THX-1138: Director’s Cut (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 13 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

There was a rise in newer filmmakers at the turning point of the sixties. One group sought to turn the movie industry upside down with their new vision. That group of multi-talented filmmakers took the name of American Zoetrope and their goals were filled with hopes and dreams of a modern day studio and all its technological advances and all. As it turns out, the group swung a seven picture deal with Warner Brothers. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to make six of them but the one movie that was completed came from an up and comer named George Lucas and was a big screen version of a short film he did about a future society and one such individual finding any means of escape in his own way no matter what minor obstacles come in his way. This is a future with no names but letters and numbers and this one individual is known as THX-1138.

Behold a society where taking pills is a necessity and any such refusal could result in major violations and a prison with no walls or chains or bars or nothing but white. During one such time, resident THX-1138
(Robert Duvall) doesn’t know what’s happening to him and he senses he needs something stronger. On the other hand, unusual activity is coming from his housemate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) because of a lack of drug taking. Pretty soon in their newfound pure state, they start to have feelings for each other on a bigger level. Things progress until an operator named SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance) leads onto their together activities and arranges for THX to be charged with those illegal activities. With no real mate by his side, THX ponders the fate of LUH, how does he get out of this small world even if SEN believes “one idea could get us out of here”.

George Lucas once said that this film is the same scenario done three different ways. I had seen this film three different times and this is the result. The first time I had seen this film it was interesting visually but the appearance looked like a widescreen student film with ideas but not much else. Of course it didn’t have the look of the cheapest looking widescreen film (that honor went to Grease) but it had enough of a curiosity cloud to watch it a second time, this with the commentary on and from listening to it I got a better sense the second time around of what the movie was really getting at and the points it was trying to make. From that enthusiastic viewing I gave it one more ride on the merry go round and I view it as a visually unique film that is one man’s struggle against the challenges of the world that he resides in and what he does when adversity slowly shows its face.

The cast is decent and goes through the world bald both male and female. Luckily, it doesn’t distract from the overall feel of the film. I like Lucas’ idea of a used future as opposed to a big one that is in almost every futuristic film. One of the strong points of the film is the score by Lalo Schifrin which has a few touches of his past scores (listen to the reversed Cool Hand Luke theme in one scene) and does in concept a unique thing which Walter Murch goes over in one part of the disc. As for this cut, there are some changes but none of them lose the overall impact of the film as watching the original there were some set improvements in this cut over the original and it didn’t hurt to expand the little world one step at a time.

Through this experience, THX-1138 is a film that is one of the kind from the future that doesn’t fail to be idealistic and doesn’t hesitate to think and thrill at the same time.

Video: How does it look?

“THX-1138” looked good for a film of its age on standard DVD and I’m pleased to say that this Blu-ray version has raised the bar, if only by a bit. Much of the film has a stark white look to it, giving it a very nice contrast. Colors are very bold and as with the DVD, there isn’t any bleeding so we get a nice, sharp and very well-defined look to the image. Detail looks a bit improved, no doubt to the increased resolution and this early work by Lucas and company shows that even the non “Star Wars” titles can still look amazing.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack found on the standard DVD has been replaced with that of a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Let’s face it, with a “Lucasfilm” movie you’re going to get two things: good audio and good video. As we’ve already seen, the video is superb and though audio has come a long way since this initial release, Lucas and company have done a great job at making the movie sound as good as it possibly can. The car/motorcycle chase sequence is among the best in the film and we find the entire soundtrack even and well-balanced. For those looking for a good soundtrack – it’s here.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Warner released this as a two-disc set back in 2004 and now they’ve managed to squeeze the supplements into one Blu-ray disc. Warner and Lucas have gone to the hilt to produce some exceptional extras starting with a great commentary track from both director George Lucas and co-writer/sound engineer Walter Murch. Back and forth both contribute some of the film’s mystery as well as their take on the film in what was going on at the time of making the film to some of THX’s hidden meanings and how this world had been run. For the average viewer who didn’t understand the film the first time, this commentary warrants a second look into it as it gives a better understanding of what it’s all about. (Also available is a single disc version of the film. This is where the extras on the single disc version of the film end).

In addition, there is a “Theater of Noise Experience” which is an isolated music and sound effects track that is a nice touch for those only wishing to view the movie much like Lucas’ student film, without any dialogue and just effects and score.

On top of that there is Master Sessions, branching video segments with Walter Murch that can be viewed all together or be viewed separately or by clicking into it while the film is running identified at the bottom by the little object featured in the film. These sessions go more extensively in detail what tricks with sound and score were done to take this film possible and Murch is always intriguing to listen to with his distinct voice and his little ideas that have had him go on to do great sound work in other films.

These are some great extras for this film so much so that I almost forgot there was a second disc with even more stuff.

The first documentary is A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope which shows how a group of West Coast filmmakers got together in a communal sense to start up something new and something different in the filmmaking world of the early seventies as these film students dreamed of the ultimate filmmaking community with the top of the line projects and the newest in technological advances. The overall sense of this documentary is amazing on how each one contributed to it’s high stakes, its display and it’s unfortunate demise in the early days leading up to another rise later on in the future. This is a superb piece that has big screen adaptation written all over it documenting a studio that should’ve been and how the general idea continues to be possible in its own form now.

The second, Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX-1138, covers some that was covered in the commentary but not all as it gets interviews from almost all of the cast present day as well as the fellow Zoetropians giving their take on the film as well as fellow filmmakers that were inspired by THX-1138 in one respect or another. The documentary never brings itself to be a fluff piece and continues with the solid energy that made the Zoetrope documentary great as Gary Leva puts together both of them flowing as nicely as fine wine and it’s a pleasure to see the cast present day give their take on everything as it was happening.

Lucas’ original student film THX-1138 Electronic Labyrinth 4EB is a great addition and intriguing to see the feature film it had spawned into as even with it’s limitations it has it share of similarities and differences. It’s a good compare and contrast piece.

Finally there are 6 trailers all in 2.35:1 for this film. The first being for the original film and the others are different trailers for the recent re-release in September of this year. They all have their own selling points with the fourth and fifth being the best of the bunch. My one regret is not including the film’s original cut to analyze the differences properly as done with the ET set a few years ago.

If you search even harder on the 2nd disc menu of the lower right hand corner, you’ll get the disc credits and if you push to the right again you’ll see the face of OM pop up and upon hitting enter, you’ll find an Easter Egg in the form of Matthew Robbins original treatment that inspired Lucas to make THX-1138. An interesting find.

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