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A Sea of Troubles

What happened with LEGEND OF EARTHSEA?

By David Michael Wharton     December 20, 2004


Shawn Ashmore and Kristin Kreuk star in LEGEND OF EARTHSEA.
© Sci-Fi Channel

This is one dead week, folks. Seriously, unless you've been eagerly awaiting the return of FATHER OF THE PRIDE, your best bet is riffling through the barrage of Christmas-related programming to find the few gems (which I, your humble servant, have taken the time to do for you. We live to serve.).


So, for lack of anything interesting this week, I'm going to instead complain about EARTHSEA.


EARTHSEA author Ursula K. Le Guin has certainly made no secret of her distaste for the Sci-Fi Channel's spin on her novels, going on record with Slate and various other outlets. To hear her tell it, Sci-Fi basically sweet-talked the rights out of her and then took copies of the first few books, ran them through a wood chipper, and hired a team of manic-depressive chimps to stitch the confetti into something resembling a screenplay.


Aside from odd choices such as the "whitewashing" of the Earthsea universe (Le Guin's novels featured a diverse racial makeup, whereas the miniseries is populated largely by, as she puts it, "petulant white kids."), Le Guin's complaints ultimately amount to a base disregard for the world and characters she spent so much time crafting. She clearly made the mistake of assuming that just because some monolithic Hollywood entity wanted the rights to her novels, they actually wanted to make a screen version that bore at least a cursory resemblance to the source material.


I have never

Shawn Ashmore and Kristin Kreuk star in LEGEND OF EARTHSEA.

read the EARTHSEA books. I have neither preconceived notions nor high expectations. And all I can tell you is, adaptation issues aside, Sci-Fi's EARTHSEA is a wholly unremarkable fantasy quest flick. It never descends to the abysmal depths of, say, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS -- no villains sporting blue lipstick, at least -- but it certainly doesn't distinguish itself, either. It's like some half-breed mutant offspring of HARRY POTTER and an unaired relic from PTEN's "Action Pack" (how's that for an obscure TV reference). Shawn Ashmore does a capable job as Ged, but Kristin Kreuk's acting range includes only three or four settings on a good day, and she basically only uses "earnest" and "concerned" here. Nor does it help that she and Ashmore have been saddled with a pair of two-dimensional duds for characters. After sitting through two nights of this, the sum total of my insight into Ged is as follows: he really wants to be a wizard, he's a bit stupid, and...uh...did I mention he really wants to be a wizard?


The storyline is basically Generic Fantasy Construct #37: Find and Reunite the Mystical Thingamajig, Thus Restoring Peace and Tranquility to All...but then LORD OF THE RINGS' plot isn't much different when you boil it down. But whereas LOTR used that concept as a launching point for high adventure and rich characterization, EARTHSEA gives us a cookie cutter fantasy plot and not much else. I haven't the foggiest what unfolds in Le Guin's novels, but given their popularity over the years, I'm guessing they feature stories more compelling than the miniseries, which comes off like something sketched out by a thirteen-year-old dungeon master during study hall. Nor can a television budget explain the lack of compelling characters or story; Sci-Fi's DUNE minis did just fine, and managed to be considerably more faithful than David Lynch's mega-budget 80s feature film.


Since Peter Jackson and company have effectively removed "the book is unadaptable" from the grab-bag of filmmaker excuses, with source material by a titan of the genre like Le Guin and four hours to work with, EARTHSEA should have been a fantasy event for the ages. Instead, like Sci-Fi's earlier attempt at adapting Phillip Jose Farmer's RIVERWORLD, EARTHSEA will likely inspire rage in fans and apathy in everyone else.



Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks...


 


MONDAY, DECEMBER 20


TV GUIDE GREATEST MOMENTS 2004 (7 PM CST, ABC) Ah, Fall. When every media outlet's fancy turns to listmakery. Nevertheless, if you were born without the capacity to form your own opinions on pop culture matters, TV Guide rides to your rescue.


COLLATERAL DAMAGE (7 PM CST, USA)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in COLLATERAL DAMAGE

California Governor Theatre, Part One: The head of California's executive branch fights Colombian terrorists. Not to be confused with COLLATERAL, which starred Tom Cruise and Jamie Fox and was a good movie.


TWINS (7 PM CST, FX) California Governor Theatre, Part Two: Hopefully Schwarzenegger will retire from public office before he's too old to do TWINS 2.


THE UNINVITED (10 PM CST, Sci-Fi Channel) Sharon Lawrence is either the occupant of a haunted house or a delusional nutcase. I told you it's slim pickings this week.


 


TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21


REBEL BILLIONAIRE: BRANSON'S QUEST FOR THE BEST (7 PM CST, Fox) The contestants hit Tokyo. Unfortunately, they arrive at the same time as Godzilla. Too bad they missed sweeps.


BABES IN TOYLAND (7 PM CST, WGN) Drew Barrymore is the babe in question in this 1986 version. But she was only eleven at the time, so simmer down, you pervert.


DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR? (7 PM CST, FX) Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott in the roles they were born to play. Namely, a pair of idiots.


REEL COMEDY (7 PM CST, Comedy Central) A look behind the scenes of THE LIFE AQUATIC.


