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Why should we still watch THX 1138?

Why should we still watch THX 1138? A film for Lucas film fans only or simply the film that was the catalyst for the Star Wars franchise? Erin-Mae Dyson reviews THX 1138.

BY Erin-Mae Dyson

‘Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy’

Why should we still watch THX 1138? A film for Lucas film fans only or simply the film that was the catalyst for the Star Wars franchise?

The basic premise of THX 1138 is a film set on earth with a futuristic dystopian backdrop. Where the populous of said society are made to take medication/drugs to keep them under control. This means that any act of creativity or deviation from the set rules set into motion extreme consequences.

One thing that I noticed about THX 1138 is that the film is sold to the viewer as a strong gung-ho action movie with a dystopian background and while the film does have some of these elements it actually reads like a art film.

So why should audiences today still be concerned with some of Lucas’ earlier works such as THX 1138 when they can sink their teeth into the action packed empire (if you pardon the pun)? A franchise that promises even more exciting interpretations to come for fans, with the arrival of the Disney productions such as Star Wars The Force Awakens.

“The film makes many interesting points about freedom of speech and the way that capitalism as a foundation for society does have some adverse effects such as the commodification of religion and using the proletariat as a resource to service the system.”

Interestingly enough the film is useful for a number of reasons other than the viewer being in an experimental film mindset. The film makes many interesting points about freedom of speech and the way that capitalism as a foundation for society does have some adverse effects such as the commodification of religion and using the proletariat as a resource to service the system. So if you are in the mood for an on the nose film about capitalism Lucas is most definitely your guy.

Throughout the film Lucas treats the audience to a high speed car chase, explosions and handy exposition or lack of exposition thereof. The only downside to the film is that unfortunately apart from the brief premise there isn’t much that helps out the viewer, so it does require some imaginative world building on the viewers part but on the plus side it leaves the film with an interesting open narrative. If when reading high speed car chase you are thinking of the high speed thrill of The Fast and the Furious and James Bond then I fear this film is not for you, although there is a miraculous escape for the main character there are not nearly as many explosions as there are in other films with action elements.

Personally I think this film is well worth the watch for the viewer if not just to say that you have seen it. As with many cult films such as Blade Runner for instance, it is one of those films that everyone can interpret differently and take something from no matter their personal cinematic inclinations. There are characters in the film that everyone can agree are lovable/eccentric and you can’t help but be amused by Donald Pleasence in his role as Sen. The eccentric man seems to be hell bent on convincing THX into joining his quest for greatness whilst wandering round in one of the main compounds together. Sen keeps dropping rations that have the appearance of biscuits which would get them in a rather sticky situation if any of the guards should happen across them. Also the way that Robert Duvall manages to keep a straight face throughout gives the scene a comedic element.

Now, a bit of trivia for any fans of Star Wars reading this. Did you ever wonder how Lucas came up for the name of the race for Han Solo’s loveable sidekick Chewbacca? Well during filming THX 1138 there were a lot of extras who as you would expect, were hired to add in some of the necessary background noise into scenes to make them appear more natural. During one of these scenes one extra exclaimed “I think I ran over a wookie” and thus the name for the race of his future films was born.

“Arguably quite a lot of Lucas’ THX 1138 is seen running through his later works such as Star Wars making it rather interesting to pick out the similarities between the two.”

Arguably quite a lot of Lucas’ THX 1138 is seen running through his later works such as Star Wars making it rather interesting to pick out the similarities between the two. One such similarity being one half of everyone’s favorite mechanical duo C3PO. However the droids in THX 1138 are not as friendly as C3PO and R2D2. The droids in the film are basically the police force for this dystopian world and are humanoid in appearance and have a sleeker silver design. Strangely enough even though the droids who are sent out to restrain people who rebel against the system, are paramountly concerned with the safety of the people they are hunting down, this makes a fascinating link to Asimov’s Laws of Robotic. For anyone who has seen the film I Robot (which fun fact the book it’s based on and was written by Isaac Asimov) starring Will Smith I’m sure that you will find this film to your liking as the robots in THX 1138 almost look like a more primitive version of the robots Will Smith encounters. Alas I’m sorry to disappoint but there are no robot battles at the end.

As I said this film is definitely one to put on your bucket list as it is able to keep your concentration throughout. It’s also an interesting piece for the fact that it takes issues of commodification and consumerism which lets face it is a big issue. Planet earth is crowded with stuff and this has led to people ascribing to minimalism due to the amount of stuff that ends up cluttering our daily lives. We do see elements of minimalism in the film with the sleek rooms and the mainly white background giving the mise-en-scene a clinical and efficient style which is one of the aspects of minimalism keeping everything efficient, and even though capitalism is the production of products to make money for those in charge.

Now if I haven’t convinced you that this film is worth your time yet then I hope to convince you to watch the film with the final part of this review. If you are interested in any way in the power of the state and freedom of speech then this film is right down your alley. 

Photo by @rawpixel

Multiple examples from the film make an interesting case for the issue. The drug based narrative and some characters imprisonment for going against societal expectations are two of the more well known examples. Unfortunately freedom of speech is still an ongoing issue and the debate on when a person’s personal opinion and freedom of speech should be acknowledged and whether or not others have the right to encroach on others freedom of speech.

THX 1138 makes this point a little on the nose with the plot point of characters being forced to take controlling drugs to prevent this but however it is what makes the film so interesting. So if you are in the mood for some classic science fiction with stunning visuals and thought provoking social issues then this is the movie for you.