The most important aspect to remember for first time viewers of THX 1138 is that the movie is not about the future, it is from the future. This important consideration, which is offered in the release’s bonus material disc, doesn’t change the feature, but makes understanding the content that much easier.
To be sure, George Lucas’ message from the future remains visionary and cutting-edge 34 years after production. Imagine Star Wars minus the romantic sentimentality, and then add the biting commentary of a budding film student from USC in the culturally progressive year of 1970, and then one can understand why Francis Ford Coppola calls THX 1138 “a mini classic.”
Although the film is a message of the future, it’s also the way Lucas viewed the world in 1970. To him, the world perpetuated an increasing “shift away from creativity and individual achievement and toward a corporate, consumerist mentality” as stated on the DVD insert. The bonus DVD features another documentary, revealing a greater context to the film and the studio.
What’s most impressive in THX is its cold, uncompromisingly futuristic aesthetic, which consists of white, borderless prisons (where prison seems to be whiteness itself), Bauhausian design of everything (clothes, cars, architecture, furniture) and bald heads. An amusing featurette was filmed during production of all the actors having their heads shaved, whereby some of the actresses involved were driven to tears.
The irony of sci-fi is its portrayal of the future when renderings are limited to the present. Though THX is no exception, its retro-future style is still, if not futuristic, then just plain artsy. The film influenced sci-fi classics Blade Runner and the many eccentric works of David Cronenberg, to name a few.
More than just movies, THX’s aesthetic has been much mimicked in art galleries, hipster magazines and music.
The music of THX is another achievement that could stand on its own as avant-garde orchestra, which could have toured with the Silver Apples or Kraftwerk. Many elaborate methods are used to layer sound in this movie, which are explained in “Theare of Noise” a featurette by co-writer/sound designer Walter Murch. The THX philosophy on sound consists of sound effect as music and music as sound effect, whereby almost every sound beyond recorded dialogue employs a new innovation.
Fans of Lucas’ work fear his updated releases because many feel his “improvements” work against the original work. In THX, however, the director’s meddling is minimal. There’s one part where CGI is obvious, but it’s not worth an emphasized critique.
On the whole, the director’s cut release is a great value. The movie has had cult status since its conception, and the fact that only a few obscure VHS copies existed, floating around the Internet, only made it more so. With the clarity of DVD, audiences can more fully appreciate the many nuances of sound, style and socio-philosophical significance of the film. This is the sort of film that serious students of film want Lucas to rediscover.