Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Kristin Kreuk, Isabella Rossellini and Danny Glover
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 02 May 2005

In the magical world of Earthsea, the Amulet of Peace has ensured harmony between humans and dragons for centuries. But when the Amulet is broken and a piece of it disappears, it's up to neophyte wizard Ged to restore balance and stop a king from conquering the islands...

Ged (Shawn Ashmore) is a blacksmiths son who has visions of a beautiful woman (Kirstin Kreuk) and a desire to see the world and become a wizard. All this changes when his village is attacked and he is supposedly killed, only to be revived by Danny Glover (I kid you not, he's actually quite good). So starts his quest to become a wizard and to save his planet of Earthsea.

Earthsea is not a bad piece of television and, if it had come out before the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, would have been looked on more favourably. Unfortunately for Earthsea, it didn't and it won't. The fact that the DVD sleeve refers to it to these film as a comparison indicates that they know their target audience and just which films to try to gain some kudos from. That aside the story itself is quite engrossing, once it gets going. It's not a bad little romp and for anyone who has watched either the new Doctor Who, Galactica, or the Dune mini series you will know that whilst the CGI won't blow you off you seat at least it won't make you turn off the program in disgust.

This is a two disc set, with the first disc containing all four hours of the program. No real choices in the menu, you either get to play part one or two and that's it. Shame really as a cast and crew contribution may have been enlightening. Sound is stereo, but very clear with a nice balance between the vocals and the background music. The picture is also crystal clear, if a little soft, though this may be intentional on the part of the film makers to give a more ethereal look to the picture.

The second disc contains the extras. They consist of production features and cast interviews most of which are sadly the self congratulatory type of old tat that we've come to expect as disc filler. Nothing wrong with that, except it always seems to come over as a lost opportunity, especially when you have the likes of Isabella Rossellini on the screen. Two of the most fascinating pieces to watch are hidden in the production features. Earthsea and CGI is a small feature detailing some of the work done by Anthem FX in Vancouver showing how they created some of the two hundred plus special effects for the program. Rather than try and give an overall impression of the work, they take a few key scenes and show how they were built up, from the raw shots of the actors against green screen to the completed on-screen visuals. Production Design looks at the overall look that the producers were trying to attain. The feature takes you through from conceptual art work to the finished film.

The problem of the fantasy genre is that it appears to have become stuck in its own visual rut. The environment, in which the stories are set, always seems to be some non-existent almost mythic medieval time. The director admits that the piece is set in a kind of twelfth century Europe. Unfortunately this gives Earthsea a uniform well worn look, only leading to endless comparisons with other fantasy pieces. Fantasy, it would seem, only stretches as far as raiding history books. The one exception to this is the Master Namers Tower, which is truly a brilliant bit of visual design. I guess that this is truly the problem with Earthsea, there is little in it that you won't have seen before and usually done better. The school for wizards that Ged attends can only be compared to Harry Potter's Hogwarts, and given the budget this was never going to be as good. As an aside why is it that wizards seem to start out as virile young men and turn into Santa's brother, complete with white beard? Answers on a postcard, to the usual address, please.

The basic story itself is nothing earth shattering either. Young man who has no idea that he has a destiny goes out into the world under the tutelage of some kind old sage, gets a side kick, gets the girl and saves the planet (my god it's Star Wars). Well to be fair to both pieces Joseph Campbell in 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' identified this structure as being almost universal in human story telling, with variations appearing all over the world. Hence, good old George nicked it as the basis of Star Wars as on some level we would all have some recognition. Problem is Star Wars was so successful that any other story using the same structure will seem a little overly familiar these days.

So overall, not a bad piece of television, it's just not going to show you anything you haven't seen before. Maybe it was a problem with the adaptation, its interesting to note that Ursula Leguin, the original writer, is noticeable by her absence.

Charles Packer

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