THX 1138 (1971)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on August 22nd, 2011 by Jim Delaney

From Monday, January 21, 2008.

Written & Directed by George Lucas, produced by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie, Donald Pleasance, and Sid Haig.

In a bizarre future, the last remnants of humanity survive in a subterranean city. To keep the population from exceeding the limits of the city, everyone takes a regimen of drugs to control their thoughts and emotions. Keep the people doped up and thinking they’re happy and they’ll keep working rather than making more babies than resources can provide for. Wouldn’t ya know it, THX (Duvall) goes off his meds, and experiences love and sex for the first time in his life. In doing so be becomes a fugitive from an army of RoboCops.

An expansion of Lucas’s thesis film, THX-1138 was the first feature made under Coppola’s American Zoetrope banner. Coppola and Lucas created Zoetrope to counter the corporate take-over of the studio system. They made THX-1138 to counter what they saw as an impending and dehumanizing commercialization of society.

It’ll finish Wednesday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 8.22.2011
The Cold War provided no shortage of post apocalyptic survival movies, from Robert Altman’s beguiling QUINTET to George Miller’s visceral MAD MAX trilogy, with a legion of forgettable exploitation movies in between. H.G. Welles’ screen adaptation of his novel THINGS TO COME remind us that tales of who would survive, and how survival would look, have been around nearly as long as the movies themselves. Modern audiences regard the epic scale modest proposal of LOGAN’S RUN as seminal. How closely these films mirror reality, when the future in which the film is set comes to pass, often becomes a chief barometer of their quality. I hesitate to support this theory since we tend to focus on minutiae rather than the soul of a story: Atari may be long gone, and I doubt we’ll have flying police cars by the end of the decade, but these minor points don’t make BLADE RUNNER any less impressive.

We are certainly not living in the underground maze in which THX-1138 is set. We are also, as recent bedbug infestations and E.coli food recalls illustrate, not living in the antiseptic environment Lucas imagined. This film is prescient however, in areas pertaining less to production design, and more to Lucas’ aspiration to examine the steady homogenizing of our existence. THX-1138 has more to say about language, how we will interact with each other and how we will see ourselves, than the vast majority of speculative fiction films. I don’t mean we are there yet, but we are on our way.

BRAVE NEW WORLD introduced us to SOMA in 1932 and the Rolling Stones outed Mother and her Little Helper in ’66. THX-1138 foresaw widespread use of stimulants and sedatives, fertility drugs and chemical castration, and anti-depressants. Lucas also imagined a society where criminal prosecution is used to enforce a drug regimen. We may be heading in that direction when paroles and probation have hinged on citizens being court ordered to accept prescriptions. Sometimes we say this practice is necessary. Sometimes we hear about drug recalls when unexpected complications arise. Daily we see drugs advertized with side effects that sound as bad or worse than the ailment which they are marketed to cure. A handful of multinational conglomerates make money faster than we can print it by selling us drugs designed to help us achieve some elusive zone of normalcy. We have not only stepped knee deep in the dehumanizing commercialization of society we are co-paying for the privilege.

The inhabitants of this particular city are know by a sequence of letters and numbers rather than traditional names. Robert Duvall is THX 1138, his lover is LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), and LUH’s coworker is SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance). For years I accepted fan speculation that these designations were an extension of the numbers tattooed in Nazi concentration camps. Co-writer Walter Murch has suggested that THX was chosen for is resemblance to “sex,” SEN to “sin,” and of course LUH to “love.” Lucas offers an even more mundane interpretation: THX-1138 was his phone number.

Over the last generation we have seen varying phenomena relating to names echoing those in THX-1138. The music world has given us KRS-One, O(+> and J-Lo. Supermarket tabloids attempt to make conventional names similarly unusual: K-fed, Brangelina, Bennifer. (Why is the guy’s name always first? JenniBen has a ring to it!) I didn’t pay this much mind until news reporters got into the act. Pundits hoping to appear the least bit hip will now refer to The President and the First Lady as POTUS and FLOTUS. For years the terrorist with the dialysis issues has been known simply by his last name but recently he has become OBL. If I mentioned bin Laden you would have no doubt who I am talking about; OBL sounds like a large tampon or an airport code. The final straw for me was the recent hotel sex scandal involving DSK, a French financier whose born name is far less known than POTUS or OBL. Ask someone in the street six months ago who Dominique Gaston AndrĂ© Strauss-Kahn was and a significant percentage would probably guess he’s a guest judge on PROJECT: RUNWAY. We’ve gone beyond hip to flat out laziness.

