Sci Fi Channel hopes its ambitious four-hour miniseries Earthsea will deliver the same buzz and ratings as previous entrants like Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken and Battlestar Galactica.
But while Earthsea is every bit as lavish and well-acted as its predecessors, the actual story — a young-man-on-a-quest adventure that’s been tried and done elsewhere — based on the novels by Ursula K. LeGuin, falls just short of its genre forebears.
It begins as the story of a young blacksmith’s son named Ged (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men 2), conjuring his own path as a neophyte wizard against his father’s wishes. Ged’s quiet existence is shattered by an attack from the forces of King Tygath (Sebastian Roché) — whose goal is to release the “Nameless Ones,” a demon group that once ruled the island realm of Earthsea, in order to attain immortality.
Unbenownst to him, Ged also possesses of half of the “Amulet of Peace,” a mystical token that once kept the world in balance.
Wizard Ogion (Danny Glover), who — aware of his destiny — nurses the injured Ged back to health and takes him under his wing. But (like Luke Skywaker’s mentorship by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back), Ged decides he’s not learning enough and leaves Ogion to study on Roke, where he unleashes the Gebbeth, a sinister being that forces him to flee the island.
Since childhood, Ged’s dreams have been haunted by visions of a young girl, Tenar (Kristin Kreuk), a priestess at the Temple of Atuan and the holder of the amulet’s other half. Ged’s mission to stop the Gebbeth, find Tenar and the other half of the amulet and thwart Tygath converge at Atuan.
If that seems like a lot to follow, that’s one of the Hallmark Entertainment-produced teleplay’s flaws — all of Earthsea’s dense plot points don’t come together until well into its second act, after the first act drags a bit.
But viewers willing to stick around will be entertained by a quick-moving final quarter, as well as its overall production values and look.
Director Robert Lieberman also wrests strong performances out of many of the actors, notably Roché, who plays Tygath with a sly menace; Kreuk; and Chris Gauthier as Vetch, Ged’s wizard school companion. Ashmore’s performance is somewhat flat and disappointing, though, as is Isabella Rossellini’s as the high priestess Thar. Glover’s Ogion, heavily featured in promos, is barely more than a cameo role.
Part one of Earthsea bows Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. (ET) on Sci Fi Channel.