I've always had a certain aversion for series-based movies. It never fails that the movie would be a waste of time; more often than not, it's nothing more than an elongated version of any given episode of the series. The Escaflowne movie doesn't really fall into this trap. Oh, it's a waste of time, but because the series had no fillers, it would have been quite difficult to make such a movie. Instead, it's a miniscule recap of the series events, an alternate reality version in which the characters are stripped (and in a certain case I mean this literally) to unrecognizable proportions and the story is undermined in a ninety minute nutshell.
Although a lot of material is crammed into such a short time, the story itself is not completely irredeemable. As a summary, it works fine (but only if you're familiar with the background to begin with) and I enjoyed some of the twists taken. For example, this movie is considerably more violent than the series ever was and the first five minutes is the best scene in the entire work. I don't know the reason for the amount of bloodshed, but I'm not going to complain about it either. Fight scenes are actually relatively exciting. I also enjoyed the liberties taken with Dilandau and Folken, but more on that later. The movie is a lot of things, but boring isn't one of them.
My problem with the story lies in the very core, mainly with Hitomi being the so-called Wing Goddess. This part of the story reads very much like some amateur writing a fan-fiction while ignoring important facts individualistic to the work. A big part of Escaflowne is questioning the existence of fate. Making Hitomi the "chosen one" who holds the fate of the world in her hands would have been fine... had this movie not contradicted itself with that very premise. X TV does this exact same thing, but was successful. The key difference is that Kamui struggled with his role and tries to beat the odds while Hitomi just sits around looking stupid, hoping things will turn out okay. After all is said and done, I feel that she had little impact at all and I wonder why she was given such an important title. The ending is also very poorly done and is a contradiction because it breaks an anime golden rule. I blame this not on length (I've seen many a movie-or short OVA-that managed to be good) but on poor direction.
The animation, being four years younger than the series, is excellent. There is a lot of detail given to the towns and other surroundings. There's a particularly gorgeous sequence when Hitomi is summoned to the other world. She's in a pool of water and the moon is looming in front of her. Good stuff. Oh, and the movie is not exactly shy with blood. Torture scenes and mecha battles are well-animated. :) The character designs are wildly different than the series. Millerna, for example, is completely unrecognizable. Van went to the gym, Hitomi got a makeover, and Folken decided to grow his hair out. On the most part, I like the new character designs and thought some of them (i.e., Hitomi and Allen) were improved from the series. And they got rid of those damn noses....
It was smart to use the same songs that were in the series. I got to listen to more of that ethereal monk-music. Escaflowne is one of the very few series that can actually get away with such music playing during a mecha scene. Voice acting is above average. I noticed that Van's voice was much deeper this time around.
I've said (in my review for the series) that the supporting cast was weak and that's certainly true. In ninety minutes, the characters certainly cannot be improved upon; therefore, this movie had only two choices: one is to do the smart thing and get rid of the supporting cast all together. The other is to simply keep them despite that they can only be paler than they were before. Escaflowne movie takes the second route and certain characters are given cameo appearances and then discarded.
For example, the two cat girls are given about a minute as singers in a tavern and Dryden is reduced even further as the owner of that tavern. The exceptions to this rule are Dilandau and Folken. Dilandau is just as insane (if not more so) as he was when I first saw him. Just about every scene with him almost makes up for everything else. Folken, in my not so humble opinion, is better than he was in the series because he's a lot less ambiguous. He's the villain here and he's not going to apologize for it.
The two main characters follow the same pattern as the aforementioned supporting cast. Van, who now takes steroids and decided to tattoo his body, doesn't have much meaningful dialogue. In a nutshell, Van is the "silent, strong, and lonely" type merely because it's in the script. Hitomi is even worse. As a result of the shallowness, I found the relationship between Van and Hitomi to be contrived, forced, and fake.
Escaflowne is a popular series and I have a very good idea of why this was made. The creators probably thought fans would enjoy seeing their favorite characters in new clothing and seeing them in similar situations. Although I enjoyed this anime more than I did the first time (I owe this to the fact that it's been a while since I've seen the series), true art doesn't work that way; and as a result, the movie feels less like an interesting abbreviation and more like a fan-fiction gone awry.
Hitomi wanted to just disappear from her life. The track club -- her best friend -- her parents -- she wanted it all to just...go away. While contemplating suicide, her wish is fulfilled by an unlikely savior: a man named Folken who brings her to his world, Gaea, to unlock the powers of the legendary Dragon, Escaflowne. But there are those who would stop at nothing to foil his plans, and chief among them is Van, the last warrior of a noble clan. Caught up in this epic struggle, Hitomi must find herself before she can find a way home.