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Salem Statesman Journal

Earthsea: Portland Author's Imaginary World Comes to Life
- Staff, Wire Service, Mike Hughes, Dan Hays (Contributor)

Make-believe worlds, filled with magic and monsters and more, filled Shawn Ashmore's childhood.

They're still big for him, but now he's getting paid to be in them.

Ashmore co-starred (as Iceman) in the two "X-Men" movies. Now he stars in "Legend of Earthsea," a miniseries based on Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" series.

Although based on her books, Le Guin did not take part in any planning of the script and was given no part in discussions or decisions, she said on her official Web site, www.ursulakleguin.com/Earthsea.html

Le Guin elaborated on her Web site remarks during an interview Wednesday by saying "they completely replotted both books and brought in characters who aren't in the books but they kept moments from what I wrote, so things might seem familiar to those who have read the 'Earthsea' books."

The miniseries airs 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday on cable's Sci Fi Channel (Salem Comcast channel 59). Each part reruns at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.; the first part also runs at 7 p.m. Tuesday, just before the finale.

"My mother started reading fantasy works to me, all the 'Narnia Chronicles' and stuff like that," Ashmore said. "Those are my first memories."

This was mind-stretching literature. "You can push the boundaries," Ashmore said. "You can really get out there. And I think 'Earthsea' does that."

This is an old tale that feels new. "Think 'Harry Potter' meets 'Lord of the Rings,'" said Bonnie Hammer, the Sci Fi chief.

That's not really an exaggeration. At first, "Earthsea" seems like post-pubescent Potter: Ged (Ashmore), a working-class kid, goes to a wizardry school, where a snobbish classmate mocks him.

Alongside that, however, are deeper and darker things. King Tygath (Sebastian Roche) is bedding hot-blooded priestess Kossil (Jennifer Calvert), who has a scheme: The high priestess Thar (Isabella Rossellini) will choose her as successor; Kossil will learn how to release the savage Nameless Ones, giving the king new energy.

This is a huge story, sprawled over two nights.

It's the sort of global epic producer Robert Halmi savors. "Earthsea" has a Hungarian producer (Halmi), American novelist (Le Guin) and director (Robert Lieberman), French villain (Roche) and English pal (Christopher Gauthier as Vetch).

"Bob... reminds me of my mother Ingrid Bergman's tale of people like David Selznick, (who) had a vision about what they produce and a mission," Rossellini said.

For its two young Canadian stars, this is sort of a hometown project.

Kristin Kreuk, 21, grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, a Dutch-Chinese Canadian; she's done virtually all of her acting there, including the Canadian series "Edgemont," the WB series "Smallville," the ABC movie "Snow White" and (as sweet priestess Tenar) "Earthsea."

All are near her home, but Kreuk said she easily drifts into the "Earthsea" mind-set. "You're in these wonderful costumes, and there's these fantastically made sets. I think it's really easy to fall into this place."

Many of Ashmore's jobs have been in fantasy. He did the series "Animorphs" and made guest appearances on "Smallville," "Outer Limits" and others.

The big roles, however, are Iceman and Ged.

"They're both young men dealing with the responsibility of having a power," Ashmore said. "I think the difference is that Ged, at the beginning, is slightly less responsible and prepared to deal with this.

"He's this strong-headed youth who grows up in a small place. He has no sort of mentor."

He meets one (Danny Glover) and eventually reaches an island of magic. The adventures build.

Vancouver works well for movies, indoors and outdoors, said Ashmore, who is from British Columbia and Toronto. There are "real-life mountains, lakes, oceans. It's a pretty amazing, rich-looking world."

That suits Le Guin's creation. Her five "Earthsea" novels have won National Book, World Fantasy and Nebula awards; this miniseries uses the first two, published in 1968 and 1971.

"I hadn't read the books myself," Kreuk said, "but my sister was in love with them. She always had them around and always gushed about how wonderful they are."

Ashmore says he hadn't heard of them. "I'd been a huge fan of fantasy and sci-fi growing up, but I wasn't familiar with this series."

Le Guin's final comment on the film, she said during a Wednesday interview, was "I really feel sad about the whole thing, and sorry about the actors, who do try hard."

Salem Statesmen Journal / Gannett News Service