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Thursday, September 16, 2004

George Lucas first film, THX 1138 The directors cut was released on dvd yesterday and I had the opportunity to see it with all that digitally re-mastered glory. This film is pure science fiction drama and contains many inspired shots and sequences and getting to see it for the first time without commercial interruptions and in a 16:9 aspect ratio is wonderful but, I do have a few issues with this revamped release.

First off, a little history. THX-1138 was first reluctantly released by Warner brothers in 1971. It marked the first film for American Zoetrope. Francis Ford Coppola had remarkably managed to sign a seven picture contract with Warner Brothers Studios and when the Warner executives saw THX 1138, they did not like it at all and attempted to shelf the project. Young George Lucas and Coppola, the executive producer, would not let that happen and the movie did eventually manage to go into limited release. This initial "bomb" for American Zoetrope almost brought the fledgling company to the straits to bankruptcy but it did manage to once again right itself with the subsequent hit the "Godfather." I suppose due to the subsequent success of Star Wars, THX 1138 made it onto the television by the eighties. This is the medium from which I was first able to see this particular film.

THX 1138 screams film school art film. Lucas seemed very idealistic at the time and took no compromises in the writing of his screenplay. Since the film basically was an adaptation of one of his earlier film school works, much of the essence of those days and techniques and style carried over into this project. Like any film school project, many low-budget techniques were utilized to keep the film from going over budget. These tricks included the use of guerilla film making tactics at various locations around San Francisco and the use of architecture that was already in place as opposed to the traditional use of elaborate and expensive sets. The movie is on the short side at 95 minutes long but contains enough content to correctly deliver the message of the film. It is funny to me that a few years later, a similar film came out in 1976. It seems that the more campy Logan's run could very well have been inspired by the plot of THX 1138. Logan's run, however, lacks the high brow film school pretense that seems to saturate this first film by Lucas.

The dvd release itself is beautifully done, it has great cover work and contains a really great bonus disc that contains among other items, Lucas' original student film from his days as a film student at USC. The whole movie has been remastered in digital "THX" sound. This is probably the best and only thing Lucas should have done to his film but he did not stop there. Much like his earlier Stars Wars re-releases for theater and VHS, Lucas for some reason decided to insert little CGI animals into a few of the scenes. At one point I was expecting to see Jar Jar Binks show up but thankfully he must have just stayed hidden away back in the shadows. I still think that current CGI technology looks awful and does not look real enough and actually cannot compare at this point in time to traditional composite "stop motion" techniques. A positive addition of CGI, however, came with the improved car chase sequence. Lucas added some very video game-like CGI shots of THX 1138 driving aggressively through a busy freeway of the future. This was good and well done but still felt a slight bit out of place. I really did enjoy it however. Maybe he will release a videogame to complement this film at some point. I also came to notice that he takes the time to add several CGI landscapes of the underground city here and there with the hopes of adding a bit more depth to the stark white future that is in the end, THX 1138.

All in all, I think this film was well-made and superbly shot. It contains a powerful message and thankfully lacks any sense of a traditional Hollywood formula. Far from being a money maker even as a new dvd release, it will hopefully find its place sitting among the other science fiction greats in the collections of future film makers and among the die hard fans of the Star Wars series.

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