It's easy to look back through the works of George Lucas and note the talent and potential waiting to erupt. Hindsight is always 20/20, in that sense. The man who would single-handedly redefine cinema in the late '70's was quite talented, though, and I do want to stress that usage of the past tense, as we've all seen the steep decline his works and vision have take over the years.
The first foray into the genre that made him a household name was made in 1967, in film school at USC, as 'Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB' wowed audiences and fellow students. A full four years later, the fifteen minute film was made full-length, fleshed out, in imagery and content, with the shortened name 'THX 1138,' the designator of the protagonist, as history was one step closer to being made.
The world of the future is not based off of freedom, rather, the illusion of it. You aren't given a name, but rather a series of letters and numbers, a sign telling of your significance. Your emotions are kept in check, your body and mind sedated and drugged, regulated by the authorities. Refusing to partake in said drug use is illegal. Unauthorized sexual activity is illegal. You are a part of the machine, a cog that can be replaced if it needs to be oiled too often. Such is the world THX (Robert Duvall) "lives" in. But the system of control is only as strong as its weakest link, and the passion of LUH (Maggie McOmie) helps open THX's eyes to the conditions he has accepted. Acceptance soon becomes denial, and soon THX will find his way through the system, a troublemaker, a rebel.
"Are you now, or have you ever been?"
The vision of the future back in the early '70's may already be antiquated (and surpassed in many areas, amazingly), but the message and undertones of said vision are what can never be truly dated. George Lucas' first full length film is amazing, if anything, a statement based on the world he was living in that can relate to audiences almost forty years later.
THX is an everyman if ever there was one, with nothing special making him stand out from anyone around him. He's generic, simple in every way. But he's also extraordinary, once he removes the invisible shackles that have restrained him all his life, as he emerges from his drug-induced cocoon to become a colorful spot in a sterile black and white (literally) world. He's passionate and caring, in a world where there is no use for such petty, lust-inducing emotions. He's strong, in body and mind, as he stands up to the faceless authoritarian guards that exist solely to keep him, and those like him, in his place. And as he rebels, the way the system responds to his quest for truth shows he is right to "take it to the man," as it were.
'THX 1138' is chock-full of philosphical and political ideals and principles, taken to their logical conclusions, and is borderline prophetic with its imagery. Characters act perfectly to their surroundings, and the actors, all dressed and groomed alike, give their personas power with their convincing performances in a world that must have seemed so foreign to them, a systematic shock, particularly for the women shaving one of the images of their identity away. 'THX 1138' doesn't date itself with its attire like most science fiction fare, or its hair styles (Luke Skywalker, you look like a dirty hippy!), though its technology is a dead giveaway to its roots and age. Pure filmmaking, with focus on story rather than effects, an experimentation as much as it was a statement, George Lucas' early brainchild may not have had the commercial viability his future franchises would, but few of his later films would have as strong a voice or stance.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'THX 1138' is presented as the George Lucas Director's Cut, created in 2004, as evidence that fan reactions to previous tinkerings on his releases was ignored wholeheartedly, and that good enough is never quite good enough. This cut integrates updated CGI into the film, and includes a few new sequences. No other version of the full length film is included on this release.
The Blu-ray is a BD50 Dual layer disc, housed in a cut-out eco case. There is no pre-menu content, other than some standard static screens. The menu itself is also static, but includes background audio.
This may sound slightly exaggerated, but having seen the "work" done on 'THX 1138,' I'm glad Warner Bros. doesn't get to lay a hand on the 'Star Wars' franchise. That isn't to say George Lucas won't go insane between now and the Blu-ray release, and pull a Friedkin-level atrocity...that's just saying that this could have been much better.
The VC-1 encode (2.35:1, 1080p) shines at times, with the lack of colorfulness in the film offset by the great clarity and depth of picture. Whites are superbly clean, while black levels are a little too bright for my taste, but they never crush, even in dark sequences. Clarity is, for the most part, strong and at times unrealistically amazing, including some superb close-up sequences. Details in the faces of characters are amazing, giving depth to them in ways that makes up for the bald heads all over the place.
Still, I'm a bit less than satisfied here. Artifacting is present far too often for my tastes, while digital noise also pops up from time to time. Edges can seem a bit embellished, sharpened, while some random soft shots do look very much like hell. The kicker, though, is the DNR. It's not travesty-level bad, and won't create much of a controversy, but there were more than a few sequences that bothered me to no end due to the smoothed, sometimes smeared appearance.
The audio, however, is quite sound (har har). With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix bringing the goods, 'THX 1138' sounds far more "modern day" than many of its modern-day counterparts. Dialogue reproduces clearly (mostly through the front channels), while room dynamics are accurate (and varied!). Scenes sound as busy as they look, as shots with only a few characters generate only the smallest bit of noise, while crowded corridors are insanely busy and constantly shuffling. Some scenes fill the room with their presence in the most realistic of ways: undefinable noise and activity, much like the choruses at a sporting event. Prioritization never has any problems, though I will say there were more than a few scenes that could have benefited from movement and more precise localized effects. The LFE is an active participant in this track, as we get more than a handful of booms and rumbles, that are all quite potent. There is a bit of static beneath a few scenes, but all in all, this is a fine track.
George Lucas may not have become a household name with his first full-length film, but that isn't to say his early effort isn't worthy of praise, as 'THX 1138' provides a wonderful setting for a pure, believable science fiction tale that is miles ahead of 'Logan's Run' in almost all regards. This release may only contain the "focus on fancy special effects" edition of the film, but the film works regardless of whether it has some jarring new shots or not. The Blu-ray release of the film has average, slightly tainted video, great audio, and a sizable load of extras, and at a catalog price, it's an easy recommendation for Lucas fans and haters alike.