Review: Earthsea (The Mini-Series)

How do you take a well-written trilogy of books filled with interesting magic, strong characters, and cool concepts and turn it into four hours of shallow plots, incomplete storylines, and confusing characters? Give your work over to the Sci Fi Channel to develop.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Earthsea had great potential, and I was eagerly anticipating this four hour miniseries coming to the screen, but in the end it was anything but great. Now I must admit that I have not read the Earthsea books, and I am making the assumption here that the books were far superior to what we got within the four hour debacle presented on Skiffy channel. I am confident in this assumption due to the number of rave reviews the book series received over the past several years. Even Ursula K. LeGuin herself has expressed disappointment in the final product Sci-fi put forth, so this review should not come as any great surprise.

Skiffy's vision of Earthsea fell short in three key areas in my opinion. Character development, dialogue, and storyline. (Not that any of these things are important to a good movie adaptation or anything.) I knew I was in trouble when the show started and we met our protagonist, Ged. Teenage angst always throws me off a story. I just hate the youthful arrogant character premise, because I find that it makes it hard for me to like the guy that we are suppose to be cheering for. I sat smirking for the first hour of the show as we watched him reject his father, thumb his nose at his way of life, only to then latch on to the first thing that catches his selfish, ungrateful attention, in the form of Ogion (Danny Glover), a powerful and respected wizard that lives near the village. Of course, being brought back from the dead, would understandably get your attention, even if you're an ungrateful, pissed off youth.

But I'm getting ahead of things, so let's recap, shall we? Earthsea is a world of islands. A tyrannical and power-hungry king is working hard to take over the planet. An ancient amulet that was forged to keep the peace on this planet was shattered and lost a long time ago giving our king freedom to do his dastardly deeds unchallenged. On another island, an ancient order of women have been keeping everything from going to shit for thousands of years, by holding back "The Nameless Ones". These immortal creatures are really, really bad, and only this order of women holds the power to keep them at bay. Now within this ancient order of faithful women, one of its powerful members is sleeping with the king and plotting the overthrow of the world. These two mental giants hope to gain immortality by releasing the "Nameless Ones" (yeah, the ones that have been kept locked away behind the really big doors in the temple labyrinth). On all of Earthsea, magic is a way of life and there are many wizards and magical folk wandering about the place. However, as in most stories, only the gifted are mages. Got it? Neither did I.

Ok, that's the set up, on to the film. The movie opens with a wrestling match between a young boy and a girl. The girl is giving as good as she gets and we first assume that these two will be our target characters. (Surprise! Don't pay attention to her, she'll be gone soon.) We meet Ged, who is a headstrong, young man with amazing natural magic skills. Ged has been trained - to some extent - by an old woman in the village, which has only added fuel to the boy's cheery nature. The old woman gives him a bling-bling, then she aids him in casting a spell that saves the village from attacking forces (the tyrannical king) which gets him killed.

Oh no, they killed our hero! You bastards! Not to worry, Ogion a powerful and respected wizard wanders into the village, brings Ged back to life, and offers to instruct the boy in the ways of magic. Ged - now breathing again - says, "Hell yeah! Get me away from these hicks." Ogion gives Ged his "True" name Sparrowhawk, and Ged is ready to bolt for the door. However, before they go, Ogion makes Ged ask dad for his blessing (which turns out to be more pissed off teenage attitude). On the way out of the village, Ged stops to say wham-bam-thank-you-mam to his girlfriend, and away-they-go off to Ogion's home.

Now this is not any different than any other adventure story, and in most cases the concept works fine, but I cannot express how badly this was done inside the film. The girlfriend, (who by the way is never mentioned or heard from again) is introduced for back-story then cast aside. The father is developed only enough so that we feel bad for him when Gen spits in his eye, and the old woman who supposedly taught Ged all his magic is given two minutes of screen time, then tossed away with the girlfriend. You couldn't have done the first hour of this show any worse.

Moving on from there, I had hopes that things would get better, but instead the movie turned into Harry Potter. Ged is learning magic from Ogion, but not nearly fast enough for our hero. In Ged's arrogance he pulls a forbidden book from Ogion's library of magic and casts a spell that is evidently really bad (the movie doesn't let us in on why it was so bad) and Ogion begins to question whether he is the right guy to teach this little shit anything. Ogion sends him off to Roke, an island of magic where Ged can learn magic in a more formal setting. So begins the Harry Potter part of our story as Ged arrives at Hogwarts -- sorry -- Roke. I'd tell you more, but I bet you have already seen The Sorcerer's Stone. Now during all of this, there is also the story of our fanatic king trying to take over the world one island at a time, and our order of witches/nuns/holy persons who are dealing with their own intrigue as the power-hungry concubine of the king lies, cheats, and kills to learn the secrets of freeing those really nasty things behind the really big doors. Confused? So was I.

If you think that this review is a mess, then you are beginning to get the picture. This movie suffers from one major flaw: too much, in too little. Four hours was not nearly enough time needed to cover this trilogy of books properly. All the problems that I have with what I saw stems from not spending enough time telling us the story, and trying to pack too much story into too small of a space. Even another two hours would have done wonders in fleshing out some of the details needed to make this series the epic film it could have been. There are characters that disappear into the film that really needed to be heard from again. Explanations were desperately needed so that we could understand this world and why it was the way it was. I really needed to know who/what the "Nameless Ones" were and why we should care if they got free - and I needed to know why the doors were so damn big. None of these things are addressed, and it left me rather pissed off. I felt as if I was the butt of a four hour-long joke. The director was laughing at me saying; "let's see how long we can keep this guy watching without giving him any answers."

Surprise! There are no answers!? Ha!

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