While it did not get a warm reception when it premiered in 1971, this early effort from "Star Wars" director George Lucas has gone on to become a beloved cult picture with a great deal of admirers. The film, which was based upon the director's 1968 film school short, stars Robert Duvall as THX 1138, a laborer in one of the underground factories of the future, where Big Brother is always watching.
The workers have always been drugged to be peaceful, focused and without any desire to persue things such as individuality. THX has been feeling odd lately, even messing up a task at work, which is a rarity. It turns out that his roommate, LUH (Maggie McOmie), has always had feelings for him and has been secretly cutting his dose of the government-issued drugs he must take in order to allow him to be able to fall for her. Although they believe that their newfound love, passion for each other and individuality can go unnoticed, they are being watched. Before they can escape, the authorities catch them and they find themselves jailed.
Although he becomes separated from LUH, THX finds help from SEN (Donald Pleasance) and when the two find themselves together in jail, THX and SEN band together to escape, finding themselves on the run from a task force that's on a budget. The film's chase sequences, despite being done on a fairly low budget, are superbly choreographed and exciting. As for the story, despite the fact that it is rather thin at times, the film's performances, look and tone are richly realized and compelling.
This "director's cut" of the film didn't seem to add much new in terms of footage, but some new effects have been added to improve the look of some of the backgrounds. While these effects did noticably appear new, they otherwise blended in well with the rest of the scene.
VIDEO: "THX-1138" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film has been restored for this presentation, with George Lucas working intensely on cleaning up the film. The result, considering the film is over thirty years of age, is pretty remarkable and often outstanding. Sharpness and detail are amazing, with fine details clearly visible throughout much of the film.
Flaws are pretty much nonexistent. The print is in exceptional shape; while some light film grain was visible, this certainly did not cause any distraction and was barely noticable. No specks, marks or dirt were seen, nor were any instances of pixelation. Colors remained bright and vivid (although many scenes are largely white), with no smearing or other faults. Black level was solid, while flesh tones were accurate. As one would expect, a THX trailer is offered before the film begins. (The presentation is THX-Certified.)
SOUND: "THX" is presented in remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 on this new special edition. The film's extraordinary sound design (well, for the times) does sound particularly good on this repurposed presentation. The film's sound effects take the film's look and feel to new heights, as they combine to form a symphony of odd bleeps and other electronic sounds. Surrounds do not offer a great deal of information, but they do provide some reinforcement for the various ambient sounds heard, as well as the score. The music and sound effects are spread out nicely across the front speakers. Audio quality remained very good, as while some elements of the presentation did have an ever-so-slightly harsh/dated sound, dialogue, music and sound effects largely remained crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: The DVD includes an audio commentary from director George Lucas and editor/sound designer Walter Murch. The two provide a track that is equal parts story discussion and technical discussion. Lucas does most of the talking, chatting about what he was trying to tell via the story, as well as what influenced him in both the look and storytelling of "THX". Murch talks about additional tidbits (Lucas originally wanted to shoot the film in Japan) and aspects of the production, such as the film's exceptional soundtrack work.
"Theatre of Sound" is a sound-effects only track in Dolby Digital 5.1. "Master Sessions With Walter Murch" has the ace sound designer/editor discussing his work on the film in smaller featurettes. These featurettes can be played throughout the movie (click on the icon when it appears, then you'll be taken back to the film after) or on their own. Their total running time is just under thirty minutes.
The main supplement on the second disc is "A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope". This documentary runs slightly over an hour and talks with a great wealth of people, including Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Speilberg, Carroll Ballard, Caleb Deschanel, Martin Scorsese and John Milius, as well as many others. This documentary takes a very enjoyable look at the changes that came about in the film industry in the seventies, with a band of new filmmakers making leaps and bounds in the kind of material that was made. We also hear more about how Ford Coppola began to pull together his American Zoetrope company, gathering an impressive legion of talent to work within this new production company. There's some terrific tidbits of information (Lucas was originally set to direct "Apocalypse Now") and the interviews are fun, entertaining and honest. Throughout, we learn of the troubles Zoetrope eventually faced, as well as more information about the release of Lucas's "THX".
Next is " Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB", Lucas's original student film. While this piece doesn't always work, it's an excellent student film and fun to see.
"Artifact From The Future" is a 31-minute documentary on the making of "THX-1138". Director George Lucas and members of the cast and crew detail the struggles of making a movie that was rather abstract. The documentary takes a look at issues like casting, creating the look of the film, doing the nude sequences, the soundtrack, post-production work and the release and reaction to the film.
Finally, we get an old promotional featurette for the film ("Bald") and trailers for both the original and re-release of the film.
Final Thoughts: "THX-1138" is an exceptional early effort from George Lucas that thankfully, has gotten the attention it deserves in the years since its original release. Warner Brothers has put together a truly stellar 2-DVD edition for the film, with excellent audio/video quality and fantastic supplements. Highly recommended.
The Film *** 1/2