We went to UGC West India Quay (now called Cineworld) today to watch Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro). Before I start the review let me take the moment to curse the little girl who created havoc by not watching the film and instead ran around the theatre laughing and throwing things around.
Another grip is the late release. According to Diana Wynne Jones, the author of the novel, it seems Disney was partly responsible in the unreasonable late release on Britain's shore. Typical Disney, no wonder of late they have been going down hill.
Okay. The film is loosely based on the book of the same name. When I said loosely I mean it. This is also Hayao Miyazaki's first film based in a European setting.
A young and attractive Sophie Hatter, cursed by the Witch of the Waste, turns into a 90 year old pensioner. Unable to explain to herself she escapes her town and finally becomes a resident 'cleaner' of a mechanical moving castle of the wizard Howl. There she befriends a fire demon called Calcifer who promises to break her curse if she helps it escape Howl. However other troubles are brewing as the mysterious Madam Sulimen keen on stripping Howl of his power and use him as a pawn for war.
A couple of grips first. The film at 2 hours was a little too long and dragged near the end when it deviated from the book. There is no clear cut closure but this is pretty much the same as as most of Miyazaki's films. The film was not shown in widescreen format (but this may be the theatre's fault - which isn't surprising as UGC has a knack of screwing things up).
The performances of the voice actors were pretty good. While probably not on par with say the excellently produced English version of Sen (Spirited Away), the voice of the old Sophie by Jean Simmons is admirable. Christian Bale was in my opinion miscasted for the English character of Howl but it did grew on me especially after Howl's hair changed in colour.
(image source: Rotten Tomatoes)
'Set design' is amazing. Pretty much what you would expect from a Hayao Miyazaki film though I wouldn't say it is as detailed as Spirited Away but good enough. But is should give food for thought to the people at Pixar or Dreamworks when designing their CGI fest. Details shouldn't only be reserved for resolution or how many hairs you can show on screen.
In my personal opinion, and I do stress 'personal' as I know how some people feel on this, that Howl's Moving Castle ranks behind Mononoke hime (Princess Mononoke) and Spirited Away but it is still a visual fest that you should go watch. Now.