Blu-ray | DVD
Directed by George Lucas
Starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Release date: September 7, 2010
Complacent with his narrative and uninspired to produce anything more profound because he is relying on his visuals to do the work, director George Lucas attempts to create a 25th century utopian future gone awfully awry. Literary minds depicted such sterile, lifeless, and bleak environments with precise detail. Orwell (1984), Huxley (A Brave New World), and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) tackled dystopian and futuristic atmospheres with a potent narrative behind it. They called to our attention truly believable and paradoxical relationships that integrated humanity with sterility, freedom with captivity.
Lucas’ 1971 science-fiction film THX-1138 lacks his predecessors’ originality because he is not capable of excavating beyond his beautifully eerie aesthetics. If he would be able to he would find a story that would be broader and deeper in its range. Instead, THX-1138 is a film sadly reduced to being revered merely for its visuals. Lucas spent a lot of time with the film’s visuals. He made the original version on 16mm while in film school. He then transferred it to 35mm print and injected the film heavily with CGI effects. The original version (this being the 2004 re-release director’s cut) devoid of the added effects is only available on laserdisc. Lucas’ intended meaning is lost due to the generic and glossed over narrative.
The undeniably great score by Lalo Schifrin tries, unavailingly though, to augment the moments of dread, loss, romance, and anger. Few scenes are compelling, even with the score. Inevitably, the overall story is dry. But there will be those who demand it is dry because none of the film’s characters are permitted to express emotions. To a considerable degree they will be right because many of the characters’ emotions are suppressed or oppressed. They all abide to the people in power, those that rule over this world easily by brainwashing individuals into taking pills that render them unemotional. They act mechanically and follow a strict routine that mostly consists of them working on building robots.
THX-1138‘s first half is dedicated to showing us every detail of this world, almost as if Lucas, in a prideful way, is idolizing his own work. He shows this all to us by focusing on one of the individuals subjected to this world. He, like everyone else, goes by a name that is consisted of randomly placed letters and numbers. Our tour guide, if you will, is named THX-1138 (Robert Duvall). Duvall brings a sense of much needed humanity to this role. We can detect in his eyes that he is up to no good; that he wants to develop a conscious that he can claim as his own. He and a woman named LUH (Maggie McOmie) have been illegally participating in sexual acts deriving from their negligence of their prescribed pills.
There is a contrasting style found in the film’s second half. The slow and meticulous environment we have been shown tediously in the film’s first half is turned into a frenzy racetrack in the second half. Our two lovers, along with some other radicals trying to upend the system, are on the run from authorities. Its quick pacing is incomparable to anything found in the film’s beginnings. Lucas altogether abandons all remnant of a narrative and takes the easy way out by setting up the character THX-1138 on what seems to be an endless journey of fleeing from authorities.
The film is not emotionally engaging at all. Lucas seemed to exhaust all his creative energy on the visuals of the film, something he would undoubtedly fix on his way in creating the first Star Wars trilogy. There is no way for us to realize the danger that Lucas’ dystopian society posits. We are persuaded to visually see the deterioration of this society and not experience the harm it does to humanity. As one human character speaks: “Cybernetics, genetics, lasers, and all those things. I guess I’ll never understand any of that stuff.”
HIGH-DEF Picture: There is a torture scene in the movie that involved three robotic officers probing with long black sticks Robert Duvall’s character. It is not anything graphic or pulsating, but it occurs in an unnatural environment. Enormous is this space where the action is taking place. It is nothing extravagant to look at. What grabs our attention is the color of the enormous room. Everything is white, evoking a room that extends beyond infinite. The Blu-ray transfer (after watching the standard definition on DVD) supports this scene by creating a fierce and overwhelming transfer. The brightness of the color white in this scene is wonderful. White dominates this dark and despairing film. But it is a white that makes us anticipate something bad happening. The transfer only heightens the rigidity we feel while watching. We are not comforted by this white; instead we are petrified of it. And this is where Lucas’ visuals pay off. We instantly fastened to our seats when we insert this disc. When it comes to the high-definition quality of THX-1138 we can’t help but become happy spectators indulging in the beautiful white imagery.
Master Sessions with Walter Murch; SD: This is a feature resembling what other Blu-ray films call an “in-movie experience.” But instead of the certain commentaries popping up while the film is going on, we are taken out of the high-definition and into a standard definition full screen where the 3-minute clip explains the music of a particular scene. Also, this feature can be viewed individually by choosing “index” mode.
Behind the Story: Useful commentary while the film is in progress by George Lucas and screenwriter/sound designer Walter Murch. Lucas discusses the version of THX-1138 he made while in film school at USC.
Theatre of Noise: Isolated sound effects track that makes sounds in the movie more noticeable and pronounced.
Trailers: Original 1971 trailer and five trailers for the 2004 re-release director’s cut version.
MOVIE: *1/2 out of ****
HIGH-DEF: ***1/2 out of ****
FEATURES: ** out of ****