I’ll admit that I’m torn by the trailer for the upcoming digitally-enhanced and restored version of George Lucas’ arty, dystopian exercize in style, THX 1138 (1971). On the one hand, the trailer is marvelously structured, and the film itself is such a radically incongruous debut for one of today’s most popular feel-good entertainers that it’s virtually a movie from an alternate universe. If the film had been a critical or financial success, who knows where it might have steered Lucas in subsequent years? As a true anomaly in the filmmaker’s oeuvre, it’s one of those fascinating, forgotten relics of film history.
On the other hand, although it has been years since I watched the film, I don’t recall it as being particularly good beyond its considerable visual and aural invention. Despite its bleak tone, it’s still a George Lucas picture, complete with one-dimensional characters, mechanical plotting, and style over substance. The trailer itself suggests a thematic dual critique of police states and modern capitalism, a please-them-all strategy predicated on equal ideological disdain. (And we won’t even go into Lucas’ own contributions to modern consumerism, which have simultaneously made him one of the richest persons in the world and his recent films into two-hour long toy commercials.)
Moreover, the trailer seems to illustrate several themes Susan Sontag referred to in her article cited in my previous blog, particularly the visual depiction of prison brutality and the sense of having one’s private life be made public. Although the film comes down negatively on both of these ideas, the trailer could be seen as playing into their taboo thrills. Lucas’ cultural timing for rereleasing this film may actually ensure a reprisal of its rejection 33 years ago.