And another tape from the "dust collection" selection. That is to say a tape kept safe in the dark corners of an aging video library. Reviewing these titles certainly is a mixed pleasure, but who knows when I'll run into these titles again. Although this one is relatively common I think.
At some point far in the future the galactic patrol, responsible for keeping the galaxy safe, is locked in a bitter war with the alien Boskonian empire. And at the moment they're on the defensive as the location of the Boskonian base, home of their tyrannical leader, continues to elude them. However one of their latest ships has managed to discover this information and is now desperately trying to return to the patrol, knowing that the information they have discovered might well decide the outcome of the war.
Not that young Kimball Kinnison knows anything about it. He'd just been planning to finally leave the humble farming planet on which he'd been raised and see some more of the galaxy. Instead it turns out that the galaxy has come to see him, with a warship on a collision course with his home. He manages to board and land the vessel, but the only occupant is a dying lensman, a warrior equipped with a strange device that focuses the psychic power of the wearer. Before he knows it Kimball has three things gifted to him, the lens (which no one believe was transferable as it bonds to the wearer), the secret to the Boskonian base it contains, and an incoming Boskonian battle fleet that doesn't plan on that secret getting very far.
Holy space opera! This title is based off the lensman saga by E.E. "Doc" Smith. I've never read them, but a friend of mine was a big fan. From memory it was a long series and real heroic stuff splashed across the background of a well realized sci-fi world. The series was long, the power level progressed well into the surreal and the drama was direct and primal. It was also a major influence on a silly little movie called star wars which achieved some localized fame. This tape was made after star wars, and I suspect it amplifies the connections, but you can have a field day drawing similarities between the two.
There's a big difference though. Star Wars wasn't nearly as boring as this. They've basically fallen for one of the oldest directorial errors there is. That being they've got so much back-story, and had so much fun with designing weird aliens, strange worlds and exotic machinery, that they're determined to see how much they can show off. It's interesting in its way, but there's just far too much of it and it slows down the pace of the story a lot. And considering this is a long tape, and a pretty weak story, that's the last thing they need.
Another interesting element is that this tape contains computer graphics. It comes from what I call the age of innocence. A time when computer animation was so novel that what it actually represented didn't seem that important. This animation is truly classic stuff, the simple and flawless shading and the fascination with panning and geometric effects giving it some serious heritage. The fact it was done on a cray-1, better known as "bubbles" to some (and RIP Seymour Cray who still had many computers left in him) gives it un-encroachable geek credentials. Although that doesn't change the fact that the animation itself is dated, and quite a bit of it doesn't really make much sense in terms of the story. Oh yeah, and they burn through much of their computer time quite early. It's fun to watch if you're into the history of computer animation, but I can't help feeling a lot of more modern fans are just going to laugh at it.
And somewhere in amongst that is the plot, which is essentially silly. After all it's a piece of data, don't they have a galactic equivalent of the internet? The lens itself, which is effectively equivalent to the force in Star Wars (midichlorians, hahaha) also doesn't get much development up until it becomes a plot device right at the end. Fortunately the crew we follow seem to have an innate talent for getting distracted, and in trouble, so there's never any shortage of opportunities for them to rescue one another which fills up the time quite neatly.
The crew includes the young Kimball Kinnison who's even more naive and mindlessly heroic than even Luke was. Along with him is a romantic interest and the physical comedy expert. They're also joined by a real lensman who's a heck of a lot cooler than all of them put together. They're sort of shallow, there's not a lot of time for character work amongst all the action. The aliens don't seem a very potent threat since they're depleting their officer core ("you will not fail me again admiral!") at a frightful rate. There's also an ally character, the wild'n'crazy DJ bill, who is every bit as painful as the name implies. He alone was enough to make this title repulsive.
There's also quite a bit of action, including a rather long vehicle chase. It's actually rather good considering the age of the tape. There must have actually been a decent budget behind this. However the tendency of things to explode in the leads presence becomes sort of surreal. This guys rescue attempts seem to end up causing about as much mayhem as the galactic fleet can manage. Their survival also seems to depend a little too much on being able to dodge energy beams rather than any sort of skill or strategy. It's also pretty obvious that many of the action scenes have been built because they look cool, rather than making much sense, which coupled with the excessive exploding makes much of it feel fairly contrived.
The end result is that while it has some rather cool scenes they're a little too far apart to make me come close to recommending this tape. Sure there's lots and lots of sci-fi fan service, which means loving shots over the curving surfaces of spaceships, but far too little character and story. There's just no depth to it, and the age of the tape means the action and special effects have lost much of the impact they might once have had. It might also be the case that this sort of thing has been done many times since, a lot of the situations end up feeling quite familiar to a modern viewer.
I guess I've already said quite a bit about the production in the review. The important point is that everything is real old-school style. The character designs, the technology (which never feels truly believable), the computer graphics and definitely some of the terrible jokes. The alien disco sequence has lost none of its power... which is unfortunate. The action has its moments, but not enough of them to make up for the lack of story and character. The dub is quite average, I have seen worse, and the music is rather awful. Also noticed the songs remained in Japanese even though the voices were dubbed, which produced a rather odd feeling.
A video loosely based on an E.E. Smith space opera novel which was an influence on star wars, something this title is happy to play up. The rather simple minded young hero gets a magical weapon, which largely does nothing useful, and then rushes around having little adventures while supposed to be doing a simple courier task. It's old, it's long and the action is a little too dated to make up for very ordinary plot and shallow characters. Some of the scenes, such as the space disco, are in themselves reason enough to avoid this title.