Based on the classic "Earthsea" fantasy book series by Ursula K. Le Guin, TALES FROM EARTHSEA is set in a mythical world filled with magic and bewitchment. In the land of Earthsea, crops are dwindling, dragons have reappeared and humanity is giving way to chaos. Journey with Lord Archmage Sparrowhawk, a master wizard, and Arren, a troubled young prince, on a tale of redemption and self-discovery as they search for the force behind the mysterious imbalance that threatens to destroy their world.
Not all of Studio Ghibli's animated films are for all audiences – and by that I mean that they're not made for all age demographics. Like 2011's 'From Up On Poppy Hill' and 2013's 'The Wind Rises,' 'Tales From Earthsea' – despite being animated – isn't one that you'll want to watch with the kids around. At least, not young kids. For a child, it's most likely too serious and too slow, full of too much dialog. Not to mention, it's got some serious violence, including bloody murder and dismemberment. For those with attention spans long enough to enjoy a slow and complex fantasy story and the maturity for such violence, 'Tales From Earthsea' is a great drama that could easily function as a live-action film, but just-so-happens to be animated.
Based on a series of books, Goro Miyazaki's film compresses them all into a single nearly two-hour film that opens on a vessel in the high seas as a storm rages around them. As the clouds break, the crew hear a different type of chaos from above – dragons. Having not been seen in the world of man for a very long time, their appearance is startling, but even more startling is what they're doing. The two dragons fight, crashing into and biting one another, until one gets a deadly grasp on the other. In that moment, the bitten falls lifeless to the sea, while the other flies off into the horizon.
In a normal fantasy world, this event may not seem so strange, but in the land of Earthsea, it's shocking and upsetting. Dragons have not been seen in the realm of humans for a long time, let alone fighting one another. There has been a balance across the land, a harmony between nature and humans, but the dragon fight shows how extremely off things are becoming. As we meet our central character, we learn how how extreme the imbalance has grown.
Nature and mankind are intrinsically connected, so the disruption is causing men to behave strangely. Shortly after meeting our central character Arren, a teenage boy of wealth and privilege, we see a rage boil within him as he inexplicably murders his father. (Yes, we watch a kid murder his father in the movie's opening. This is the second visual sign that 'Tales From Earthsea' is not a movie made for young audiences.) Overcome by the anger-inducing darkness that's rolling across Earthsea, Arren commits the act and flees the scene in embarrassment, shame and fear – but not without taking his father's holy sword, a blade so powerful that Arren's unsure if he'll ever be able/worthy to unsheathe it.
Fleeing through the wilderness, Arren is attacked and nearly killed by a pack of blood-thirty wild wolves. His savior is a kind, giving and gentle wizard by the name of Sparrowhawk (voiced by Timothy Dalton in the English-dub version). Seeing the conflicting battle raging within Arren, as well as his grand potential, Sparrowhawk takes Arren under his proverbial wing, teaching him about the imbalance and the supreme power that lies within nature's harmony. With the knowledge, strength and understanding that he's taught, Arren just might be able to stop the darkness from spreading, save those he loves and redeem himself of the wrongs from his past.
'Tales From Earthsea' features a legit story. There are few animated films that would work just as well if done through live-action, but this is one of them. Having said that, I have no desire of seeing a live-action version of 'Earthsea.' Goro Miyazaki's animated version is stunning and beautiful. The imagery is perfect, something that live-action and computer animated effects literally couldn't do any better.
If you enjoy a solid character-driven fantasy flick, then don't pass up 'Tales From Earthsea.' As you'll read in the technical portions of this review below, the Blu-ray offers an absolutely flawless way to experience this great film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Disney has given 'Tales From Earthsea' a combo pack release that includes both a Region A/B/C BD-50 and a DVD copy. A Disney Movie Rewards code is also included in this two-disc Elite keepcase, but it sadly does not give access to a Disney Movies Anywhere digital version of the film. A cardboard slipcover comes with it. A "New on Blu-ray" sticker is slapped on the front and can easily be removed without leaving residue. Upon inserting the disc into your player, following a Disney vanity reel is a skippable anti-smoking ad. Presumably due to the PG-13 nature of the film, no promos are included for other family-friendly Disney releases.
'Tales From Earthsea' comes at us with an absolutely brilliant 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. This is easily one of the best examples of how amazing traditional animation can look in HD. Considering how rare traditional animation is these days, you have to relish in the successes when you find them.
The video quality wouldn't be as praiseworthy as it is without its visually appealing animation, and vice versa. The animation and the video quality function hand-in-hand to lift up one another. The motion of the animation is a lot smoother and slicker than most. One long shot tracks alongside a villain riding his horse through a field. The motion flows just as well as live-action. More often than not, it's a completely smooth ride.
Imagery is absolutely clear, 100 percent void of specks, grime or any aging flaws. Aliasing and banding are absent. Lines are well-definited and never jagged. Colors range from across the entire spectrum. Arren's friend Therru sings a song by the seaside at sunset. During this full musical number (no, there's not any dancing), we're shown gorgeous views from around the shores of Earthsea. These shots could serve as the perfect demo reel footage for highlighting the flawless perfection of this disc.
'Tales From Earthsea' carries a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's just as impressive as the video quality. It kicks off strong during the oceanic storm and never backs down. As the boat crashes around through the storm, you'll hear the wind whirling about. As waves crash into the hull, the rumbly bass and touches of LFE blast out of the subwoofer. There are loads of sound effects dynamically layered over one another throughout. No matter if the setting is wild and tumultuous, like the opening sequence, or calm and steady, there are always great amounts of effects to hear.
The vocal mix of the English dub is extremely clear. Dialog is absolutely bright and dynamically mixed. If you listen to the Japanese audio mix, then you get the lossless upgrade up to a 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track.
Tamiya Terashima created a lovely score for the film that is done perfect justice within the audio track. It's one of the best non-Giacchino scores that I've heard accompany an animated film.
Each of the following special features has been brought over from the original DVD release.
After just one viewing, 'Tales From Earthsea' quickly became one of my very favorite Studio Ghibli films. This title is definitely not one to watch with the kids, but for those mature enough to watch a dark and violent PG-13 film, it's a creative and beautiful worthwhile experience that's entirely entertaining. The video and audio qualities are outstanding, both absolutely perfect and void of any flaws. The special features are also hearty, including an hour-long documentary dedicated to the film's wonderful score. Being more beefed-up than the other recent Ghibli releases, 'Tales From Earthsea' is a Blu-ray well worth owning – especially if you're a collector of all things Ghibli.