So been over a month since my last post, and I'm not even talking about video games? How devious of me.
I remember hearing about the new Evangelion movies over a year ago and flipping out, only to hear that their North American release was indefinitely postponed. Sometime in the last year, that situation apparently changed*, because I just returned from a screening of the first movie, and the short version is that it was awesome.
First, to recap, Rebuild of Evangelion is a trilogy of movies** that retell the original story. That's right, it's not new, post-post-apocalyptic story, it's the same story, again. Now, you might ask, "didn't they already remake the series into a movie, in the form of Evangelion: Death"? Yes, yes they did. There's also the manga, which is different from the series in a couple significant ways, and the NEW manga, which retells the story without any mecha at all. Then Rebirth tried to be a remake of episode 25, but was itself remade again as the first half of End of Eva. So what's with all the remaking?
It's worth remembering that a lot of great art goes through creation and recreation. Some of the greatest haiku poets went through literally dozens of versions of some of their best poems. I'm not talking about drafts, I mean complete, official versions of the poem that they wrote onto paintings (and hung on some nobleman's wall). That's just working with 17 syllables, mind you, so it shouldn't be that surprising that a 13-hour long series has a lot of room for variation.
Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Evangelion has always been a deeply flawed work. The fact that creators and audiences keep coming back to it, and not to add on new stories, but just to rework and refine the existing story, just shows that there's something buried in it that's so compelling that it shines through the flaws and captivates people. In other words, it's got some pure, unadulterated human condition in there somewhere.
So the first movie, You Are Not Alone, is largely surprising just for how little they've actually changed. I mean, they've redrawn everything from scratch, as far as I'm aware, but sometimes you have to look really close to be sure they did. I'm talking frame-for-frame identical shots in there. A lot of them.
In fact, in the begining, it's an almost overwhelming number of them. I missed the opening credits, but what I saw of the first half-hour felt distinctly like someone had just taken the first episode and given it more aggressive stop-cut editing. Oh yeah, and added a pretty rainbow-lens-flare effect like every 5 minutes. I was never actually much of a fan of the first episode, anyway, so I guess it's not surprising that this part felt like going through the motions.
Fortunately, it gets better fast. I'm not going to go over all the differences, but it definitely starts feeling very different - purer, if you will. The major success of the movie, and clearly an important focus in this retelling, was to make Shinji's character more sympathetic. He's just a little more willful, a little more vocal, and we're given more reflection from the adult characters that takes him from seeming whiny in the show to seeming like a real "epitome of human adolescence" character.
They've also redone the music, which is generally very good, and of course added CG effects (mainly for computer displays and such). The strangest non-change is probably the fact that Shinji is still using a portable cassette player (that's right, not even a CD player, much less an ipod), which is downright anachronistic at this point. Maybe cassette players are just an important object in Hideaki Anno's mind, and I suppose it's true that updating it to an ipod would just doom it to be obsolete again in ten years, but I'll be amused if Asuka makes fun of him for not owning an mp3 player when she shows up. I mean, I guess that shouldn't strike me as a big deal compared to the fact that in the original show, an apocalyptic event occurs in 2000...
And while the CG effects are generally pretty irrelevent to my assessment of the movie (and downright distracting in at least one instance), there's one thing that is made immensely more awesome by the newfanfly CG, and that's Ramiel, the 5th (or in the movie, counted as the 6th) angel. Its basic appearance, as a giant floating 8-sided-die, is the same, but in the movie, every time it attacks, it does so by rearranging itself into some alternate crystaline form that's theoretically better suited to the particular energy beam it's firing at the time. Ramiel was always one of my favorite angels, and now it is officially the coolest godzilla-sized creature to ever attack a Japanese city.
Seriously, I do not recommend pissing that thing off.
*Edit: I have since received evidence that it has technically still not been released in the US...
**Edit: Only half correct - there are going to be four movies, apparently, and the first 3 retell the story from the series (the last one is totally new material :O)