violence. It's rare to have a series of books that celebrate humanity and the search for self. It's even rarer to find that series in fantasy where epic battles the equal of Helm's Deep or The Battle of Hogwarts seem to be the order of the day. Reading the books by Le Guin is a refreshing experience. They have become classics because they aren't like what else is out there. To strip the story of all that and replace it with King Tygath, a power-hungry and violent ruler who is almost irrelevant in The Tombs of Atuan, it's just insulting to the viewers. The reason why I don't like the Marvel film franchise or in fact really any superhero films is it's just action scene after action scene with no character development. So Sci-Fi did to Earthsea what they assumed their viewers wanted... made it epic battles and raids. While their might have been one raid in the first book, it wasn't with an express purpose of war and dominance, it was part of Ged's journey. But now, because of "popular tastes" Ged's journey is just one battle after another not to find himself but to save Earthsea from an evil tyrant. Sigh.

But the thing is, what this miniseries wants to be is the equal of The Lords of the Rings or Harry Potter, yet those are movies with IMMENSE budgets... this was a miniseries shot in Vancouver. Therefore your CGI looks a little or in this case A LOT like a bad video game and the special effects look like something Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell cooked up. At first I thought that the miniseries HAD to have been made a lot longer ago then just thirteen years because it's literally that bad, but the more practical effects had a kind of cheesy charm. It is my belief that CGI doesn't age well at all but practical effects, even if they look cheesy, they will hold up better over time. Because while technology might have improved, at least it's a physical thing that's there and not some greenscreened snake. Seriously, stop doing CGI snakes, they NEVER look right. So I kind of went to a weird place and started wondering, what if they had upped the cheese factor on the effects. Gone all in on The Evil Dead vibe. I personally think that could have really worked, made it shine a little, or at least made it amusingly memorable. It never had a chance to be a cinematic masterpiece, so why not go the other way?

Though for me the biggest insult of the miniseries which I kind of had to keep telling myself to ignore and just accept for what it is is how they treated the storyline from The Tombs of Atuan. I mean, it's just... nope. Nope, nope, nope. I seriously loved that book so much and aside from the insult of having Kristin Kreuk be Tenar, they just didn't get it. I mean, watching this miniseries it's pretty obvious they just didn't get anything about the source material, but what bothered me most about the story in Atuan was that it stripped the women of power, giving it all to the King, but more importantly, it made them servants of good. In the book they worship the Nameless Ones. Worship, as in revere and idolize. Here they're trying to keep the Nameless Ones locked away from the world. What!?! I mean, seriously what? That the good Tenar could come out of this bad situation, that she could find herself when she was raised for evil? That's a true journey of discovery. Here she's just a lame handmaiden waiting for the guy to come along and figure everything out and give her the heroic kiss as the world is set to right. NO NO NO! Ged is to be at her mercy and it is her with the upper hand. Just no. I'm really starting to second guess why I liked this miniseries. I guess for one rare instance I was able to separate what it was, what it could have been, and what it became into separate categories and somehow I was OK with that. Still don't quite know how.


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