Sci-Fi December: THX 1138

THX 1138 illustration by Jeff Schwartzbauer

THX 1138 – 1971, 2004 (Directors Cut)

Dir: George Lucas | Starring: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence

Year: Undisclosed Future

Review: Released 6 years prior to Star Wars: A New Hope George Lucas created his very first feature film which was to begin the career of a experimental film maker. The experimental film maker however would be squashed by his own behemoth creation. This is by no means a stab at the initial three Star Wars films, and I don’t even necessarily think this film is superior, but there is a curious analog to what becomes of George Lucas and the character THX 1138 in the film of the same name. THX is a slave to a massive machine employing him and controlling him to function within in a factory at peak efficiency who eventually goes off the meds and attempts to break free. Lucas creates the single most successful film franchise and is pulled into ensuring its operation for decades before just recently finally breaking himself free. There is a feature on the 2-Disc Directors cut for this film called A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope about Francis Ford Coppola’s film studio which released THX 1138 and showcases Lucas’ as this young visionary with all the potential in the world and even has modern comments from Lucas saying that he is looking forward to returning to making small budget experimental films now that the gears of Star Wars are starting to slow. However, in the years since the release of those comments it seems Lucas’ is now content on just phasing out entirely from  cinematic direction. Its a shame because in his first three features that he directed (THX 1138, American Grafitti, Star Wars IV) showcase a director with a eye for atmosphere and great layered characters, and then his last three (Star Wars Episode: I, II, & III) show a director who can only create busy CG backdrops for his cardboard characters to deliver dreadful dialogue infront of. Its hard to imagine the he hasn’t drummed all the creativity he once had out of himself in his attempts to outdo himself and correct himself.

THX 1138 wasn’t safe from George’s self-correction either, but since there was never a home release of the original 1971 cut its hard to see what level of changes have been made and Lucas seems to have no intention of releasing that original cut. However, from what little comparisons you can see from the Making of features, the additions and new footage seem to have been a worthwhile addition to make up for some budget restraints he had and to flesh out some ideas that required modern technology. It doesn’t seem to be nearly as invasive as it was with the Star Wars films.

So, with all the Lucas’ career drama and Star Wars stuff aside, I highly recommend watching THX 1138, its great sci-fi with an artful touch and would be worth watching no matter whose name is attached to the director credit.

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