Be forewarned: THX 1138 is not for all Star Wars fans. This is hard sci-fi, like the kind Kubrick used to make. There are no cute furry Ewoks, there is no villain, there is not much in the way of heroics. This is a dystopian future brought to you by the once-brilliant director, unhampered by his own commercial drives. This is as pure a vision as it gets.
One viewing is not enough to digest THX1138. There is not much in the way of dialogue, or exposition. There is no traditional music, and the story plods along in a very Kubrickian fashion.
It is the future, and humanity now lives in a vast underground city, so vast that nobody ever ventures out to its superstructure where malformed, monkey-like "Shell Dwellers" remain. Perhaps they are mutants, victims of a long-forgotten nuclear holocaust. It is never explained and it's never supposed to be explained. Humanity lives in a sterile, pristinely white city that resembles the dullest of shopping malls. Every word spoken is monitored, including at strange Catholic-looking confessionals, where one prays to the State and the Masses and a weird Christ-like face. Children are taught entire school courses via a chemical IV. Sexual activity is forbidden unless you are scheduled to produce a child. Sedation by drugs is compulsory. Failure to take your medications will result in drug offences and rehabilition. Some humans are deemed defective and left to themselves in a strange white prison, an asylum that seems to go on forever.
Our protangonist is THX-1138, called "Tex" for short. He is played by the young Robert Duvall. He does not feel well. He feels sick, shaky, because he is off his medication. Feelings of love and lust are stirring for his roomate, LUH. The lack of medication has allowed him to feel these feelings for the first time. It has also, however, affected his work, and one error is all it takes to clue in the powers-that-be that THX is a drug offender.
Many themes turn up again in Lucas' later films. A totalitarian faceless government, complete with faceless law enforcement, in this case, robot officers. Staticy background dialogue makes up the most of the soundtrack to this film. Remember how the Stormtroopers sounded when they spoke? Imagine that, constantly, in the background. Lucas has taken sound effects and used them as music, yet they still convey information crucial to the plot. Some shots are duplicated almost perfectly in Star Wars, see if you can spot them.
Some scenes are chilling. THX is channel surfing and comes upon a program of an officer beating a human repeatedly for no apparent reason. This is the entertainment of the future. In another scene, two techs are tormenting THX's body, but their dialogue betrays absolutely no connection whatsoever to the human being they are hurting. "Don't let it get above 48," says one, as THX is writhing in agony. "Oh, you let is get above 48, see, that's why you're getting those readings."
The theme of escape, which was common with Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars, is what is driving THX. He eventually finds an ally in Don Pedro Colley, a "hologram" who he meets in the white asylum. SEN (Donald Pleasance) is suitably creepy as a man whom seems obsessed with THX and LUH. Together, can they escape the city and see what is beyond?
Lucas loves tampering with his films and THX is one of them. CG race cars and cityscapes enhance the film, while CG Shell Dwellers look phony and out of place. I would have preferred the original Shell Dwellers, but in the cityscapes, the new effects certainly add depth and believability.
DVD bonus features are awesome, including ample documentaries. The main feature for me was the original black and white student film that Lucas made: THX1138-4eB - Electronic Labyrinth. See how his vision survived intact to the big screen, and see how ideas such as dialogue acting as the soundtrack was present in the original short.
A fantastic visionary sci-fi film, and a warning to us today. We must not allow our society to become as controlled as THX's. Not for everybody. Only for those who like thinking man's sci-fi.
4 stars. Near perfect.