And, yes, seemingly as an afterthought, they've decided to release it in theatres again, four days before the DVD Release. It's hitting only 21 screens nationwide, all digital, all about as well advertised as the final season of The Drew Carey Show was (which was about as well advertised as your grandmother's last visit). I only found out about it because Lucasfilm sent me an email on it... and the theatre I saw it in contained three people beyond my own party!
Is this really a big surprise though? No! It's more surprising that this movie is being re-released at all, in fact it's almost a surprise that the film was ever released in the first place. Star Wars this is not! In fact, THX 1138 is every bit as muted and cerebral as Star Wars is Fun and Action Packed. Sci-Fi fans might not get it because it's an Art Film... Art film fans might not get it because it's a Sci-Fi Film. And what nobody seems to get is that it's a Comedy! A Black Comedy for sure, but this aggressive satirical skewering of society is as poignant and funny today as it was in 1971. And in 1971, just about as many people saw it... because Distributor Warner Bros had no bloody idea what they were looking at. Certainly Executive Producer Francis Ford Coppola (and his production company American Zoetrope, which this film helped launch, and damn near kill) had a pretty good idea, but Warners... and audiences... had little clue!
It's too bad too, because this film is incredibly good! And, if anything, the George Lucas Director's Cut is an improvement over the original, adding in more of the intelligence, surrealism, quasi-social-commentary, and... NUDITY! Huzzah!
In a future not too far from our present, society is packed into a self-contained and sanitized community as white, clean and neat as a GOP Brochure. Each fully shaven and white Pajama-clad pure denizen of the citizen's band follows a Religion based around conformity and hard work. Such annoying incidentals like sex drive or individual thinking is systematically removed by sedative suppression and the occasional subjection to a masturbation machine. Societal security and comfort are enforced by soothing voiced Chrome Robot police officers, both a cousin and an antithesis to Star Wars' Stormtroopers. Children aren't born, but are grown in test tubes, and their lives from that point on are measured against their monetary contribution to the whole of society.
Enter our title character THX 1138 (masterfully portrayed by Robert Duvall)... he works, he makes few mistakes, he follows the rules and the "OMM" Religion, and never gets into any trouble. However, his "Room Mate", the even-sexy-bald LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie in her only film role) is miserable. She's bitten into this white-washed Big Apple and found half-a-worm. She's also found herself hopelessly in love with THX 1138 (alternately pronounced "Tea Aitch Eggs Eleven Thirty Eight"; "Tea Aitch Eggs One One Three Eight"; and simply "Thecks"). If LUH 3417 (commonly pronounced "Luh") is successful, THX will become an individual, as she has, and will break away from being simply a cog in the societal machinery.
Two problems spiral into 2001 more! 1) There is no Birth Control in a world where Sex is illegal and 2) Big Brother is always watching you! But that's not to suggest that anything up to or beyond this point is the slightest bit predictable! On the bright side, you've never seen anything like this movie... on the not-so-bright side you've never seen anything like this movie. It's not the most accessible hour and 35 minutes out there, but it's nothing if not rewarding, assuming you can process it.
Some highlights of the film include the expansive and glowing Asylum/ Prison with only one actual psychopath therein (a young Sid Haig's NCH). The rest of the inmates are social dissidents whose offenses include questioning the way of things, homosexuality, and... well, just plain sex! You've also got some truly surreal moments featuring whistle-blower (and blowee) SEN 5241 (a joker-grinning Donald "there's something about that guy" Pleasence) and his multi-agenda quests. There's a very bizarre sequence featuring an escaped hologram named SRT (Don Pedro Colley) that leaves more questions than answers. (In the Easter Egg Category, check out who plays the Announcer... it's none other than David Ogden Stiers).
Aside from those noteworthy moments, THX 1138 also features some great sex scenes, beautiful nudity, and one of the best car chases in any film. If only that were enough to satisfy your basic Matinee Popcorn consumer. Probably not... But it's one hell of a Thinking Person's Sci-Fi film, much more related to 2001: A Space Odyssey or 1984 than Star Trek or Star Wars! Slap an inaccessible numerical title on a sci-fi film and you've got a cousin in THX!
As for the "Director's Cut" there's really not a lot "changed", just a lot added making the story less dense, more funny, and more erotic. I had seen the movie two or three times prior to 2004, and this once I finally felt like I "got it"! For the most part this is a restoration of deleted, yet needed story that he's put back in, and he utilizes computer embellishing somewhat sparingly. Where Lucas did use new technology to enhance this piece, it comes off tasteful, and seamless, affecting the story positively without detracting from its 1971 meaning. Also, because it's released ONLY in digital... the picture is picturesque! For you George Lucas fans out there, what this essentially means is that "Greedo Doesn't Shoot First" in THX 1138 The George Lucas Director's Cut!
THX 1138 will never have the audience that Star Wars or even American Graffiti has earned, but it's a great film and exactly the kind of Sci-Fi movie that a thinking person like George Lucas wishes upon thinking persons. With replaced scenes (bringing this one into R-Rated Territory, up from the original's PG), and a more coherent focus, this is a true classic, if an unsung one, that's even better today than it was 33 years ago. Four and One Half Stars out of Five for THX 1138 The George Lucas Director's Cut! How often do you get to see THX in THX? It's rare, if not unique completely! I'm checking it out again, and I've already got my DVD Copy Pre-Ordered! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go start writing a new screenplay called tt0066434 about what happens in the future if the Republicans keep getting elected... that audiences won't get for another 33 years... so, I'll see you in the next reel! Take your vitamins, kids!
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