THX 1138 with Live Re-Score by Asian Dub Foundation
Finally I am illness free and again drowning in articles to catch up with – first off is this fine review from Kernel Jack, when the lucky lad got to hit up THX 1138 on the big screen at The Opera House with Asian Dub Foundation re-scoring the movie. Interesting and unique would be my initial description of his reaction. What I would kill to see would be TRON with Daft Punk live scoring – that would blow my bloody mind – anyways enough from me – envy Jack’s thoughts……….all the best……….JK.
I am quite the sci-fi enthusiast, never able to get enough of it. It is without a doubt my favourite genre, my favourite movies of all time being the STAR WARS saga, even if those are technically fantasy films set a long time ago in galaxy far, far away. While STAR WARS certainly got its creator George Lucas on the map, it wasn’t his first venture into cinema, as it’s THX 1138 that served as his first feature film.
Released back in 1971 and based on a student film he made a few years earlier, the film only made $2 million upon its initial release, however it’s now considered an underrated gem, and recently I was given the opportunity to head into the Sydney Opera House and watch the film as part of the GRAPHIC Festival, with a live re-score by the Asian Dub Foundation, and it was an immensely entertaining night.
THX 1138 SYNOPSIS:
The film is set in the futuristic, underground, dystopian 25th century, where individuality and emotion is being controlled and subdued by those with greater power in an attempt to maintain peace amongst society. Nobody ever steps out of line, and those who do are severely punished for it. Human interaction is all gone, drugs serving as a daily necessity in order to achieve this. We follow the story of THX (Robert Duvall), a factory worker who builds robocops that go on to patrol the streets and keep everyone in line. Despite laws preventing it, THX is engaging in relations with his roommate, LUH (Maggie McOmie), which never usually ends well for the people involved.
Sick of the way society is being controlled, the two decide to rebel, stopping their drug-induced lives in an attempt to escape the underground world that they’re living in. Their rebellious nature lands them in trouble with the law, as expected, and it’s here that THX comes in contact with SEN (Donald Pleasence), who assists in their rebellious ways and also wishes to escape. It’s an experimental piece of art-house cinema from the man who went on to create the most famous film series of all time, and while it’s far from the greatest film he’s ever made, it does serve as an interesting look at the development of his filmmaking capabilities.
While everyone hates on Lucas for creating those oh-so-disappointing prequels, it’s best not to forget that he’s still the man responsible for the original trilogy. I’m a big fan of his, no doubt, so I found myself surprised that I didn’t really know too much about this film. I sort of knew it existed, but that’s all I’d heard about it. I’d never seen it before, so watching it was my first experience with this movie, and while I enjoyed it, I feel as though that wasn’t the right move. I will explain why later in this review, but I really should’ve experienced this movie in its original form, without the live re-score.
However, I did see it, so there is still much to be discussed, and as a movie, I dug it. It’s a thought provoking, visually stimulating sci-fi with a lot of important themes and ideas, and they’re all translated well onto the big screen. Lucas is a master of cinematic visuals, and with THX 1138 he doesn’t disappoint, as the effects are gorgeous, even if I later learnt that the version presented was the directors cut which was released a few decades after with updated visual effects, but still, they work. The set design is very low budget, but it creates a solid atmosphere, everything feeling consistent and real.
REALLY FREAKING WEIRD:
That being said, THX 1138 is a very strange movie. Very, very, very strange. It’s a somber, quiet, free flowing story in which not everything makes much sense, but an explanation isn’t always necessary. You just have to roll with it, a fair bit of it getting an explanation in the long run. There’s a lot to soak in when it comes to this film, mixing together social commentary with plenty of excitement and varying ranges of performances. Vocal range is non-existent, everyone speaking in the exact same tone in every scene, and while that does feel a little draining and uninteresting at times, it’s a necessary part of the plot, and so I can forgive its draining nature.
One of my top 10 films of all time is the Stanley Kubrick directed masterpiece, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. That too is a quiet, experimental, idealistic sci-fi with great meaning behind it, and while the two films are vastly different, I couldn’t help but draw parallels. They’re thematically opposite, but I was left in a similar state of mind while watching both of these films for the first time, and I’m sure that doesn’t really mean an awful lot, nor does it reflect the quality of either one of the films, but it did seem like something worth mentioning.
THE NEW SCORE:
Not having seen the movie before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first thing that become apparent was that this new score certainly didn’t capture the essence of what this movie is. I watched some clips from the film on YouTube afterwards, all of which featured the film’s original score, and it’s safe to say that it’s far superior to the loud, out of place score that was played at this special screening. Don’t get me wrong, the music composed was a good selection of music, but it’s not used for the right movie. Put it in some upcoming sci-fi movie with a faster, more action packed plot and it would’ve worked perfectly, but for a film like THX 1138, it’s completely out of place.
Despite little action appearing on screen, the dubbed score was always fast and exciting, never knowing what sort of mood it was trying to put the audience in. This fast paced score rarely worked, often being played way too loud and making the dialogue impossible to hear in certain scenes. Some of the quieter, more peaceful compositions I found myself quite fond of, as they matched the tone of the film, but everything else didn’t work for me, except perhaps the music during the chase sequence towards the finale, but the song kept going through to the scenes that followed, and once the chase had finished, the song was no longer effective.
Watching THX 1138 with the live re-sore was a great experience, even if it isn’t an ideal one for a first time viewer. While the new score could use some serious work and doesn’t suit the tone and style of the movie, the film itself is a smart, visually stimulating sci-fi that raises some important themes while also being flawed and super weird. But hey, I still found the whole thing to be rather entertaining.
When he’s not spending an embarrassing amount of hours browsing through Netflix, Jack Dignan dedicates his time to reviewing movies of all genres and languages, and has done so since 2012. He also maintains a website of his own – www.directorscutmovies.com – and ever since their interview, he’s been best friends with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino just doesn’t know it yet.
** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.