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In some dystopian future, the human race has been relocated to an underground city located beneath the Earth's surface. The people are entertained by holographic TV which broadcasts sex and violence, while a robotic police force enforces the law. All citizens are drugged to control their emotions and their behavior, and sex is a crime. This all changes when a female surveillance operator named LUH 3417 decides to skip her meds. Overcome by a surge of foreign feelings, she replaces the pills of roommate, THX 1138. He experiences a similar reaction, and eventually falls in love with LUH 3417 and gets her pregnant. Sh*t hits the fan after that, leaving THX 1138 on the run from shiny policemen.
Oh, George Lucas. When I was a wee tyke, you were the coolest guy around. Things changed when I saw the re-released original STAR WARS Trilogy in theatres, and then again after I saw THE PHANTOM MENACE. When the details of your continued 'revisionist' ideals for your beloved STAR WARS franchise came to light when the series hit DVD for the first time, I no longer had the same admiration for you. How ironic that with THX 1138, a story of an Orwellian-esque society, you decided to 'revise' it in 2004 instead of leaving the original cut intact. No longer would the original cut exist. In its place, we have a film that seems as artificially constructed as the world within the film.
Before I bore you with the whole revisioning that took place, I'll break down what does work with the film. The thing that sticks out (at least in the original version) are the visuals. Lucas crafted a sterile, monochrome environment that's unsettling and claustrophobic. It feels like being in a giant medical clinic, cold and devoid of colour. Adding to that was the decision to have everybody's heads shaved made the sterility and conformity that much more palpable. Further driving home the unsettling feelings is Walter Murch's sound design. Consisting of things like computer beeps and other mechanical sounds, it at times overshadows Lalo Schifrin's original score for emphasizing a society on its knees with technology.
On the acting side, Robert Duvall turns in an at-times minimalistic performance, but one that emotes thoughts and motivations with subtlety. Of course, it also helps that he's bald, making the focus on his face that much more stronger. In other words, it's a winner. The same could be said for Maggie McOmie in her only screen role, whose facial expressions of pain and struggle to break free of the society that's imprisoned her humanity are again well done. Donald Pleasence is Donald Pleasance, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he turns in a great performance as the soapbox-worthy SEN.
But depending on who you ask, all of this (particularly the visuals) are lost thanks to Lucas' need to revise his film after almost 40 years. Now the revisions aren't jarring as, say, the recent additions to the STAR WARS trilogy (or those damn songs in RETURN OF THE JEDI), but it still alters the way you experience the film. The claustrophobic hallways and factory have now given way to expansion, the holograms have been cleaned up, and the underground complex has been made more 'busy' with the addition of more workers and vehicles. This all pales in comparison to the scene near the end of the film, where THX runs into a pack of shadow-cloaked mutants, who are now akin to crawling on walls and being more animalistic in their tendencies. Really, what was the point? I'd rather have shadowed vagabonds attacking Duvall, not CGI monkies. Of course, all of this uproar could've been avoided if Lucas went the way of seamless branching. But no, that's not the revisionist way.
Getting past Lucas' insecurities about his film, is THX 1138 still worthwhile to see? After all this time, it is. The visuals are still striking, the acting is still wonderful, and while we've been spoiled with impressive dystopian sci-fi films since, THX 1138 still has the thought-provoking actions attached to it as it always did. If you can get past the irony of Lucas' actions, this is a worthwhile film for those looking for something not labeled THE MATRIX.
Video: At least along with Lucas' revisioning, the film itself received a scrubbing. The 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen transfer boasts some great detail and colour, in spite of the fact that the film is almost 40 years old. There is, however, some smearing going on with the picture in some spots, meaning Lucas got a little overzealous with the DNR. Still, this is an impressive-looking picture, though not quite reference quality, but still a looker.
Audio: Much like the video, the audio has received a boost thanks to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The mix is generally focused to the front, with the surrounds being used for atmosphere and environmental cues. Dialogue is clear, albeit a bit 'tinny' in spots. What is here, though, compliments the picture perfectly. Oh, and just to piss off the purists even more, Lucas has omitted the film's original Mono track. Keep it up, George.
All of the extras from the 2004 release have been carried over here to Blu-Ray, though unfortunately don't receive the high-def upgrade. Also, there is no mention of Lucas' revisions, just to smack more hypocrisy in your face.
First up is an audio commentary with co-writer/director George Lucas and co-writer/sound designer Walter Murch. The duo aren't much for enthusiasm, but instead focus on the film's production with exceptional detail. If things weren't clear by the end of the film, things should be explained in this commentary.
Following that is Master Sessions with Walter Murch, in which Murch goes over the sound design of the film in thirteen scene-specific featurettes, either individually or with a "play all" option. You can also access them while watching the film, if you choose.
The biggie documentary here is A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope, which goes over the creation of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola's studio, its purpose and vision, its successes and setbacks, and its influence on cinema over the years. Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss and featuring interviews by Lucas, Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and other Hollywood big-names, this is an informative documentary that while doesn't exactly focus on Lucas' film, is still a great watch.
Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX 1138 is other big documentary on the disc, this one pertaining to the film in question. Lucas as well as key members of his cast and crew examine the film and its production, its meaning and impact, and analyze subjects such as the themes of the film and characters.
For you completists, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB is Lucas' student film upon which the feature film is based on, and is included here in all its low-budget glory.
Another completist treat, Bald is the vintage featurette that Lucas shot in which the cast members get their hair sheared off for the film, some of whom chose to have it done in some odd locales.
Sorta kinda the only high definition extra, Theatre of Noise Experience allows you to experience the film with an isolated music and effects track.
Rounding out the extras are theatrical trailers for the film. Included are the film's original 1971 trailer, and five 2004 re-release promos.
For you Easter Egg hunters, you can access the original 2-page treatment Matthew Robbins wrote for Lucas's student film by highlighting the word "Commentary" in the "Behind the Story" menu and pressing left.
Overall, this is a great package, though it would've been nice if Warner ponied up the time to put the extras in high definition. I mean, the trailers are in standard definition, for f*ck's sake. Why not, at the very least, upgrade those?
Still something to make you think after almost 40 years, THX 1138 was before its time in terms of presenting an Orwellian society on film. The cold, claustrophobic feeling is still here, even amidst Lucas' need to rewrite his own film's history. The excellent extras from the 2004 2-disc DVD set are ported over here (albeit in standard definition), and should please fans of the film and George Lucas, complimenting the great audio/visual presentation.