THX 1138 (1971) Director’s Cut

The overwhelming sensation one feels while wathcing George Lucas’ theatrical debut is of disbelief. It’s hard to believe Lucas ever had an artistic bone in his body (he did not direct The Empire Strikes Back after all), but the truth is he had more than one! But they say every cell in our body is replaced every ten years and bones are the slowest, so Lucas’ current skeleton is removed from its artistic ancestors by four or five osteal generations.

There are some great shot compositions, with Lucas exploiting the 2.35:1 ratio to maximum effect, though his taste for placing the point of focus at the far left or far right of the shot becomes too predictable after a while. That said, it is a consistent aesthetic throughout the film so it cannot be argued that Lucas’ best shots are accidental.

Besides the visuals, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the film is the sound design, though much of that is probably due to Walter Murch. But the final element of THX that confounds the post-prequels viewer is the extremely naturalistic acting. It is simply impossible to reconcile the performances here and in Attack of the Clones as being approved by the same director. It’s hard to ignore the perpetual thought while watching THX that the glimmers of genius and promise reveal Lucas’ subsequent fall to be all the more tragic.

The only thing disappointing about THX itself was discovering that the quaint term “Director’s Cut” did not mean “original footage restored to its rightful place” as much as “Special Edition a la Lucas” with transitional scenes of gratuitous CG wonder inserted sporadically. I assume from the run time reflecting two additional minutes that the new shots do not actually replace pre-existing ones, however, by comparing shots in the 1971 trailers it is evident that a couple of original shots are embellished.

For example, a sewer-midget attacking Robert Duvall is joined by some CG accomplices that look like rabid Ewoks, and the scaffold that Duvall’s car crashes through is slightly more elaborate. The rest of the new scenes (identifiable only by their digital appearance and incongruity with the rest of the film, but otherwise unacknowledged) are Coruscant-like exterior shots, including an expansion of the car chase.

Though perhaps because it’s the least of possible evils, I’m actually relieved by the fact that the additional scenes contribute absolutely nothing to the film.

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