Thursday, October 1, 2009

Movie Review: Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone

Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone ** 1/2
Directed By:
Masayuki & Kazuya Tsurumaki & Hideaki Anno.
Written By: Hideaki Anno.
Starring: Spike Spencer (Shinji Ikari), Allison Keith (Misato Katsuragi), Brina Palencia (Rei Ayanami ), John Swasey (Gendo Ikari), Greg Ayres (Kensuke Aida), Leah Clark (Hikari Horaki), Colleen Clinkenbeard (Ritsuko Akagi), Justin Cook (Toji Suzuhara), Caitlin Glass (Maya Ibuki), Bill Jenkins (Keel Lorenz), Jerry Jewell (Kaworu Nagisa), Mike McFarland (Makoto Hyuga / Eva), Phil Parsons (Shigeru Aoba), Monica Rial (Pen Pen), Kent Williams (Kozo Fuyutsuki), Stephanie Young (Yui Ikari).

From what I under, Neon Genesis: Evangelion was one of the most ambitious anime series in Japanese history. Because of some financial, and other problems, creator Hideaki Anno was never quite able to end the series the way he wanted it to. Even after doing two different versions of the ending (which apparently involves characters masterbating over unconscience bodies of their friends and life on earth being transformed into primodial goo - I may have to watch this series), he still didn’t get it right. So now, more than a decade after the show ended its show run (26 half hour episodes), Anno has decided to turn the series into four feature length movies, where he’ll be able to tell the story who he wants to. Judging on its reception in Japan (where the film was one of the top grossing films of the year), the other three installments will be coming shortly. However, unless he does a better job of telling his story in the next three installments, I am not sure I will be sticking around for all four.

The movie takes place in a future where most of humanity has been destroyed by two huge explosions. The residents of Tokyo III are under constant threat of attack from the “Angels”, so short of alien lifeform who want to destroy all life on earth by causing a third explosion. Since the Angels cannot be destroyed by convential means, the only way that they can be destroyed is through giant Evangelion (or Eva) robots that can only be piloted by two 14 year olds - Rei, who is the more experienced pilot, whose suit is version 0, and Shinji, who is the son of the creator of the Eva suites, who has just been pulled from his normal life and told that only he can save the world. He does not really want to have that responsibility placed on his soldiers - he stays because he wants to finally get the attention of his father - not to mention of the beautiful Rei, and perhaps even the older Misato, who is his commanding officier, but also takes him in when he has no where else to go.

Watching the movie, it gave me a chance to see just how wildly ambitious the television must have been. The film tries to marry its science fiction premise to a teen angst drama to a provocative examination of religion and philiosophy. The film also tries at moments to be a rather surrealistic comedy - one character has a pet penguin named Pen Pen who seems to serve no purpose other than comic relief. The problem with the movie is that at only 98 minutes, it tries to cram so much into its running time, that it seems like all of the ideas are rushed, and not properly developed. The same goes for the characters, who spend a lot of time moaning about their lot in life, but we never really feel their pain or connect with them.

The animation is at turns mesmerizing, and cheap looking. The action sequences are brilliantly well realized, and often quite exciting. However, when the characters talk to each other, it is in the cheap anime tradition, of mouths that just seem to stay open as a string a words come pouring out. I find it hard to believe that money problems played a role in this decision for the movies, so it must have been a stylistic one. If so, it is a bad one.
I was more intrigued by the movie than I was entertained by it. It suffers some of the problems that many movies in another language do when they are dubbed into English - the dialogue becomes stilted at some points. But the ideas in the movie are so big, that I will be coming back if Evangelion 2.0 ever comes out here. I want to see just how this series progresses.

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