Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: "THX 1138 Director's Cut" is a New Look at Early George Lucas

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 188 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

THX 1138 – The George Lucas Director’s Cut (2004)
Originally released as THX 1138 (1971)
Running time: 88 minutes
MPAA – R for some sexuality/nudity (Director’s Cut)
WRITERS: Walter Murch and George Lucas; from a story by George Lucas (based upon his screenplay for the short film)
PRODUCERS: Lawrence Sturhahn
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Albert Kihn and David Meyers


Starring: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, and Maggie McOmie

THX 1138 was filmmaker George Lucas’s first feature length film, and he based it upon a short film he made while in film school, THX 1138:4EB. The film is set in a 25th-century totalitarian state that has stripped mankind of any individuality. People are numbered drones who are encouraged to work hard, be safe, watch out for their fellow workers, and consume. The state religion is a kind of therapy in which pre-recorded voices push mantras about “the masses.” There is a government-enforced program that uses sedating drugs to control the populace. The state is always watching people through cameras and monitors, and when a citizen opens his medicine cabinet, a voice suggests which drugs he should take. To not take drugs earns a citizen immediate notice and is a serious crime.

When the title character, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall), stops taking the mind-numbing drugs, he irrevocably changes his life. He has sex with his mate (who is more like a platonic roommate), LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), and sexual intercourse is a felony. After LUH 3417 is impregnated by their intercourse, the couple is throne in prison, and THX, his mind clear now that he is drug free, looks to escape the system.

THX 1138 was originally released in 1971, but in September of 2004, THX 1138 – The George Lucas Director’s Cut was re-released theatrically in a small number of cities (reportedly 20), and that re-release is the subject of this review. While some may consider the film’s look and the way it delivers it themes to be dated, the film is actually timeless. Political states ostensibly exist to protect the populace, but they do so mostly by controlling some or all aspects of citizens’ lives. An ideal situation is that the state interferes as little as possible, if at all, but the truth of that matter is that many states grow more controlling as they grow older, or if some disaster, man made or natural, causes so much havoc and destruction, that the state has to take total control to bring things back to some state of normalcy.

Lucas makes all of this feel real; the drama is palatable, and the fear of retribution from the state is a threat even the audience can feel. The threat of punishment from authority and the portrayal of an omnipresent society in which privacy is almost nonexistence is chilling. The film’s lone flaw, a serious one, is that it seems alternately too dry and too cold. The ideas behind the story, the production values, and the atmosphere are dead on, but the execution is often flat. The almost symbolic ending precariously straddles the fence of being appropriate or clumsy. Still, for lovers of that sci-fi sub-genre, dystopian futures, this is a good bet.

6 of 10


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