Tuesday, December 21, 2004

This Whole EarthSea Debacle

I'm going to let you know right now that I rarely read books. Not because I don't like to read, it's just that I'm the type of person who has to do at least two things at once. I'll read in a doctor's office or the hair salon but that's about it. I do enjoy audio books. I can exercise, clean up, drive, cook, organize something, etc. while listening to an audio book.

When I saw the first commercial for EarthSea, someone told me that it was going to be based on a book. I'd also heard that the TV movie was going to be true to the book. My thoughts: YAY! another long- winded fantasy book that I don't have to read. Time is valuable. These days we have to cram a weeks worth of duties into two days. If you see a crappy movie, that's only a couple of hours out of your life. Going to the movies or watching TV is a bit more social. Reading a book is an alone thing. A book longer than 400 pages is an investment in time for me because of that, I have an intense fear of reading a crappy book. Jeez, I sound like those maniacs who justified burning books in Fahrenheit 451.
Voice in my head: You read Star Trek novels all the time, you should be used to crappy novels by now.
Shut up!

Prior to the SCIFI Channel's promotion of The Legend of EarthSea, I'd never heard of it. I knew going in that it was A SciFi Original which usually means B or C Movie quality. This one seemed different. The SCIFI paid for ads in movie theatres and magazines. The commercials looked high quality. They were really pumping a lot of cash into this one. There was a chance that it would not suck.

D-Day came, I watched and I was entertained. It looked like a rip off of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Mummy. The story was safe and formulaic. The visuals were AWESOME. It looked really pretty and the costumes were nice. The actors were great. I wasn't that annoyed with the bad guys either. In comparison to all of the other SCIFI Originals, this one was the best. In fact, Earthsea Scores Big Ratings. With that in mind, I'd have to say that EarthSea did a bit of rocking.
Note: In comparison to LOTR and Potter, EarthSea was mediocre.

A few days later, I was forwarded an email about the author of EarthSea complaining about the movie being whitewashed. This is the article I read by Ursula K Le Guin.
-A Whitewashed Earthsea- How the SCIFI Channel wrecked my books
-Le Guin Blasts SCIFI's 'Earthsea'
Personally, I find it kinda hinky that Ms. Le Guin said nothing about this in her SCIFI.com interview on December 9th. Ged had been cast at least by April 5th, 2004 because the cast bios were on the SCIFI.com website by then. It would have been one thing for Ms. Le Guin to have spoken out in April but speaking out now is just too strategic for my taste. It makes her look like a sensational opportunist. She could claim that she didn't know anything about the cast until the TV movie aired but it would make her look dumb. That would totally kill any interest I had in reading her books.

Hell, after reading that article, I really expected her to not be "white". Open my mouth and force feed me crow, she's just a sweet, little ol' "white" lady from Berkeley, California. It doesn't mean that she doesn't have the right to be pissed off but I think that her outburst against the SCIFI Channel weakens her case. In her MSN/Slate article, she made a point to say that race was an important part of her books. I get that. I think it's quite progressive of her to not have typical, demographically correct characters in her stories. The execs at the SCIFI Channel probably read articles like Xzibit Says Aliens Don't Mess With The Hood and figured no one else would watch.

The SCIFI Channel most likely did their casting based on demographics. The main guy looked like a hobbit from LOTR for a reason. They wanted to make the people who loved LOTR watch EarthSea. SCIFI is notorious for making A movie look- a- like TV movies. This time, they wanted to make an epic movie based on a book. LOTR and Potter had them feeling a little left out. They wanted hobbits, wizards, spells, a object like a ring... amulet, a journey, etc. This is where EarthSea comes in. It's close to LOTR and Potter without being them. It had enough elements to remind the viewers of the recent blockbusters. I even I went to Ms. Le Guins website and she had this map on the opening page that reminded me of Middle Earth. Is EarthSea Lord of the Rings with non-white people? I guess I'd have to read the book for that.

It IS bullshit that SCIFI changed everyone's races and I'm pretty sure they know that. Ms. Le Guin should be flattered that she could write a story that was so universal that a person of any race could be cast. That means that the stereotyping fault isn't hers but SCIFI's. THIS is the saving grace of the entire situation. THIS makes me think that someday, I'll want to check the books out. If race was that important to her, she should have made that clear in a clause or something. It is also true that SCIFI should absolutely re-evaluate their target market. I watch, I'm female and I'm green.

Film or TV adaptations of books don't ruin books, books sucking ruin books. If the EarthSea books don't suck, maybe Ursula should have said, "If you like the TV movie, read my books!". The bad press made me find out more about her but I'm no closer to reading, let alone buying her books.


Anonymous said...

Earthsea is definitely NOT a culturally diverse Middle-Earth. Besides being great books, they have very little in common. I know you don't read much, but the Earthsea books aren't very long and I heartily recommend you read them when you can squeeze them in (at least the 3 original ones).

As for LeGuin, seems she kept her opinions to herself so as not to hurt the project until one of the brains behind the production put words into her mouth, then she felt she had to respond. Whatever else, I try to never let an author's real-life personality dictate whether I read their books, it's the books themselves that count and the Earthsea trilogy is a keeper.

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Dan. I don't have a Blogger account and don't want one, hence the "anonymous" post:

I realize that you're probably coming at this from a very different angle than I am: I like to read, you say you don't; you don't understand why Le Guin was upset with the casting, I'm not so quick to dismiss it. (The previous comment answers why Le Guin didn't say something earlier -- she didn't strike back at the mangling of her work until the producers started putting truly idiotic words into her mouth.) Still, I think there's information that you're missing that you might like to have.

To start with, the first three Earthsea books (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore) are all quite short. Without looking, I'd guess that the three of them clock in at less than 500 pages total. So they're very little risk for what many of us think to be a very nice reward.

Secondly, the core reason why people who've read the books (or the woman who wrote them!) are so upset is that while the miniseries comes off as a blatant rip-off of LOTR-meets-Harry Potter, the books most decidedly are not -- the miniseries is some other story using some of the same character-names and some roughly similar events in entirely different contexts. Much of the craptitude in "Legends" comes from it making things up, changing things around, and not showing basic reading comprehension of the source material.

Evil king with plans to take over the world, chewing his way through half the scenery in the process? Made up for the miniseries. The conflicts in Wizard and Atuan are personal ones -- the struggle to take responsibility for your actions when they harm others -- something not particularly present in Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings movies, but lacking entirely in "Legend".

It could have been done with style, but it wasn't, which makes a lot of us fans very sad. It could have introduced people to a great series of books -- instead, it's leading to write-offs like yours here, which makes us sadder.

If you're curious at all about why someone might be dissatisfied about this one, well, I've (surprise, surprise) written my own journal entry on the SciFi Channel Earthsea massacre.