THX 1138

thx1138Director: George Lucas. Starring:Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie, Don Pedro Colley. Budget: $777,777. Box office: $2.4 mln. USA, 1971. IMDb: 6.8. My rating: 3/4. Disturbing art-house dystopia at its finest.

– Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.
(OMM, the digital Jesus)

– I think I’m dying.
– Could you be more specific?
(THX 1138’s confession to OMM, the digital Jesus)

– Everything will be all right; we are here to help you. Stay calm. We are not going to harm you. Everything will be all right.
(chrome police robots)

 

First part and more GIFs about the numbers in ”THX 1138” here.

”THX 1138” is an impressive, visionary and visually striking science fiction movie that I found fucking boring but absolutely loved at the same time. It may be a pain in the ass to watch because it’s so desperately monotonous and emotionally deadened – but that was the aim of the film too.

But once you get through it… your suffering will be rewarded. You may even want to rewatch it over time. It’s still one of the best dystopias around (and almost 50 years passed since its release).

Besides of the visuals, ”THX 1138” has an incredible amount of cultural references and just that may make it worth a watch. Steel-faced chrome police robots (lets call them, uhm, T100?), futuristic car chases (long before George Miller touched his camera), Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor’s sampling source, dystopian underground drug-controlled society, infinite white prison with no walls (remember the Matrix endless gun warehouse scene?), early Star Wars designs, weird silent surveillance footage, erotic hologram dance, tape-recorded Jesus… A long and extensive analysis could be done on this movie.

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Discovering the depths of tape-recorded digital religion.

It’s inevitable to mention George Lucas’ persona when discussing “THX-1138”. The man was known for his little love in directing the movies, that’s why after doing this, “American Graffiti” (a coming-of-age cult film which I haven’t seen, but 7.5 IMDb and 95% RT may actually mean it’s worth something!) and the first “Star Wars” movie he stepped out of the director’s seat for 22 years, only to direct the dubious “Star Wars” prequels, which for the most part are not considered as good as the original trilogy. Anyway. I’m not a huge fan of Star Wars, although I’ve watched them multiple times and enjoyed it.

In short, “THX 1138” is everything that “Star Wars” is not. It is was the art-house face of George Lucas. Ultra slow, depressive and without even a hint of being funny. But its influence on the visuals of the latter is significant. Many of design solutions, like dominating sterile colours contrasted with black and white uniforms, holograms and other futuristic elements.

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This is not your average Interceptor.

What’s wrong with the The Director’s Cut. Oh, these freaking DC… It was released in 2004 and sadly it confirms that – with the exception of barely few scenes – Lucas lost the understanding of his own movie. He used the same approach as in Star Wars prequels with too much CGI out of place, thus many scenes were needlessly modified with new graphics, the corridors were extended (why, George? Why do we need extended corridors?) and extra space and colours added. Here‘s the full comparison and additional info here too. Several GIFs below (this may look fine out of context though):

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Copy-pasted humans and extended corridors of the infamous Director’s Cut.

Few words about the acting. Robert Duvall (born in 1931) is an interesting guy. He reminds me of Harry Dean Stanton (born in 1926), an incredibly talented American actor, who has made about 100 movies since 1956, including such titles as ”Alien”, ”Repo Man”, three David Lynch’s movies, ”Escape From New York”, ”Paris, Texas” and a literally lots of other stuff, yet the man never became a big star, staying in the shade of his colleagues.

So what has Stanton to do with Duvall? Well, both are those type of actors that we all have probably seen dozens of times (”MASH”, ”Deep Impact”, ”The Godfather 1/2”, ”Falling Down”) but struggle to recognize. So while Duvall certainly got more notoriety over the decades and received some important awards, his fate is somewhat similar compared to the Hollywood’s major stars and he is often overlooked. In ”THX 1138”, the man creates a wonderful and powerful performance, that ranges from emotional overload and despair to escapism, protest and silent consent. A very versatile role indeed.

Donald Pleasence (Carpenter’s ”Halloween”, Polanski’s ”Cul-de-sac”) was also wonderful as a psychotic and neurotic dweller of this huge underground world hospital. His characters was more one-sided than Duvall’s and that was a good contrast.

Maggie McOmie’s role as LUH felt a little bit underdeveloped given that it was her character that gave THX 1138 (the person, not the film!) a major input… She did not pursue an acting career after finishing ”THX 1138”.

