Tuesday, March 25, 2014

'THX-1138' Review

'THX-1138' is the third film in the Blind Spot Series with TheMatinee.Ca. You can see my Blind Spot movies list in the right hand side bar. Blind Spots are films that I've never seen before and are posted on the last Tuesday of the month. The first film on my list was 'Quest for Fire,' the second blind spot was 'Attack of the 50'-Foot Woman.' I accidentally skipped 'Fahrenheit 451' (1966). So 'Fahrenheit 451' is now on my list for April!
Directed by GEORGE LUCAS
Starring ROBERT DUVALL, MAGGIE MCOMIE, 
and DONALD PLEASANCE

I always enjoy watching science fiction movies from the 1960s and 1970s, not just because of the apparent visual differences, but also because of the social commentary. This may be debatable, but it seems like filmmakers in the 1970s were in some ways braver with regard to artistic expression. I'm sure there are exceptions, but somehow I doubt films like 'Alien,' 'The Exorcist,' 'Jaws,' 'THX-1138,' or on a lighter note, 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' would have been made had they not been made in the 1970s.

Take your pills.
After the atomic age of the 1950s, there seemed to be a cosmic shift in filmmaking. Films in the late 1960s and the 1970s were edgier, filled with more depth and meaning. If films reflect the era they are created in, then it makes sense. The late 1960s and 1970s were tumultuous times. Although every new film likes to think of itself as exactly that, "new." In reality "all of this has happened before and will happen again." There's a little 'Battlestar Galactica' (2004) quote for you, which actually stole the quote from 'Peter Pan.' So there you have it. Nothing is new. Not really. So let's just acknowledge that most modern films are spun from the same thread as their 1970s counterparts.
Robert Duvall (THX-1138)

'THX-1138' came out in 1971 and was George Lucas' first full length feature film. It's based on a student film Lucas did, which was similarly titled 'Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138_4EB.' I guess that title was too long. There was also a novelization of the film afterward by Lucas and Ben Bova, similar to the '2001: A Space Odyssey' collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. This isn't 'THX-1138's only similarity to '2001.' Similar to '2001,' 'THX-1138' is a visually provocative film with the intent of provoking an emotion from the viewer. As '2001' had just come out a few years prior, one could see Kubrick's influence on Lucas. And although I admire Lucas' ambition, George Lucas is no Stanley Kubrick.
Robotic sweat shop.
Similar to George Romero's original 'Night of the Living Dead,' 'THX-1138' is a critique of consumerism. However, 'THX-1138' goes one step further and delves into prescription drug use. The film's critique is ahead of its time, especially considering the decadence of the 1980s, the hyper growth and consumption of the 1990s, and the prescription drug abuse in the 2000s.
Maggie McOmie as LUH-4371
'THX-1138' is a sterile world, filled with drug addled drone-like people, policed by uniformed androids, all of whom are controlled by a faceless dictatorship. Everyone is dressed in all white. Their surroundings are all white, as are their furnishings. Everyone (including women) have their heads shaved. In this world, sex and emotion are strictly prohibited. The 2002 film 'Equilibrium' owes its shirt to this film.
Maggie McOmie (LUH-4371) and Robert Duvall (THX-1138)
'THX-1138' begins inside the main character's medicine cabinet. The main character is of course named THX (Robert Duvall). The cameras inside his medicine cabinet allow the powers that be to monitor his "required" drug use. These drug are called "sedation." Sedation makes the city's inhabitants cold, emotionless, and perfect worker bees. They can concentrate on mundane tasks for hours and hours at a time. THX is literally just a working stiff, working in an unsafe factory handling radioactive materials to make more androids.
Robert Duvall (THX-1138)
Similar to the Eloi from 'The Time Machine,' the people in the world of 'THX-1138' are tasked with two things: increase production and be happy. Messy emotions like love and anger don't mix well in this world. A potential interruption in production is the primary reason people are not allowed to love one another or reproduce on their own. They are given libido inhibitors and other drugs to inhibit their sense of self. If and when they do feel the need for self-reflection, they are provided with religious telephone booths with pre-recorded video screens.
THX-1138 gets ready for a beat down.
THX's roommate, LUH-4371 (Maggie McOmie), is noticeably different. LUH doesn't seem to have the same dead look in her eyes that everyone else does. LUH-4371 works in a control room monitoring "illegal" activities, like love. She feels disgust when a factory similar to the one THX works in, explodes with all of its workers still at their duty stations. When THX arrives home, we see that LUH has been tampering with his medication cocktail, which causes him to start feeling repressed emotions. He starts "not to feel well," which he comes to realize is love for LUH.
Donald Pleasance (SEN 5241) and Robert Duvall (THX-1138)
As THX and LUH face the repercussions for their feelings, LUH discovers that she pregnant. It's at this point that THX and LUH are separated and imprisoned. THX is forced into his own odyssey to escape and find LUH. There are a few supporting roles throughout the film, including Donald Pleasance (SEN 5241) who plays another malfunctioning person, who THX himself has turned in. During his odyssey, THX meets another malcontent named SRT (Don Pedro Colley). SRT is an unhappy hologram who helps THX and SEN plot their escape from their repressed world. THX's conclusion reminded me of Charleston Heston's astronaut (George Taylor) at the end of 'Planet of the Apes.' Yes, that's another film Lucas was likely influenced by.
THX-1138 steals a car
I really wanted to like this film, but it loses steam somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, the film's visuals carry it. What I liked about the film was how stark and raw it felt. Maggie McOmie was the most emotionally raw and intriguing character, but instead of utilizing her more, Lucas buries her underneath a Duvall-centric film. Admittedly, Duvall is wonderful as THX, but McOmie had a sad intensity that none of the other actors matched.
Robert Duvall (THX-1138)
To be fair, I'm viewing 'THX-1138' through modern movie goggles. However, 'THX-1138' was hardly a new concept even in 1971. 'THX-1138' is really just a watered down version of George Orwell's dystopian novel '1984' and the 1967 novel 'Logan's Run,' which was also subsequently turned into a 1970s film. My main critique of the film is that Lucas cobbled together about four or five classic science fiction films and novels and proceeded to slap his name on it.

