(SF Shinseiki Lensman)
This film adaptation of Galactic Patrol was originally made in Japan in 1984 but remained unreleased in English-speaking countries until the early 1990s when Japanese anime started to flood Western markets after the success of Akira (1988). The sense of cosmic scale that Smith specialised in is something that Japanese animation does like nobody else. Lensman is best seen in widescreen. (Interestingly, Lensman was the first film to feature computer animation, although only limitedly so some of the vehicles as the technology had no advanced to the point that an entire film could be animated). The action is exciting, particularly the speeder-bike chases near the end or the escape from the Overlords stronghold. The filmmakers design a fabulous array of ships the Boskonian fleet are black clouds lit up from inside with lights, or the planetary patrol ships that are like hollowed-out animal skulls drooping with pink innards. There is an equally impressive menagerie of bizarre alien creations.
However, Lensman is not a particularly faithful adaptation of Galactic Patrol. The names of Kimball Kinnison, his girlfriend Clarissa MacDougall and his companions Van Buskirk and Worzel are all taken from the book, as are Boskone, Helmuth and the Overlords of Delgon. Equally, there as many invented characters like the cranky nightclub DJ and Kimballs father who never appeared in the book. There is mention made of Smiths great invention of imaginary super-science, the inertialess drive, and occasional snippets from the book the scene where the Britannia is detonated while the crew escape in lifepods, Kimballs defeating the Eddorian. There are more differences than there are similarities everything but the basic bones of the book has been abandoned. (Despite which, the E.E. Doc Smith estate appear to be happy with the finished product and their name is listed among the production houses).
Most of the changes can be readily explained by the realisation that Lensman was made not long after the success of Star Wars (1977). Thus Kimball Kinnison is no longer a strapping Galactic Patrol cadet but a naive young farmboy from a backwater planet who has the Lens and his destiny thrust upon him. The Lens itself becomes R2D2-like something that contains vital information about the Achilles Heel in Boskones defences. The Star Wars-influences verge on the laughable at times Helmuth looks like Darth Vader and psychically destroys his lieutenants when they fail him; many of the battles are fought by small one-person fighter craft; there is a small cute robot (even though robots were a concept that Smith never used); and Clarissa even wears her hair up in a sidebun.
In 1987, the film was spun out into an anime tv series, Lensman, which has yet to be seen in the West and had even less to do with Smith. The Lensman books would make for a fabulous live-action film if anybody is interested.
Co-director Yoshiaki Kawajiri later became one of the most respected names in anime, making films like Wicked City (1987), Demon City Shinjuku (1988), Ninja Scroll (1993), Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000), Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (2007) and episodes of anthologies like Neo-Tokyo (1987) and The Animatrix (2003).