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Worth watching? ”THX 1138” may seem overly slow and artsy at a glance, but nevertheless it’s a visually striking and original dystopia with various elements to be found in many forthcoming science fiction movies of all kinds. Wonderful performances from Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence, gorgeously sterile visuals, story’s depth and a well-developed deadened underground world prove that there were times when George Lucas was as a talented and original filmmaker. 

Watch also: dystopia is a good genre for experimenting and many filmmakers used that to create something unorthodox, like amazing ”A Boy and His Dog”, poetic ”Fahrenheit 451” or absurd Soviet masterpieces”Kin-Dza-Dza!” and ”City Zero”.

3/4

Natural City / Blade Runner rip-off

naturaal cityDirector: Min Byeong-cheon. Starring: Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Jae-eun, Seo Lin. South Korea, 2003. IMDb: 5.8. My rating: 0.5/4. ”Blade Runner” rip off.

If somebody ever creates a list of ”Blade Runner” rip-offs, please put ”Natural City” on the first place.

We all know that ”Blade Runner” and another obscure movie by R. Scott did had a long-lasting effect on cinema, cyberpunk and science fiction.

We all know what is the difference between a homage and a rip-off.

”Natural City” was probably intended as a faithful homage – even the poster’s line said ”The Blade Runner era finishes and the Natural City myth starts” – but unfortunately ended up being a bad rip-off.

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THX 1138 / faceless numbers

”The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

 

 

 

 

1t is n0t exactly clear, whether it was Erich Maria Remarque, the gre4t German writer of war, sadness and l0st generation, or Joseph Stalin, the blo0dy Soviet mastermind, to pr0nounce these painful w0rds, although surely b0th had the right f0r it. E4ch fr0m the opp0site p0int of view.

”THX 1138” is a perfect illustration for what it means to be a N° in an ill, mechanical, drug-oppressed society that is even more deadened than “Fahrenheit 451”, “1984” or “Metropolis”. Heck, people even had names there.

Here… everybody is just a number. Numbers are perfectly intertwined in the stunningly sterile visuals of the story, crawling here and there, mixed with muffled camera surveillance footage and faceless chrome police robots that keep on repeating “we are here to help you”.

We are here to help you.” A recurring nightmare motif now.

The exploration of THX 1138 continues here.

 

Sleep Dealer

Director: Alex Rivera. Starring: Leonor Varela, Jacob Vargas, Tenoch Huerta. Budget: $2.5 mln. USA, Mexico, 2008. IMDB: 5.9. My rating: 3/4. Realistic cyberpunk about politics, immigration and cheap labour.

– We give the United States what they’ve always wanted. All the work without the immigrants.
(Memo’s employer)

– Is our future a thing of the past?
(Memo’s father)

A very realistic look in our not so distant future. Water terrorism, drones substituting cheap foreign labor, real-time TV shows about military drones controlling suspicious areas, anti-immigration laws, Mexico-USA wall (ha, ha, ha…), plus electronic nodes that connect to human body for ve-ery various purposes. It’s and old kind of sci-fi – the one that operates with ideas and possible development of our world. “Sleep Dealer” won’t give you groundbreaking effects or scenes (and they aren’t needed here). It won’t entertain you, at least, not in first place. Instead, you’ll get something to reflect upon. Everything what’s needed is portrayed really well, and it looks damn real.

Actually, Alex Rivera has been making films about immigration and labour since mid 90-s, but mostly they were documentaries or mockumentaries. You can easily read his background in ”Sleep Dealer” through similar kind of photography and overall feeling.

What I liked. ”Sleep Dealer” was definitely influenced by the noir colour decisions of ”Blade Runner” and from this point of view the film is a delight to watch. Neon acid glitter.

The ideas are captivating… Welcome in Mexico. Water dams were built  due to the water shortage on most territory. The agriculture became difficult or impossible, plus the locals have to pay sensible amount of money to get some water. More and more people are struggling and try to move somewhere else, thus USA made it almost impossible for them to get inside the country. But thanks to a new system of electric nodes that connect to a human body, the real presence of a worker is not needed anymore. By installing the nodes directly on your body, you can operate a special drone than can be multi-functional – from cutting the grass to building the skyscrapers.

This kind of labour type is extremely harmful for the health, so many workers are discarded quickly and the others take their place.  The electric nodes can be used for other purposes as well, like trading your own memories or connecting to a body of other person (yep for new sex feelings as well). Tijuana, where most of the film is taking place, is as dirty and criminal as it has always been, even with all these technologies brought here. But the locals still call it the city of the future…

What I didn’t like. After the first part, when Memo decides to emigrate, most of the plot will be build around the story of Memo and Luz. This is where the movie starts to sag a little. The premise and the background are excellent and overwhelming with a realistic look on our future – compared to most sci-fi, “Sleep Dealer” pictures something very real. And we should praise it for that. But somewhere in the middle, it becomes more some kind of a love story and drama, instead of researching more about this kind of society. The screenplay and the acting are very uneven and it’s still shot with the same documentary approach, so… it doesn’t involve that much. But the film still has enough to say. Give it a try, it deserved it.

