The “director’s cut” has become an interesting
institution in the cinema world. It is simultaneously symbolic both
of gratuitous indulgence by the director and of the greedy
commercialism of major studios. George Lucas seems to be intent on
obscuring the line between the two. He does not appear to be
capable of letting his films stand the test of time. Fortunately,
the new director’s cut of his debut feature “THX
1138” fares better than the revised versions of the
“Star Wars” trilogy. “THX” has style and
vision in spades, but its unoriginal, cliché plot and a lack
of focus prevent it from being truly memorable.
“THX” is set in a futuristic, Orwellian society
where efficiency is maximized and free will is scorned. The
omnipresent government keeps its citizens at bay with a
hormone-subduing cocktail of sedatives. The title character, THX
1138 (Robert Duvall), is an assembly worker in a facility that
builds the city’s robotic police force. His complacent stupor
is radically upset when his roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie),
replaces one of his daily drugs with a placebo, inducing the two to
fall in love and have sex. The “chemical imbalance” is
immediately detected in THX and the two are promptly separated and
punished. THX is imprisoned in a stark white cell with a mix of
criminals and mental patients. With the help of fellow prisoner SEN
5241 (Donald Pleasence, “Halloween”), THX escapes and
races toward freedom.
The unnamed city of “THX” is a striking visual
achievement especially considering the shoestring budget Lucas had
to work with. Everything is always awash in bright white light:
Corridors stretch into the horizon and causeways are teeming with
generic drones and sleekly rendered vehicles. The utterly empty
prison looks like an obvious inspiration for “The
Matrix.” The film is filled with fascinating details such as
THX’s holographic television and surveillance cameras inside
medicine cabinets. The new CGI special effects are immediately
apparent, but not in a distracting way. Lucas has done an admirable
job of making the new effects look like they belonged in 1971.
The problem with “THX” is that Lucas basically fails
to deliver anything to keep the audience interested in the
compelling world he has created. The story comes off as being
pieced together from a host of other dystopian science-fiction
movies. The bumbling climax that has THX being chased by a pair of
robots is contrived and never engaging. Duvall does an adequate job
portraying THX, but he never displays any sign of internal
conflict. In effect, the characters passively drift through the
movie. Only Pleasence delivers a memorable performance as the
“THX” should be asking challenging questions but it
never does. It is concerned neither with the nature of this
centrally planned government nor its philosophical implications.
There are hints of religious undercurrents, in the fashion of
“Brave New World’s” Ford, but they remain
undeveloped. THX sits in a confessional booth and talks to an
illuminated portrait that responds in prerecorded bits of advice.
This could have given the audience a look at the spiritual side of
this society, but instead it just makes a throwaway joke.
“THX” has lofty ambitions but fails to serve any higher
The budding talent of Lucas is readily apparent. However,
“THX” is indicative of his weaknesses as well. Lucas
has continually proved himself adept at creating expansive worlds,
but he never seems to be able to properly utilize them. The core of
the film is as empty as the sterilized souls of the people in it.
“THX” is a film that could have been great, but instead
will forever serve solely as an example of visual ingenuity in the
face of technical and financial limitations.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.