There are some movies that challenge your imagination, take you to distant worlds, bring you new insight. Some grab hold of you for days, weeks, even months, as their themes and patterns weave their way into your life.

Harmagedon is not one of those films.

For the most part, Harmagedon is overwhelmingly and catagorically mediocre, except for those rare sections where it sinks lower than mediocrity and wallows in preachiness, self-importance, and stupidity. It's bad, people, quite bad. It's pretty tame in terms of sex and violence, but that's not saying much. But to be fair, let me get to the plot (what there is of it) to whet your appetite for such fare.

Genma, a malicious being from the depths of space, has destroyed millions upon millions of star systems in his quest to annihilate the entire universe. The movie starts with a strange, Noh/Kabuki-like dancer telling us about this in a screechy wail as he plods through Tokyo. (My apologies for not knowing the cultural dance form better, but trust me--it doesn't do it any favors.)

As our dancer exits stage left, an airplane carrying a princess of Translyvania is destroyed, but Luna (said princess) is an esper. Because of her power, she is drawn into a vision with the life force of the universe (I'm not making this up, folks) which tells her about Genma. Luna is told of a soldier, Vega, whose only love was killed by Genma millenia ago, and she goes off and finds him. He's a mechanical kind of being, though whether that's an armor suit or his real body is left unexplained.

The twosome travel back to earth to discover Jo, a young Japanese high school student with unrealized ESP potential. He discovers his powers, plays with them for a while, then realizes what trouble they may cause him. As he starts learning from Vega and Luna, other psionic warriors start popping out of the woodwork, and two evil cohorts of Genma go on the rampage to try and take Jo (who is the most powerful of all the ESPers) down by attacking the sister he loves. Between New York, Japan, and a volcano somewhere between the two, lives are lost and found and big old galactic booty gets kicked.

This is an amazingly poor example of anime, which made it to the US because the character designs were created by Katsuhiro Otomo, the legend behind Akira. Although most of the character designs are holy-cow ugly, you can spot a bit of the designs eventually used in Otomo's creations of Kaneda and Tetsuo. There are also certain concepts floating around here that showed up in Akira, too, but this makes Akira look like high art. The artwork here is pretty bad quality overall, especially for a feature length film (which clocks in at a trance-inducing 132 minutes.) It has all the trademarks of bad early 80s anime without showing even one of its joys.

What makes the film even worse is that it has loads of wasted potential. Characters are thrown in for less than two minutes of screen time and have no purpose. The death of Jo's sister is anti-climactic...that may seem like a big spoiler, but the movie sets it up so obviously that you may well just have assigned her to an away team on Kirk's Enterprise and put her in a red shirt. The climax is awful: how could a small band of mostly untrained psionics defeat a being that has destroyed nearly a quarter of the universe? No explanation besides "love". Ugh ugh ugh.

My only reason for giving it a barely passing grade? It is saved from a failing grade only because some of the action sequences are OK and Genma's stooges are vaguely entertaining. It's not a total and complete wash, but it's pretty much a waste of your time.

DVD USERS NOTE: This is a DVD to stay away from like the plague. It has been confirmed that this disc has incredible artifacting and a terrible transfer regardless of the player. The soundtrack is fine, but you'll lose several frames of movement at a time. If you must see this movie, find a VHS copy.

Harmagedon -- violence -- D-