Reception. ”Sleap Dealer” received good ratings from critics (70% on Rotten Tomatoes) and several awards on festivals, including Sundance. Don’t let the IMDb low rating deceive you. It’s a thinking low budget sci-fi, so not all general public will like it, of course. And not everybody will like the things shown in the movie. The budget is approximately $ 2.5 million with the box office of just $ 100,000.

Worth watching? It’s clumsy, but sincere. And this makes a difference. ”Sleep Dealer” is a good example of a ”thinking” sci-fi. It won’t entertain you, although the film neon acid colours are a true delight, but most importantly, it will make you think. The ideas are excellent and the photography is there, but the acting and screenplay are not always at the same height though. It’s a pity that at the halfway point the film loses it’s energy and concentrates more on the love drama. Still, I can recommend easily to everybody for the vision of the future that it offers, for its sincerity and beautiful scenes.

3/4

Silent Running

Director: Douglas Trumbull. Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Budget: 1$ million. USA, 1972. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2/4. Ecological space science fiction.

– On Earth, everywhere you go, the temperature is 75 degrees. Everything is the same; all the people are exactly the same. Now what kind of life is that?
(Freeman Lowell)

Back in 1972 “Silent Running” was kind of a low-budget modest blockbuster made in the wake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The film was a directional debut for Douglas Trumbull, who worked most notably on special effects on the aforementioned Kubrick’s epic, “Blade Runner”, “Andromeda Strain”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Malick’s “Tree of Life”. “Silent Running” was produced by Universal on a shoestring budget of one million dollars, one-tenth the budget of “2001”, which is very little for this kind of space sci-fi. Continue reading

Get Out + some notable sci-fi debuts

GetOutDirector: Jordan Peele. Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams,  Katherine Keener. Budget: $4.5 mln. Box office: $252 mln. USA, 2017. IMDb: 7.8. My rating: 3.5/4. Social commentary with elements of thriller, horror and sci-fi.

– The mind is a terrible thing to waste.
 (a quote from the movie and the motto of the United Negro College Fund)

– If there’s too many white people I get nervous.
(one of the main characters)

There were, without doubt, some prominent sci-fi debuts that marked the history of cinema, like…

  • Mad Max” (which I don’t really like a lot, but it was hugely influential)
  • Silent Running” (which was undeniably cool in 1972 but didn’t age well)
  • THX 1138” (a disturbing art form of ”1984” by George Lucas, which wasn’t received well but that changed later, as it often happens with dystopias).

There was a huge wave of many good low-budget independent debuts released recently, such as…

…and many other cool flicks. Some of them had mighty figures behind or even directly involved in the production, for example..

Finally, there were some weird and hard to classify sci-fi debuts like…

A full list will be published soon. Anyway.

I doubt whether “Get Out” will become a cult movie like some of these, but it’s an oddball and perfectly crafted movie, mixing all the genres – a bit of comedy, a slice of horror, some sci-fi – all wrapped into a caustic social commentary.

Also, I wouldn’t call it a horror, rather a thriller. It’s not that scary and has little to do with what is intended as modern horror (luckily!) where people like to go in the dark basements and put their limbs in dark holes.

And Samuel L. Jackson’s rant about casting black British actors when plenty of Americans were available is incredible indeed… but more about that later.

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Augmented reality. Day 11. ”La Jetée”

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”La Jetée” (1962) is a very unusual project. It is…

…a photo novel  – a science fiction short film made almost entirely in still photographs. 29 minutes of brain-penetrating painful stills.

…a dystopian science fiction movie made by Chris Marker, a French director whose career spanned for 5 decades and his most notable work were documentary essays, not feature films – let alone science fiction. Yet ”La Jetée” was interconnected with his later works in terms of the spirit.

…incredibly long-lived for a film with such an unusual form – no action, no stars and no actual video – that directly inspired one of the best Terry Gilliam’s films ”12 Monkeys”. Yes, the time when Hollywood still had the guts of making these kind of weird ‘remakes’.

…a grim philosophical story about human perception of things and memory, madness, love, time interchangeability and bleakness.

”The victors stood guard over an empire of rats.”

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