Top positive review
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"Can you hear me? Stay calm. Everything will be all right."
on 10 June 2008
Bar a few exceptions (Bladerunner being the obvious one) I find the notion of the director's cut a highly suspicious enterprise, especially from a director whose post-70s output has been so poor. I also hate the extraneous use of CGI effects, which I think are lazy and poor in comparison to the stylish model work of films from the period. Setting aside any on the use of CGI, here it is largely sparing, adding colour and detail but rarely superfluous. As I am not familar with the original film, it wasn't always jarringly obvious what was added and what has just been cleaned up in the remastering. Yes, there are some pointless CGI creatures thrown in for good measure - Lucas probably couldn't resist - but the spirit of the 70s remains.
What is most striking about THX 1138 is the sound. Lalo Schifrin's score has apparently been digitally scrubbed up and is paramount to the mood and intensity of the film. A continual bleed of dislocated voices, radio chatter, metallic echoes and other abrasive, industrial sonic ephemera, you can see why the film had such a powerful influence on leftfield musicians from DJ Shadow to Radiohead. The latter's 'Fitter, Happier' could have been lifted directly out of the film, in which robot voices calmly reassure us that 'for more enjoyment and greater efficiency, consumption is being standardized.'All this adds to the film's maddeningly dislocated atmosphere, its themes of dehumanisation and automisation.
For a new viewer to the film, THX 1138 is shockingly avant-garde, and bears no resemblance whatsoever to any of Lucas' subsequent work. It has a loose, drifting narrative, a main character in Duval who is hardly lucid and is driven by non-articulated instincts to escape the nightmarish Orwellian society he is trapped in. Although indebted to 1984 and Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and to a lesser extent Brave New World and the works of Philip K Dick, it is important not to understate the key role this film has played in the history of Sci-Fi. It has clearly had a profound influence on countless films from Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' and '12 Monkeys', to 'Gattaca'. Despite the science-fiction tag, this is very much a contemporaneous piece born from a climate of paranoia about surveillance that surfaced under Nixon and was manifest in films like The Conversation by Francis Ford Coppola, who was tellingly the producer here. It has its own singular visual identity, all starched whites, bald heads and surgical gowns, and there are some extraordinarily expressionistic scenes that rank among the genre's finest.
While the idea of citizens being debased to drug-induced, barcoded consumers is not wholly new - see Aldous Huxley - 'THX 1138' still seems to pre-empt alot of the more contemporaenous suspicion towards consumer culture among musicians, filmmakers and writers. In structure and atmosphere, it is nightmarish stuff that requires an audience prepared to accept ambiguity and near absence of meaningful structure or dialogue. However, such a dislocated mood is vital for a film which deals with a society of automatons whose human desires and thoughts are being ruthlessly subjugated and managed. Let yourself get sucked in!