Monday, September 13, 2004

Movie: THX 1138 (1971)

The first feature from George Lucas is back in theaters for a limited engagement prior to its DVD release. It’s easily Lucas’ least believable vision of the future. A society of people trapped in soul-crushing jobs, hooked on mood leveling pharmaceuticals and encouraged to consume? Come on.

The movie is among the darkest of comedies. The title character (Robert Duvall), arrested for feeling too much, writhes in pain while the voices of the prison guards watching him argue about monitor settings. It makes for an interesting contrast with the work of Stanley Kubrick. His films always have the sense of a controlling intelligence, however cold or disinterested it may be. Lucas’ movie is so thoroughly depersonalized that if you beseeched its gods, you’d soon find yourself trapped in their voicemail. And I mean that as a high compliment.

THX ultimately devolves into a chase film, but even in the heat of pursuit Lucas explores the facets of his sterile civilization. There’s a sequence when Duvall escapes from prison only to be plunged into a raging torrent of humanity that had me hyperventilating. And the movie’s closing conceit is grimly hysterical.

Lucas has a habit of tinkering with his movies. He’s added footage to this film, and there are reports that Hayden Christensen has replaced Sebastian Shaw in the ghostly farewell that closes RETURN OF THE JEDI on DVD. So let me make a request. Can Lucas use CGI to correct the misspelling of actor David Ogden Stiers’ name in the THX credit roll?

I saw the movie at my favorite Seattle theater, the Cinerama. It’s one of the only movie houses in the world equipped to show films in the now defunct Cinerama format. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to see 1962’s HOW THE WEST WAS WON there the way it was intended to be seen. Three projectors, three screens. Utterly breathtaking.