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THX 1138

THX 1138 the George Lucas Director’s Cut on DVD

George Lucas' first movie is an enigmatic film about a rather depressing future society in which the working class consists of drugged masses whose lives consist mostly of merely going through the motions of life, eating, buying and watching TV, while their unseen betters run the show.

Sounds depressing, doesn’t it – or at least a credible vision of American under a Kerry administration – but as in all good stories there’s a lot more to it than that and Lucas shows right from the reverse-scrolling opening credits that he’s an innovative motion picture force with whom to be reckoned - even on this first film.

THX 1138 is the name of the lead character, played by Robert Duvall. He’s a waldo operator, a white costumed blue collar guy who just wants to live his life. But his roommate LUH (Maggie McOmie), is the snake in this supposed Garden of Eden for the Blissfully Unaware. She loves THX and gets him off his meds (as so many women do to so many men!) so he can be clear headed enough to return her affections - until his life is a mess but at least he’s in a relationship.

Hey, maybe this is really a documentary!

Okay, I make light of this and that isn’t fair. This is a serious film, about a man rebelling against a stifling society and against impossible odds. It’s also a terrific film, one that justifiably put George Lucas on the map. And from this point onward he redrew that map and continues to do so today.

THX 1138 is actually an expanded version of a student film Lucas made while attending USC. The theatrical version was made under producer Francis Ford Coppola’s wing, and though it’s basically a rather bleak vision of a world in which consumerism and corporations are the ultimate dictator, in the end it’s rather uplifting because it shows that one man can make a difference.

The movie never tells us how this society evolved; rather, joins it in progress and uses style and moviemaking, for example the stifling white-on-white sterile society, and the claustrophobic yet overpowering, all pervasive sound design to emphasize a soulless world of human drones.

I first saw THX 1138 on its original theatrical release and it made me a Lucas fan. Even though it isn’t something you’ll probably watch over and over the way you can a Star Wars or even an American Graffiti, Lucas tells a compelling story using images and sounds, rather than dialog, and if nothing else it's an interesting and innovative technique.

See this movie if for no other reason than to get Lucas' inside jokes in other films, such as the licence plate (THX 138) of Paul Le Mat's car in American Graffiti and a comment in Star Wars Episode IV about a transfer from "cell block 1138."

Warner Home Entertainment has done an excellent job on the DVD. This Director’s Cut, which seems to have had some new digital special effects added (which look neat but don’t really add to the film – kind of like Lucas’ Special Editions of the original Star Wars Trilogy), features outstanding audio and video.

The THX-certified (and how appropriate is that?) transfer features gorgeous anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) video, though during the all-white scenes that’s a tad wasted. But what colors there are look great, with sharp images and wonderful detail. Audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it sounds excellent – they’ve even added some good surround effects.

Extras abound. Spread over the two discs are a running commentary by George Lucas and co-writer/sound effects editor Walter Murch, a nifty sound effects track (“Theatre of Noise”) that uses DVD’s branching capabilities to whisk you to some 13 master sessions with Walter Murch. You also get two new documentaries "A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope" and "Artifacts from the Future: The Making of THX 1138,” both of which are fascinating.

Perhaps best of all, they’ve even included George Lucas' original student film "THX-1138 4EB" so you can see the project that launched a career and a dynasty. It’s pretty neat.

And that isn’t all. You also get "Bald", a production featurette from the film’s original release date, five new trailers from the new theatrical release, and the original theatrical trailer.

It’s a marvelous presentation of an innovative and interesting film.

THX 1138, from Warner Home Entertainment
88 min. anamoprhic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Robert Duvall, Maggie McOrmie, Donald Pleasence,
produced by Lawrence Ssturhahn,
written by George Lucas and Walter Murch, directed by George Lucas


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