HOUSE (8 PM CST, Fox) "The Socratic Method." A 38-year-old woman suffering from a pulmonary embolism intrigues House enough that he actually wants to meet her.


FATHER OF THE PRIDE (8 PM CST, NBC) "Rehabilitation." After a lengthy disappearance, NBC's CGI sitcom returns, with Larry injured during a rehearsal with Siegfried and Roy. Still no tiger mauling jokes yet, though.


MAKING OF 'FAT ALBERT' (8 PM CST, Nickelodeon) I'm sure there was some form of demonic pact involved.


TEXAS TEENAGE VIRGINS (8 PM CST, Trio) Since it's not on the Spice Channel, it's not what you think. Instead, this is a documentary looking at sex education and abstinence pledges.


CLUB DREAD (9 PM CST, Cinemax) Haven't gotten around to seeing this horror/slasher satire, but it's by the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, and if it's half as funny as their SUPER TROOPERS, then it's pretty damn funny.


 


WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22


THE BLUES BROTHERS (6:30 PM CST, AMC) They're on a mission from God. So it's your sacred duty to watch.


CHRISTMAS WITH THE MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR (Check local listings, PBS) Get your carols on.


JACK FROST (7 PM CST, TNT) The Michael Keaton family comedy one, not the killer snowman one.


INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (7:15 PM CST, Cinemax) A lesser entry in the Coens' resume, but you can't beat that moment with the hitman and the asthma inhaler.


 


THURSDAY, DECEMBER 23


CHILD'S PLAY (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi Channel) Followed by Sci-Fi Original PUPPET MASTER VS. DEMONIC TOYS. So if you're tired of your kids pestering you for more Christmas toys, show them this double feature and tell them their toys will kill them if they don't shut up.


WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY: THE SANTA CLAUSE (7 PM CST, ABC) There's a little-known clause in my own contract that says I can't watch Tim Allen Christmas comedies.


NOBEL PEACE PRIZE CONCERT (7 PM CST, E!) How many times will co-host Tom Cruise name-check Scientology? Place your bets, people.


PRANCER (7 PM CST, ABC Family) Still waiting to this day for PRANCER 2: HUNTING SEASON.


BULLETPROOF MONK (7 PM CST, Showtime) Seann William

Seann William Scott and Chow Yun-Fat buddy it up in BULLETPROOF MONK

Scott: Action Star. See, just reading that makes your brain lock up, doesn't it? Then again, that guy from TWO GUYS, A GIRL, AND A PIZZA PLACE is apparently an action star now, so what the hell.


 


FRIDAY, DECEMBER 24


THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (7 PM CST, Fox) I wonder if Mr. Peabody and Sherman would let me borrow the Wayback Machine and prevent this from ever being made?


A CHRISTMAS STORY (7 PM CST, TBS) Just one of twelve showings of the Christmas classic during TBS's all-day marathon (and nary a Tim Allen in sight).


'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (7 PM CST, Disney) MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE's Bryan Cranston takes over for Jolly Old Saint Nick when Santa is knocked unconscious on December 24.


I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (8 PM CST, ABC) Jonathan Taylor Thomas is a college student who has to race home cross-country in order to win a Porsche from his dad. Geez, what is it with HOME IMPROVEMENT alumni and Christmas movies?


MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (7 PM CST, AMC) I say watch A CHRISTMAS STORY, Tivo this, and ignore the rest. Assuming you're watching TV instead of spending Christmas Eve with your loved ones, you humbug, you.


JINGLE ALL THE WAY (9 PM CST, FX) California Governor Theatre, Part Three: The presence of Sinbad is doing little to counter my above suggestion.


 


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 25


IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (7 PM CST, NBC) It's a tradition, so round up the kids and start ringing' some bells.


WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (7 PM CST, ABC) Not one of my favorite things, but it's here if you want it.


CHRISTMAS AT WATER'S EDGE (7 PM CST, WB) I stopped reading the description for this as soon as my eyes landed on the phrase "angel in training in the guise of a hip cab driver." Thanks, WB.


MY DOG SKIP (7 PM CST, CBS) Heard nothing but good things about this 2000 flick about a boy and his dog, so I should probably give it a look one of these days. If nothing else, it will up my "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" quotient.


SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE (7 PM CST, UPN) I'm always leery of any movie that has to use the actual title to remind you that it's a movie. I figure if the moviemakers did their jobs right, I should be able to figure out on my own that it's a movie by the end of the opening credits, max.


THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi Channel) This to the Sci-Fi Channel is Christmas programming?


MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (7 PM CST, TCM) The good one, not the Adam Sandler one.


 


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 26


EPOCH: EVOLUTION (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) On

Ursula K. Le Guin's THE WIZARD OF EARTHSEA

the one hand, it's a Sci-Fi Original starring David Keith. On the other hand, Billy Dee Williams is in it. I'll let you decide which of those points is positive and which is negative.


THE SINGING DETECTIVE (8 PM CST, Sundance) This feature version doesn't hold a candle to the genius of the 1986 Dennis Potter miniseries. Skip it and track down the DVDs of the mini.


That's all I got. Seriously, tonight is deader than Jerry Falwell's compassion for his fellow man.


This concludes this week's broadcast.



TV Wasteland is our weekly Television column. No fantasy characters were harmed (much) during the making of this article.


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