Friday, December 17, 2004

Earthsea: McMagic with a Side of Swordplay

So I watched Legend of Earthsea on the Sci-Fi channel this week. Slashdot has a discussion of it here. Ursula Le Guin, the author of the Earthsea books, is not especially happy with the way the movie turned out.

Long story short Ms. Le Guin is very upset with the racial protrayals in the movie. In the books, the protagonists and most other main characters are black or "red" skinned. (Its set in another world so calling them Native Americans or African Americans is pointless because there is no America or Africa.) In the miniseries, most characters are white with the traditional token "Asian" or Black person thrown in. Honestly its been so long since I read Wizard of Earthsea that this difference didn't occur to me. Even after she pointed it out it still doesn't bother me.

Appearance is one of those things you expect to get screwed up when movies are made. Some things look good in the author's head but they don't look good on screen or they want to use visual cues for concepts. So in the book Ged is a red-brown man chased by a dark spirit. In the miniseries he is a white guy (wearing light colored clothes) chased by a dark spirit. The white/dark contrast is visually useful. Also Le Guin is a liberal feminist so her villians are the white Kargs and her heros are the black/red peoples of the Archipeligo. That kind of racial politicking is tiresome for me. Just make everyone mixed, ok?

The first book is a story covering years as the characters age, but a movie doesn't have that expanse of time to play with so they make it more straight forward. I'm fine with that. I'm also fine with them dropping the depth of the True Tongue out of the script, because they just don't have the time to cover it.

The more upsetting part is that they completely screwed with sexuality in the production. In the book the wizards are all male, the priestesses are all female. Both are celibate orders. When the two meet and form an alliance it is after overcoming a lot of ingrained distrust. In the movie the priestesses are women, but evidentally not celibate, and the wizards are both men and women. It ruins the symbolic dichotomy of the books.

And of course they took the plots of the first two books in the trilogy and ran them through a blender. If I was an author, this is what would really bother me. I haven't read the second book Tombs of Atuan, so I can't tell exactly what they made up and what they just changed and reordered. Le Guin did not like the sappy happy ending though and I agree. They went for a more cliche boy meets girl story and everyone is happy in the end. Her books ended with a lot of dynamic tension and thats a good thing, if for no other reason than it tends to leave room for sequels.

UPDATE: Eric Raymond also thinks the racial thing is overblown.

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