There's little precedent in American cinema for Japanese animation's love of recycled, wholly re-imagined characters. In the U.S., popular icons from Batman to Dracula may leap from cinema to television to the printed page and back again, but each new portrayal maintains some of the basic elements that made them fan favorites in the first place. Not so in Japan, where characters may adopt entirely new identities and histories at each incarnation. Case in point: director Kazuki Akane's film version of his popular TV series, The Vision Of Escaflowne. Vision centered on painfully earnest track star Hitomi Kanzaki, who accidentally fell into a mishmash fantasy world full of dragons, cat-people, and robot battle-suits. Civil war threatened, the plotting became complex and baroque, and Hitomi inspired everyone with her fragile bravery, when she wasn't trying to cope with her divided affection for displaced prince Van Fanel and noble knight Allen Schezar. In the new film version, simply titled Escaflowne, Hitomi has been reinvented as a lethargic, suicidal track-team dropout who wants nothing more than to fade away without a trace. So when she reaches a similar magical realm, where Van and Allen are bloody-minded privateers in the war against the rapacious Black Dragon Clan, Hitomi becomes a hapless, whimpering pawn, even though the natives think she's the prophesied "wing goddess" who will save them. Escaflowne's 98-minute run time inevitably makes it shallower and more crowded than its exquisitely paced 13-hour predecessor, but the film's life-affirming fable offers a richer metaphorical subtext than Vision's intricate coming-of-age soap opera. Unfortunately, clumsy dialogue, characterization, and exposition interfere with that subtext. At times, the new film feels stylized, stagy, and almost as rigidly artificial as Noh theater. When Hitomi spends half the movie just repeating Van's name, pontificating about despair, or stating and re-stating the obvious, the script simply becomes annoying. Still, Akane's visual sensibilities are in full flower here; like its predecessor, Escaflowne is richly animated in glorious kinetic detail, packed with broad swaths of color and dark, vividly realized fantasyscapes. It's worth seeing for the animation alone, particularly on the large screen. But while Escaflowne shares its predecessor's beautiful surfaces as well as a bit of its hidden depths, it still lacks the breadth that came from a script equal to the director's talents, and from the singularity of a unique vision.