THX 1138

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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
THX 1138 - 1971
American Zoetrope / Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: Germany, Norway, UK: 18 / USA: R

If someone is obviously threatening your life (by pointing a blaster at you, for example) it's perfectly acceptable to kill them. That is a morally correct decision. So why George Lucas has chosen political correctness over moral correctness in his later years by altering the bar scene in Star Wars such that Greedo shoots first and then Han Solo kills him is beyond me. But when he digitized the Star Wars trilogy for re-release he made a variety of changes that toned down (translation: made boring) several scenes. He took the edge away that made some of his characters very interesting and dangerous people. Who took George's edge away is another question I can't answer.

robot police
WE'RE FROM THE GOVERNMENT. WE'RE HERE TO HELP.

But he had it once and it was obvious right from the start, as anyone who has seen THX 1138, his first feature film, knows. This excellent, bizarre film was a box office flop mostly because the marketing guys didn't know what the hell to do with it. Now it's a cult classic and a testament to Young George Lucas' genius. Which is why I was so nervous when I heard that Old George Lucas was finally going to release THX 1138 on DVD and that he was going to digitize it and add some effects. In other words he was going to mess with another masterpiece. Would he "tone down" this one too?

THX 1138 was directed by George Lucas (Directed: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE) and co-written by Lucas and Walter Murch. The film begins with a short segment from an old black and white Buck Rogers serial. This is meant to contrast between the naïve image of the future common in most movies and the dystopian future we're about to see.

THX 1138, hereafter referred to as "Thx" (pronounced "thex"), is the name of the central character and is played by Robert Duvall (THE CONVERSATION, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS [1978], APOCALYPSE NOW, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, SLING BLADE, DEEP IMPACT).

Contrition
I'M FROM THE GOVERNMENT, CITIZEN. MY TIME IS YOUR TIME.
WHOOP! LOOK AT THE TIME!

Lucas accomplishes something in the first few minutes that lesser directors would have done through narration or annoying exposition. By showing people all dressed the same, all with ID cards bearing letter/number strings like Thx's and all (men and women) with shaved heads and by showing how everyone is constantly being watched and monitored by someone else, we understand that this is a police state. It's some unknown time in the future and a large population lives in a huge underground city. We don't know why or how this world came to be but that's okay. Wanting to know more is what draws you in.

Thx operates a machine that builds robots. These chrome faced police bots are all over the city, politely arresting people. Building these bots turns out to be quite dangerous because of their intensely radioactive power supply and we see early on what happens when the process goes wrong.

THX & LUH
AWKWARDLY DESPERATE TO GIVE VOICE TO DESIRES THAT NO LONGER HAVE A NAME

There are lots of nice touches here and there that add to the futuristic police state effect, like the way the medicine cabinets say, "What's wrong?" when opened and offer advice about what drugs to take. People here are required to take drugs (mostly sedatives and mood controllers) and can get in a lot of trouble for criminal drug evasion. Also fascinating are the confession booths, placed around the city like phone booths, which contain huge pictures of a bearded man called Omm. The pre-recorded voice of Omm says encouraging things ("My time is your time") while Thx explains that his roommate has been acting strange lately. When Thx finishes Omm says things like, "You are a true believer. Blessings of the masses. Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy. And be happy." Some kind of religious consumer communism? It's the strange mix of these incompatible philosophies that makes it even cooler.

THX & LUH after
I SENSE A PRESENCE...
Thx's assigned roommate is LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) or just "Luh" for short. This is no romance - the drugs include libido inhibitors and there is a masturbation machine to help with lingering desire. But Luh is interested in Thx and purposely alters his drugs in a way that makes him more aware of his feelings. This leads to illegal sexual activity (which seems to include any sexual activity beyond masturbation) and to moments of illicit happiness for these two cogs in a huge, cold machine.

Problems arise when SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance: CIRCUS OF HORRORS, THE HANDS OF ORLAC, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE MUTATIONS, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, TELEFON, HALLOWEEN, DRACULA [1979], ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, HALLOWEEN II, ALONE IN THE DARK, PHENOMENA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, HALLOWEEN IV, HALLOWEEN V), a man with a talent for re-programming things he's not supposed to, decides to re-assign Luh to a different apartment because he wants Thx as his roommate. Luh doesn't want to make waves and is ready to do as she's told but Thx knows Sen is breaking the rules and reports him. This plus an incident at work that reveals Thx isn't drugged like he's supposed to be results in everyone getting in trouble.

Arrest is within the budget
WE ARE FROM THE GOVERNMENT. WE'RE HERE TO HELP YOU RETURN TO IT.

Can Thx escape this automated police state's prison and find Luh? I can't tell you that but I can tell you that one familiar (to horror fans) character he meets in jail is played by the very recognizable Sid Haig (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, FOXY BROWN, SWASHBUCKLER, GALAXY OF TERROR, JACKIE BROWN, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, KILL BILL: VOL. 2, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS). He also meets a black man named SRT (Don Pedro Colley: BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES), which is unusual because everyone in this city is white and the only black people are seen on the holovision shows dancing naked, discussing economics or performing very strange stand-up comedy.

Before I tell you what I really think, I really think it's time for a

!!!SCIENCE MOMENT!!!:
There is a truly odd mix of technology here, from 70's era computers and displays to the super-advanced robot cops. Normally that would bother me - if you have that kind of robotics tech you don't need human workers at all - but it doesn't because this is a police state. Logic and totalitarian philosophy do not mix so I assume it all makes sense within their society. It reminds me of the Soviet Union, which never threw out anything that still worked.

Okay, so yes, THX 1138 is a masterpiece of dystopian science fiction and yes, I would give it five shriek girls. But I'm not quite reviewing that movie - I'm reviewing the just released "director's cut" which Lucas has messed with a bit. What rating do I give that?

Relax. He didn't ruin it - just added some cool backgrounds (the underground city looks much bigger and feels more real) and some details to the robots. If anything, he actually improved it. THX 1138 still gets five shriek girls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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As George Lucas continues to bitterly live with the shame of knowing his young self was a much better director than the old Lucas became, he continues to spitefully attack everything the young man created for him. Weird.

The laughable Director's Cut version, complete with poorly grafted cartoony CGI effects, is all that remains of this once fascinating movie.
DVD

 

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