A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . .
Actually, it was just 10 or 12 years ago in your local movie theaters when it seemed like every other movie that came out was a "Star Wars" ripoff.
But it's been awhile since one as blatant as the Japanese animated feature "Lensman" has come along.
Supposedly based on a 1934 E.E. "Doc" Smith comic book series, "Lensman" resembles "Star Wars" far too specifically to be shrugged off.
One of the first characters we meet is a little robot that looks like a canister vacuum. The story revolves around a young man living on a distant planet who longs for outer space adventure, though he seems confined to life as a farmer. When the lad's planet is attacked by bad guys, he links up with a free-lance fighter pilot whose space ship is a pile of junk. The young man also meets a warrior who dies in battle, passing on a mysterious spiritual power to him; in a later battle he will be admonished by a disembodied voice to throw down his weapon and "trust in the power." One of the chief villains is tall, cloaked in black and speaks in a deep, booming, echoing voice; his worst act of villainy is to destroy an entire planet.
"Lensman" is the story of young Kimball Kinnison, who we meet as he is preparing to leave his father's farm and take off with a burly half-Chewbacca/half-Han Solo character called Buskirk. Suddenly, his planet is attacked by the evil Boskones.
During the battle, a "Lensman" is fatally wounded, but before he dies he passes on his "lens," which looks like a blue watch that automatically attaches itself to Kim's wrist.
Kim and Buskirk head off to fight the Boskones, eventually teaming up with a female doctor who provides the nominal love interest though she disappears from the action almost as quickly as she comes in.
The rest of the movie is one explosive battle after another, which may somewhat satisfy action fans, but there are some long stretches where the film suffers from dull characterizations and awkwardly dubbed dialogue.
The action scenes are pretty good, but action alone, with no compelling characterizations, gets tiresome after awhile. (The 107-minute length is probably too long by close to 30 minutes.)
There are some sharp visual effects here, a combination of imaginative and innovative computer animation and the traditional hand-drawn animation, and when the special effects take over the film seems to come alive. But the character drawings are more of the Saturday morning cartoon variety cheap, one-dimensional and stiff.
On the whole, "Lensman," rated PG for violence and profanity, is strictly for animation buffs.