THX 1138

George Lucas decides that his 1984 would be a better film if it had digital monkeys.



In Olivier Assayas' 1996 film Irma Vep, there's a moment that perfectly if obliquely captures the infantilizing allure of movies. The director of Irma Vep's movie within a movie has suffered a total breakdown while remaking a classic French film from his childhood. When the cast and crew watch the clips edited before his breakdown, they discover the film is covered with strange doodles and laser beams shooting from the actors' eyes, as if the film had fallen into the hands of a five-year-old boy.


Which brings us to the ongoing mental deterioration of George Lucas. Fans have already written online tomes worthy of David Foster Wallace on Lucas' refusal to include the original versions in his Star Wars DVD trilogy. But little has been said about the so-called "director's cut" DVD release of Lucas' 1971 debut film THX 1138, the butchery of which is even more egregious than having to see Jabba the Hutt walk.


THX 1138 stars Robert Duvall as the titular THX, a worker in a futuristic corporate dystopia where sex is illegal and order is maintained by kindly robot policemen and a strict regimen of approved drugs. Tech workers with shaved heads wander gleaming white subterranean halls, venting their despair in mechanized confessionals where a Christ-like computerized voice bestows the blessings of the masses and urges them to "buy more, now."


THX 1138's pessimistic approach to sci-fi was very much of its time. 1972, for example, would see the release of overpopulation shocker Soylent Green and the ecological apocalypse of Silent Running. Yet Lucas' picture was far ahead of its class, thanks largely to his technical expertise. The restored DVD makes clear what an extraordinary knack Lucas, along with renowned editor and THX co-writer Walter Murch, had for sound effects (Lucas would go on to name his revolutionary sound system after this film).


Yet Lucas' obsession with digitalia and cartoony creatures has also led him to add new scenes to this, his one "serious" film, and the result is so full of unintended irony it could be prescribed as a cure for anemia. Effects added to THX's climactic car chase seem directly lifted from The Phantom Menace. But the worst violation is Lucas' addition of CGI ape-men that attack Duvall as he flees from corporate tyranny.


As Duvall tries to get the digital monkey off his back, the question arises: Which is more terrifying? The world of THX 1138? Or a world in which filmmakers have the technological means to destroy their own legacy?


--Joshua Avram

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