That said, had films like 'THX-1138' (or similar films of that era) not been made, there wouldn't be anything to imitate or escalate from. Modern filmmakers seem to think that escalation means more gore and brutality, but the filmmakers of the 1970s were psychologically focused. These films wormed their way into your psyche and stayed there. It's part of the reason these films have stood the test of time so well. Fortunately, modern filmmakers like Ti West are trying to recapture some of what was lost.

I remember my dad telling me that when 'The Exorcist' came out in 1973, movie theaters had to place signs up warning people with heart conditions not to see the film. The last time I remember movie theaters felt compelled to place signs up was for 'The Tree of Life.' Evidently the movie was so boring, that people were asking for refunds. So although I don't require a refund for the $9.99 I paid to purchase this film on Amazon Prime, I do wish that I had only rented it for $2.99. 

15 comments:

  1. A watered down 1984. That's an apt description. I saw this film years ago and found it too dry and slow.
    You definitely nailed all the influences though.

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    1. Yes, that's what it felt like to me. It was visually very beautiful, but it was a rehash of so many science fiction films and themes, that it could hardly be considered interesting. Thanks for visiting!

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  2. I liked the imagery, but it was as Alex stated dry.
    I only saw it a few years ago, just because it was Lucas.

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    1. David, I agree. It was a little on the dry side wasn't it? I guess that was my problem with it. It's like Lucas was aiming for '2001,' but didn't have the skill to pull it off.

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  3. Yeah it was really slow to me. Not a fan, yet it always fascinated me that this is what blockbuster creator George Lucas always wanted to make for his film career. Cheers.

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    1. Perspective-- I agree. It was quite slow. I can handle slow, but it was missing something. George Lucas just couldn't pull it off. It felt like a student film, which is of course what it was based on.

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  4. Oddly enough, I felt the same about this that I did about 2001, super neat idea, great visuals, ultimately a bit slow to the point where my mind wandered. I don't think I'd rewatch either film, but I don't regret watching them.

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    1. I think '2001' is definitely slow and it's almost a silent movie. There isn't much dialogue. I mean the first part is basically monkeys running around. The difference btw the 2 movies IMO is the depth of ideas. I had to rewatch '2001' a few times before it really stuck to me. 'THX-1138' is really simplistic at its core, whereas '2001' is actually quite complex. But I can understand why it wouldn't appeal to everyone b/c it didn't appeal to me the first time I saw it either.

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  5. I've been meaning to watch this one Ms. Mariah. Considering it's impact on film and Lucas it's worth it. Great job!

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  6. Hi Maurice thanks. You may want to skip this one! Watch '2001' instead. :)

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  7. There were several movies in the 50's and 60's that put those heart attack warning signs in the lobby. The theater owners didn't have to put them up, they wanted to put them up. They were part of the hype.
    I kind of doubt that anybody ever actually died from watching a movie.

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    1. Hmmm, that's I'm sure it sold lots of tickets.

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  8. Meant to say "that's interesting and it makes sense."

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  9. I totally agree on this movie. The visuals save it and are gorgeous indeed. It was influential too because there were some other dystopias like you pointed out, but not that much.

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    1. Hi, thank you for your comment! I totally agree. I could definitely tell how other films were influenced by this movie. I was glad to have seen it.

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