THX 1138 is the feature-length version of George Lucas’ student film by the same name. It is his feature length debut as well, not to mention one of the first films to be produced by legendary movie man Francis Ford Cappola. And while we’re talking about firsts, it is one of the first sci-fi films to be set in an Orwellian future. A future that, apparently, audiences and critics were not ready for because the movie was not received well at the time of its release. Lucas even tried to release it again after he gained popularity from Star Wars, but audiences still would not pay to see it. Fortunately, since then the film has gained a cult following, probably because even though the film is not up to the standards of A New Hope, it is still a step above a majority of the crap that Lucas has attached his name to since then. There’s also the fact that most people who go to watch this movie are probably watching it simply because they wanted to see George Lucas’ sci fi vision before it was merchandised away by the gargantuan Star Wars franchise. And I can accept that, because even though THX has its shining moments and is a piece of directing art, it is not a complete masterpiece.
Synopsis: The movie takes place in the 25th century, where mankind lives underground in a highly computerized and controlled society. THX 1138 is the name given to a man, a man who begins to question the world around him after he falls in love. Society, though, condones such thinking, and soon everything that he ever knew and loved is taken away from him. Here, he awakens from the society-inducing slumber of meaningless existence to find out how life is really supposed to be lived.
Acting: Robert Duvall is pretty much the focus of the entire film as THX 1138. He does a fantastic job making his character’s innocence and sense of confusion realistic. Even if the character seems to struggle with the thoughts brought about through discovery, never once does Duvall let THX seem dumb, aloof, or slow to act. Donald Pleasence and Don Pedro Colley add a little humanity to the film by showcasing the characteristics that THX lacks, stupidity and aloofness. They are the two main supporting actors, and other characters come and go but none of them are given much more than a scene. Good (21/25)
- Robert Duvall: Great
- Supporting cast: Good
Script/Plot: I will say it right up front. There isn’t much of a plot and not a whole lot happens in the movie. The story is rather simple and straight forward, almost unsuitable for a feature length film. Lucas makes it work well enough though through extensive use of repetition and artistic cut shots to add drama. The repetition works because nothing is straight up explained to the audience through the action or dialogue. Instead, various phrases and actions of the characters are repeated to paint a clear picture in your head by the end of the movie. It is an unusual technique, and artistic, but is not really entertaining or thrilling to watch, and can get annoying. Okay (15/25)
- Dialogue: Okay
- Script: Okay
- Plot: Okay
- Themes/Messages: Good
Direction: With the actual plot of the film not requiring much screen time, Lucas has free reign to showcase his talent for creating entertaining visuals. The repetition and often course juxtapositions in both the visuals and editing make the movie feel more like an art house film than a simplistic sci fi thriller. The almost total absence of bright colors is as meaningful as it is interesting to look at because it paints a somber tone that plays off of the muted existence of humanity that is being depicted. There’s also a lot of nonsensical and bizarre things that Lucas exposes his audience to, in both story and how he structures the film. This confusion helps to create the lost feeling that the main character is experiencing throughout. Nevertheless, Lucas’ style is both the most important and most distracting part of the movie, so even though there is lots of visual flair, its mostly fluff. Good (23/25)
- Professionalism: Great
- Flow: Good
- Editing: Good
Special Effects: I viewed the director’s cut version with added computer graphics and cut scenes (similar to the Star Wars special editions released in 1997) not present in the original release. It would be interesting to see the film in an unedited version, but I do not think that it exists on DVD. Anyway, the movie is a special effects power house with or without the added computer effects. Sure, some of it looks pretty cheesy, but the sets and even some of the props look as futuristic as ever. I especially enjoyed the totally original white-out prison scenes, giving the movie a real stylistic edge. Good (22/25)
- Special Effects: Good
- Music: Good
- X-Factor: Good
The Verdict: (81/100) = B- (recommended)
- What’s Good: We get an early look at both George Lucas’ wonderfully artistic style and Robert Duvall’s formidable acting, and neither of them disappoint.
- What’s Bad: There’s not a lot of meat on this movie’s bones; it suffers from nontraditional storytelling and a simplistic plot.
- The Verdict: The first in a long line of movies where special effects trump story.
My previous review: Rated: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
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