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cast: Shawn Ashmore, Kristin Kreuk, Isabella Rossellini, Sebastian Roche, and Danny Glover

director: Rob Lieberman

243 minutes (12) 2004
widescreen ratio 16:9
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
The colossal success of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy has, for the most part, not opened the door to endless swathes of copycat productions. Whilst the first film in a planned series of Narnia adaptations arrives at the end of this year, for the most part fantasy still remains something of a backwater on film and TV in particular.

Earthsea is the exception to the rule, based on Ursula Le Guin's series of novels; it follows Ged, a young blacksmith who is desperate for his life to be something more. Living on one of the countless island nations of Earthsea, Ged is forced to be content with life as a blacksmith's son. However, when a Kargide raiding party, part of King Tygath's attempts to unify the islands into one, attacks his home, Ged's destiny arrives faster than he expected.

The cast is uniformly strong, with Shawn Ashmore in particular doing excellent work as Ged. Best known as Bobby Drake in X-Men 2, Ashmore has a natural authority and a slight dark edge that communicates the power Ged barely holds in check perfectly. With much of the story focussing on the battle for Ged's soul, this element of danger is a constant, palpable presence in the mini-series.

Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) fares less well as Tanar but again her natural authority brings a great deal more to the role than many others would. Of the supporting cast, Sebastian Roche steals the show as Tygath, playing him in a surprisingly sympathetic manner. Tygath is a fanatic but a very rational one and Roche never lets us lose sight of that. Danny Glover also impresses as Ogion, the veteran wizard who recognises the difficult path Ged must walk.

Visually the series is impressive too, most notably in the locations. Earthsea feels like a convincing world, it's countless small islands all different and all linked in a coherent manner. The effects are also, for the most part, impressive. Whilst some CGI elements are on the clunky side, others are stunning especially many of the landscapes.

However, there are some major problems that the series fails to deal with - first and foremost are the vast liberties taken with the original books. The story combines the first two Earthsea novels, adds in at least one character and changes the ethnicity of many of the central characters. Secondly, some of the dialogue and effects are horribly clunky, bringing the series down to the level of stereotype it tries so hard to avoid.

Ultimately, Earthsea is an enjoyable piece of fantasy and one particularly suited to DVD. The second disc has interviews with the major actors, a group of behind-the-scenes features and galleries that provide a welcome insight into the production and show how much effort was expended by all those involved. It's unfortunate then that this will irritate so many fans of the original books.

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