Release Date(s)1971 (September 7th, 2010)
Studio(s)American Zoetrope (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
In an uncertain future, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is struggling. He’s a drug-controlled factory worker and consumer, like everyone else living in his underground society. Unlike the others, however, THX is beginning to feel emotions. His roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), is also experiencing emotions.
As it happens, LUH is in love with THX and has been deliberately weaning him off his daily regimen of drugs so that he might love her back. This eventually works, but along with love, they begin to feel fear, paranoia and dissatisfaction with their life as well. As THX and LUH struggle with these new emotions, it’s only a matter of time before society discovers their deviant behavior... and reacts accordingly.
Addressing as it does the loss of identity and control of the individual in a modern, technological civilization, I’ve come to think of THX 1138 as director George Lucas’ most interesting work. What is a single human life worth in an industrial, consumer world? Are we just cogs in an economic machine, expendable if overhead gets too high, our value defined by the products we buy and make? These questions are far more relevant now than they were back in 1971, when Lucas first asked them. Anyone who works for a large corporation knows the same pressures Robert Duvall’s THX feels in this film: “Work hard. Increase production. Prevent accidents.” Anyone who lives in the Western world is bombarded with a similar consumer message: “Buy more. Buy more now. Buy more and be happy.” Are we not almost constantly pummeled with ads offering products to keep our hair from falling out, maintain erections and have softer, younger looking skin? It’s almost scary how much TV advertisements these days sound like moments from THX 1138: “Ask your doctor about purple pill. If you have certain medical conditions, purple pill may be the answer...”
Like the previous DVD, this Blu-ray includes Lucas’ new director’s cut of THX 1138, restored and extended in the same way that his Star Wars films have been enhanced with new CGI footage. The interesting thing to me here is, the new footage actually serves THX better than it does the Star Wars films. Instead of just adding an eye-candy menagerie of strange creatures and alien vistas, the footage here mostly expands the sense of scale. For example, we now see the vastness of the factory floor, many more levels of hallways packed with workers, and more vehicles moving around the underground complex. The film certainly works without this new footage, but I don’t think it’s really hurt by it either. THX 1138 still retains its full share of foreboding and claustrophobia.
Like their Forbidden Planet Blu-ray, Warner’s new Blu-ray edition of THX offers an excellent high-definition video presentation of the film, delivering accurate colors (though you don’t see many in this film), generally crisp detail, good contrast and just a hint of light image grain. The new CG effects occasionally look a little sharper than the rest of the live action footage, but otherwise the new and old imagery blends well. The discs’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is an excellent lossless upgrade from the previous DVD mix. As was the case with the DVD, the mix here is biased towards the front portion of the soundstage, but the surrounds are used very effectively for atmosphere and environmental cues. The overall A/V experience is quite pleasing.
Also like Forbidden Planet, the new THX 1138 Blu-ray is almost an exact port of the previous (and excellent) 2-disc special edition DVD. In fact, virtually every special feature from the DVD carries over here, including the excellent audio commentary with Lucas and co-writer/sound designer Walter Murch, the Theatre of Noise isolated sound effects track and Master Sessions video featurettes with Murch, the outstanding A Legacy of Filmmakers documentary (on Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and the history of American Zoetrope studios), the behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of THX, Lucas’ original 1968 Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB student film, the vintage Bald production featurette, the set of trailers for THX, and even the nifty Easter egg from the DVD – it’s all here. This new edition continues to be as thoughtful an examination of a film as you’ll find on disc. My only issue here is that there’s nothing new on the disc exclusively created for Blu-ray, and none of the original SD special features have been upgraded in high-def. It’s a small complaint, but a valid one nonetheless.
THX 1138 is old school Lucas, the way Close Encounters is old school Spielberg. After all these years, it’s still a genuinely satisfying and thought-provoking experience – one that continues to grow ever more relevant with age. Lucas has long said that he’d like to return to his pre-Star Wars creative roots, and I certainly hope he does. Because if he’s got a few more films like THX left in him, you can bet I’ll stand in line to see them.
- Bill Hunt