-This review pertains to the George Lucas Director's Cut of THX 1138-
Before achieving critical and commercial success with his films American Graffiti and Star Wars, George Lucas directed the ill-fated THX 1138. The film was a valid attempt to expand upon the story and themes of Lucas' avant-garde student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which itself was based upon a short story by Matthew Robbins and Walter Murch.
The film was an ambitious cinematic experiment that showcased Lucas' highly stylized sensibilities and his talents as a visual storyteller. But despite its originality, THX would prove to be a commercial and critical flop. The question remains: why?
First of all, the film was released in 1971 and the hippie movement was still "in bloom" and THX was not an optimistic picture of the future. Darkly humorous and deeply satirical, the film was an attempt to comment on the growing consumerist/capitalist culture of the U.S. and the disintegration of human emotion. Apparently the dark humor and irony was lost on audiences and film critics alike. The film was too intellectual and not commercial enough.
It also didn't help that the film utilized a minimalistic narrative approach, which was inspired by Japanese cinema (the films of Akira Kurosawa, in particular, were an inspiration) that gave little indication to viewers as to exactly what they were seeing on the screen. To most the film was fragmented, shallow and too depressing, and yet that was the point of THX to begin with. THX wasn't your typical movie-going experience. Instead it was a challenging and provocative film, which did have a hopeful ending. However the film was misunderstood and was generally dismissed by those who saw it. The common complaint being that it wasn't upbeat enough (‘cause everybody knows that reality's so cheerful and naturally our overabundance of joy should spill across the multiplex screen).
The cast includes Robert Duvall as THX, Maggie McOmie as LUH, Donald Pleasence as SEN, and Don Pedro Colley as SRT. Each member of the cast gives appropriately eerie and emotionally detached performances.
THX 1138 is an abstract vision of a possible future, where human beings are forced to live underground because the surface of the Earth is no longer inhabitable (though no further explanation for this is given). Here in a bleak subterranean cityscape, the remnants of the human race have formed a rigid social structure of complete conformity and mindless consumerism. There is no elect government per se, however the population is controlled through a series of sedatives used to repress human emotion. In this dystopian society people are manipulated and subjugated, not by an external dictatorial power, but by their own emotional detachment. Every individual is equal, but only through a mutual obsolescence. Personal identity is extinct and people are reduced to being little more than serial numbers.
When LUH begins skipping doses of her medication she finds herself flooded with a range of emotions, emotions that she's never known, but she has no one to express them to and no one to empathize with her. Desperate to share these feelings she begins weaning her platonic roommate THX off his medications. Soon the two find themselves feeling sexually attracted to one another and they commit the ultimate sin: love.
When LUH becomes pregnant, she and THX are separated and imprisoned. Determined to reunite with LUH, the woman who liberated him from his soulless, monotonous life, THX begins a search to find her. But his efforts to rescue her fail and soon he is being pursued by robotic sentinels. Can THX escape and find freedom on the Earth's surface or is he doomed to remain a drone in a soulless technocracy?
Originally THX was the first film to be released through a partnership between Warner Bros. and Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope, but the film lacked the commercial appeal that Warner Bros. craved and as a result they canceled their contract with American Zoetrope and cut five minutes from THX before releasing it. After the monumental success of Star Wars, Lucas went back to Warner Bros. and convinced them to let him reinsert the five minutes worth of deleted footage. However as often is the case with Lucas, even the restored version of the film didn't match his initial vision, so he created a newly restored version.
Now using modern filmmaking technology, Lucas has not only restored and remastered the film, he has also enhanced numerous scenes with computer-generated imagery (or CGI), making the director's the ultimate version of the film.
This mind-numbingly good DVD includes an audio commentary by George Lucas and Walter Murch, an isolated music and sound effects audio track, "A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope" documentary, "Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX 1138" documentary, George Lucas' original short film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, "Bald" vintage featurette, trailers and TV spots.
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