Im always very sad when I see a product that has awesome production values and creativity in the worlddesign, but that just cant be bothered to tell a good story and/or have well developed characters. Origins and Brave story had this problem, and now I can add Escaflowne the movie to this list.
A few years ago I watched the Escaflowne tv series and fell in love with it. Naturally I wanted to try out the movie, but I dropped it very fast after discovering how much the characters where altered in a bad way. But since a few years are passed now and the tv series isnt that present in my mind anymore, I thought I give it another shot as a stand alone project. But it still wasnt very good.
The problem is that it alters characters from the series beyond recognition (The positive Hitomi bacame a depressive and passive Hitomi in this incarnation; Van is almost an animal, lusting for the blood of his enemies, Folken is a stock villain), but at the same time tries to include to much from the series, so that it is cluttered with too many useless characters and names. As much as I like Alan, Merle and Dryden; if they are not going to be importent for this short story just exclude them, and focus on developing the central couple.
The Van/Hitomi relationship is totally unbelievable as it is and Van's development from raging murderer to nice guy comes from nowhere. The central theme; that two lonely and pained people can reach each other and heal eachother can be powerfull; but the dialog is so wooden and hasted that we just cant be bordered. And it is hard to sympathise with Hitomi because it never becomes clear why she feels this way and doesnt have many other redeeming qualities and Van doesnt have much character beside being angry. We just have to trust Merle's word on it that he is nicer than he looks.
The story is the same; its pretty simple at heart, but tries to do too many things at too little time and isn't very wellwritten at that. It tells you a lot insted that it shows. The last scene just adds insult to injury; a very minor character who has a motivation that wasnt hinted at before, does something that changes everyhing and the movie suddenly tries to convince us that Folken wasnt always that bad, even denying the movie a cliched but at least slightly sadisfying 'Good vs Bad' ending.
Now what ís impressive are the production values; at times this movie simply looks stunning. The scenery is very imaginative, with floating cities, enormoues skyships, and eyed moon and all the cities that we get glimpses of have a own detailed style with influence from East and West. It is a world I would love to spend more time in; to see more stories about. Escaflowne itself has a more organic look to it and its transformation scenes are gorgeous to behold. Characters are a bit more mudane but also quite nice and they move and turn realisticly. I wasn't really a fan of how some of the male eyes where drawn (especially Allans) but that is a minor detail.
Add to all that the beautifull soundtrack of Yoko Kanno that suited every scene like a glove and that moved me to tears at times, and you have something that scores soaringly high on the esthetics, but crashed down as soons as it tries to be more than pretty.
In the end I did enjoy the movie somewhat for the production values, but I never seen a movie that shouts "Wasted potential!" harder than this one.