Howl's movie review; no plot spoilers, but yes characterizations spoilers

deborah.dwj at deborah.dwj at
Wed Jun 1 23:52:29 EDT 2005

No plot spoilers, you ask?  How can there be plot spoilers -- we all
know the book so well?  The plot of the film is actually substantially
different from the book.  I had been warned how different, and I was
still surprised -- mostly because it starts off very similarly, and yet
the differences get more and more pronounced as the film advances.  The
final third of the movie is almost completely different.

For the most part, I had no problems with any of the plot changes, and
I'm not going to go into them here.  The characterization changes,
though, were another matter.  I'm going to start with what I didn't
like, just so I'll be ending on a positive note.  I did think the movie
was very lovely, and I enjoyed myself very much.  On the other hand, it
was bound to be a disappointment no matter how good it was: a
disappointment as a Miyazaki movie, because I was seeing it as the book
first; and a disappointment as the adaptation of Howl's, because this
has been one of my favorite books for nearly two decades (not to mention
the subject of a third of my master's thesis), and so any adaptation was
bound to be something of a disappointment.

I was prepared, based on other reviews I've read, for the increased
sweetness of Sophie, but I wasn't prepared for how disempowering that
increased sweetness would be.  This is no Miss Nose, but an earnest and
loving young girl.  She's not a witch who talks life into things, she's
an earnest romantic heroine who'll fight for her friends and family in
true Miyazaki-mode.  She's not catty, and she's not cranky.  And I was
surprised by how much I missed that, even though I was prepared for it.
But more than the lack of crankiness, I missed her initiative and her
power.  This Sophie saves the day mostly through the power of her heart,
which is very Miyazaki, and so very much not Diana Wynne Jones.

When Howl is bitchy and snarky, he's downright hysterical.  But he's
snarky very rarely.  For the most part, both Howl and Sophie in the
movie are far Better People(tm)  than Howl and Sophie in the book (which
begs the question of whether or not they are better people).  Barring
some plot inconsistencies that didn't quite make sense, movie Howl is
much more earnest and serious than book Howl.

A couple more things I wasn't that fond of: the voice of Billy Crystal
for Calcifer and having different voice actors for young Sophie and old
Sophie (both of these problems will be fixed in the subtitled version,
although usually I prefer dubs to subs); leaving Fanny unredeemed when
it would have been very simple to redeem her; and some of the new plot
never really makes much sense.

All that being said, what I liked:

First of all, the movie was very very beautiful.  It took place in
Miyazakiland, which those who know Miyazaki will recognize as meaning
"beautiful landscapes, many airships".  In this case, the clothing and
scenery are somewhat late Victorian/early Edwardian (bustles, trains, a
few cars, but also litters).  The moving castle?  Incredibly gorgeous.
Visually stunning, really.  The transformation of the castle from the
old location to its new location also visually stunning.  And of course,
the airships, visually stunning.  Howl's bedroom was also visually
stunning; it was just full of gadgets and geegaws and splendid beautiful
details.  Lots of visually stunning, in case that wasn't clear.

Barring the voice of Billy Crystal, I thought Calcifer was great.  And
Billy Crystal did a fine job.  He just as a very recognizable voice.
It's a very Disney habit: give the genie to Robin Williams, give the
fire demon to Billy Crystal, the comic actor with the overwhelmingly
recognizable voice.  It's not that he did a bad job, it's that I could
never mentally step away from "this is Billy Crystal."  But other than
that, I think they did a splendid job with Calcifer.

I have no objection whatsoever to major plot changes.  I think would be
very difficult to transform a standard Diana Wynne Jones novel, complete
with climactic scene in which every member of the cast too has ever been
introduced is speaking at once, into a movie.  (Can you possibly imagine
making a movie out of Hexwood?)  Miyazaki's changes weren't as well
plotted as they should have been, but they worked with the characters
and the world creation.

I said before that Howl's snark was wonderful when it appeared.  I have
to reiterate that.  The green slime scene was perfect.  He sulked
beautifully.  Also, many of you know that anime has a
frequently-deserved reputation for showing off girls' legs and
underwear.  I would like to proudly state that in this movie, all the
women are wearing multiple petticoats and bloomers, but we get to see
Howl's naked behind.

Definitely worth watching.  I will most certainly see it again.  Though
tonight I am probably going to reread the book (I may reread The Horse
and His Boy instead, though.  When I wrote that about their being
litters as well as cars, it got me all in a "make way for the Taarkheena
Lasaraleen!" mood).

I would still happily meet other people to see it again in either New
England or New York.

Ye knowe ek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
Withinne a thousand yere, and wordes tho
That hadden pris, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem, and yit they spake hem so.  -- Chaucer

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