THX 1138: The Director's Cut
September 9th, 2004
If George Lucas has his way, “Jaws” would be improved if a more fearsome shark were to digitally replace the one we’ve grown to fear for nearly thirty years, and “Gone with the Wind” made better by adding several hundred buildings aflame during the Burning of Atlanta. Thankfully, Mr. Lucas only has his own movies to tinker with. After the “Greedo shoots first” debacle that defined the “Star Wars Special Editions,” and the innocent but worthless alteration of a sunset during the opening credits of “American Grafitti,” George has gone back to his first film, “THX 1138,” and changed it from a cheap redefinition of a possible future to a really fake looking redefinition of a possible future. Already a story without much heart, the remixed version of the 1971 film has now lost its soul.
In an antiseptic future, the government controls the population through Big Brother-like spying, controlled religion and forced consumption of sedatives with all meals. Names have been replaced with an impersonal group of letters and numbers, and workers exist solely to produce and consume. All attempts are made to remove individuality from society. THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) builds police robots and co-exists with his government-assigned roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), wanting nothing more than to enjoy each evening’s choices of holographic entertainment. THX’s world slowly starts to change when, inexplicably, LUH decides to starts removing the drugs from their lives. Unsure why he is feeling these new emotions, THX starts to feel for his roommate, culminating in an illegal act of physical love. Arrested for drug evasion and sexual perversion, the pair are separated, and THX is sent to a antiseptic prison, where he is brutalized by faceless guards and grouped together with a group of social undesirables. Eventually, THX and fellow inmate SEN (Donald Pleasance) decide to leave their detention center boundaries (prisons in this future are all white voids without walls, easy to leave if you can find the way out), with THX trying to make his way outside of the underground city where he has lived his entire life.
While there is no discounting the film was a groundbreaking work when it was first released, it is a story that was build upon a weak contrivance that didn’t work then and still does not work today: why LUH decides to stop taking her drugs. With all the digital alterations and additions, this one small but crucial plot point remains unresolved, a personal choice decision which does not make sense within the storyline constructed by the author. Without any motivation for her sudden change, everything that results from LUH’s decision rings as false as the addition of a rogue hologram program, who conveniently shows up as THX tries to escape his prison and helps get the runaway navigate through the labyrinth of behind the scenes research facilities and tunnels to safety.
As with the previously mentioned changes in Mr. Lucas’s other films, most of the new footage compiled for this release looks blatantly counterfeit, and do little expect pull the viewer out of the story. While the vast majority of these touch-ups involve minor items like futuristic cars in the background or additional crowds, only one change can be deemed useful to the story, the addition of a construction crew in a tunnel during the climactic chase sequence. Another major disappointment is the lack of clarity in the remixing of the soundtrack for the digital age. Like Phil Spector with pop music in the 1960s, Walter Murch created a wall of sound for “THX 1138,” one that effectively conveyed a feeling of dread, but often made certain lines unintelligible. While the sound has been upgraded from mono sound to full 5.1 surround sound, a number of lines are still garbled.
The ultimate irony of “THX 1138” is that very few consumers would be interested in it if not for the mega-success of the “Star Wars” franchise. For a film that warns about the dangers of consumerism, one can only wonder how many more times will Mr. Lucas force this lesser work of his upon an uncaring public before he lets the film slip back into obscurity.
My rating: D