A long time ago, precisely ten years before Star Wars hit the big screen in 1977, George Lucas was a young and experimental college student at film school at The University of Southern California. Packed with rich ideas and concepts of science fiction and Orwellian futures, he set about making the short film that would first bring him to the attention of Stephen Spielberg – Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. This short won prizes and accolades, including first prize at the National Student Film Festival in 1968.
Soon after Lucas left college, production began on a feature length adaptation of the story, using the short film as a basis of the climax to the film and providing a backstory and richer background to the concept.
The film stars Robert Duvall as THX 1138, a worker at a factory that manufactures android police officers. His roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie, in her only major film role) is a CCTV operative. After she switches their mind-controlling pills, they disobey strict rules and have sexual intercourse, which is a punishable crime. Imprisoned with SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance), LUH’s co-worker, and fuelled by the fear of being trapped for the rest of his life, THX launches an attempt to escape from this underground dystopian prison.
At times overwhelming
I have to confess that this live scoring event was the first time I’d seen THX 1138. This is a film that is itself much less immediate than the Lucasfilms pictures we are now more familiar of, and one that requires a level of concentration to follow the plot. Unfortunately, Asian Dub Foundation’s live scoring was somewhat relentless and unforgiving. On several occasions it simply drowned out the limited dialogue, making understanding the film almost impossible. Not only that, but the music didn’t really match up with what was happening on the screen. It felt like an Asian Dub Foundation gig for which they’d decided to use the film as a backdrop for their performance.
Sadly for the film and the musicians, a large portion of the crowd decided they weren’t on board with either element and left before the end. Perhaps it was a victim of clashing with the opening night of the latest Bond film Spectre, and maybe some of the attendees decided to catch a late showing instead of seeing how THX’s escape plan player out.
Where it did work, it was very impressive. The car chase in the final act of the film was excellent and the music added a lot to the scene. This is one of the most exhilarating car chases I’ve ever seen and is a worthy pay-off the often times slow paced story development in the preceding hour of film.
I’ll be seeking out the original version of the film to see if I enjoy it more without the distracting score.
THX 1138 is available on Blu Ray and DVD now. Of course, this is a George Lucas release so it is impossible to see the original film in its originally planned state. It has been tampered with. Since most probably never saw it in its original form, however, there shouldn’t be many issues here.