THX 1138 (1971)
I’ll mention Star Wars once. Those first three films were great fun, for kids, myself included at the time. The rest I won’t even get into, but this... this is Lucas’ best science fiction film. A bleak dystopian future where people have designations instead of names, everyone wears white jumpsuits and their heads are shaved. One of these designations is THX (Robert Duvall). He lives in a sealed off sterilised world imagined in the 70s. It’s one of monochrome video screens, radio relay, push buttons and fear of radiation. Okay this is visually dated, but that’s not the point. The point is control, the mechanisms are simply that. Work hard - Be happy. THX rooms with LUH (Maggie McOmie), he’s not feeling well, making mistakes in his work, she’s unhappy, swapping their pills. SEN (Donald Pleasence) is watching. LUH is hoping for a better exhistence in the ‘super-structure’. The drugs THX takes to keep him calm enough to operate the machines he uses, sedate him to a point where she feels little connection. Drug violation is a serious crime though. Anything that deviates from the computer assisted society is a crime. The whole thing has an eerie feel. The stark white world, the coded numbers everywhere, the electronic score, the robotic policemen that patrol the corridors. Ah yes, the robots. The leather clad uniformed officers look like early versions of a terminator, all metallic and baton wielding heartlessness. The same robots that THX is working on look remarkably like prototype C3-POs under the hood. Most disturbing though is Donald Pleasence. Everyone is great, but he’s especially fantastic as the creepy company man hiding is own agenda and madness. Inevitably THX is in trouble, he endures torture from the police with electric cattleprods that sound like lightsabers and gets probed and pricked by reconditioning machines. It’s all beautifully shot, detailed close ups, gorgeous framing, it’s a real sci-fi visual treat. The sound too though, alongside the minimal bits of score, there’s enough SFX to make the BBC Radiophonic Workshop jealous. NIN fans keep an ear out, you might recognise one bit. On the run, THX hooks up with SRT (Don Pedro Colley), a rather impressive looking bloke, that’s supposed to be a hologram. He provides a lovely naive innocence and a friendly face in this austere place. The question is what’s to become of humankind in this robot controlled world. It’s ambitious and brilliantly constructed with elegance and even a little humour. Essentially setting the template for what was to come. It’s a simple story, layered with detail, a surprising amount of heart and devoid of tropes. Though in 2004 Lucas went back and tweaked some scenes digitally. He just can’t help himself can he.