THX-1138 saw all of this coming, not only the manipulation of identity via the maximization of controlled moods and the minimization of our names, but even the reclassification of where we live. In the film we hear that THX works in “operating cell 94107” which is coincidentally the zip code of Zoetrope’s offices during production. People around the world recognize the zip code 90210 and the area code 212. We can identify where in our neighborhood, city or nation we live by a hand signal of three fingers representing a single letter. We live in a world that has seen borders fall by the power of LAN, 386, 486, 2.0, DSL, 3G and 4G all as fewer and fewer of us actually like to read. THX-1138 saw this all coming as far back as when IBM became HAL.

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Posted in MOVIES TO LOOK FORWARD TO: Coming Soon or Now Playing In A Theater Near You... on August 13th, 2011 by Jim Delaney

Saturday August 6, 2011 at the AMC Boston Common.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, starring Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton, John Lithgow & Brian Cox. My favorite living film composer Patrick Doyle provides the score.

The gateway to wildly imaginative movies for most nerds in my demographic was STAR WARS. I would never deny the profound influence George Lucas’ 1977 spectacle had on my childhood, but my indoctrination into nerd-dom came in 1973, by a double feature of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. The Apes had been to my early childhood development what Sesame Street was to most other kids. Roddy McDowall played two of my earliest heroes, Dr. Cornelius in the first three Apes films, and his son Caesar in my double feature. I never missed an opportunity to see the Apes films on TV; a live action PLANET OF THE APES CBS TV show continued new stories through 1974, with NBC’s animated RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES concluding the Apes saga in 1975. STAR WARS came along right when I needed it, though the Apes remained integral to my sense of wonder.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the happiest surprise this summer. This story is essentially a bridge between ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, which ended with Caesar’s birth, and CONQUEST updated to the 21st century.
Opening on a jungle hunt wherein Caesar’s mother is captured for lab use, RISE moves to the Gen Sys laboratory in San Francisco, where Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) attempts to develop DNA altering treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Will’s big-pharma supervisor Jacobs (David Oyelowo) sees Will’s lab as a potential gold mine, but Will has a more personal stake in his research: his father Charles (John Lithgow) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Caesar’s mother undergoes Will’s latest attempt at a cure shortly before Caesar is born. The therapy alters Caesar’s DNA; since Caesar does not suffer Alzheimer’s debilitating effect on the brain, the therapy enhances his healthy brain. We follow Caesar’s formative years, raised away from the lab in the Rodman’s home, as he learns to communicate via sign language. Will’s veterinarian girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto) helps the two generations of Rodmans raise Caesar. Another father and son (Brian Cox and Tom Felton) who run a primate sanctuary round out the major human characters. Humans play an important part in RISE, but Caesar is front and center in this story, as he was in CONQUEST and BATTLE. Caesar’s quest takes him from birth in captivity, through education in the Rodman home, to incarceration in the primate sanctuary following a series of misfortunes. His advanced mind perceives both injustice at the abuse of his fellow primate inmates and a plan to end their suffering.

Most critics unhappy with this film cite a common (and increasingly tedious) complaint that has been aimed at genre films in general, and Apes films in particular, any time these films expand an area of special effects. Say it with me: “The human characters are not as well developed as the ape characters!” It shows a disappointing lack of imagination, and understanding of what the film medium is capable of, to assume that human characters must be the best developed for a story to succeed. Submitted for your approval, two magnificent films by Jean-Jacques Annaud: THE BEAR (1988) and TWO BROTHERS (2004). I don’t know about you, but when I went to a LASSIE or BENJI movie as a kid, I went to see the puppy not the humans.

Annaud’s films and the dog adventures show us what can be done with well trained animals, but two advances in the film medium further the notion that human actors can play powerfully evocative non-human characters. The first of these advances is motion capture technology, which allows a human actor to be filmed, and then a digital character of anything imaginable to be animated onto that human’s performance. The second, and I would suggest equally important, is an English actor named Andy Serkis. Genre fans recognize Serkis as the man who, working with motion capture technology, was able to perform the 3 foot tall emaciated Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy as well as the 60 foot ape Kong in the 2005 remake of KING KONG. When you see rage of fear or sorrow or valor on Caesar’s face, that is not simply clever CGI, that is Andy Serkis emoting and the technology making him appear simian. Serkis is either at the forefront of something very new in acting or something very ancient. Either way he will soon be as recognized for changing the face of film acting as significantly as Meryl Streep did a generation ago and Marlon Brando did two generations ago. When I see an Apes movie, I am only passingly interested in human characters, I want more apes! Andy Serkis delivers a charismatic and intelligent Caesar that quite possibly surpasses even Roddy McDowall for creating an eager suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. This alone is worth the price of a ticket.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES tampers somewhat with the chronology of the Apes canon, most noticeably in how Caesar acquired his increased intelligence, and the circumstances of his interaction with humans. Nonetheless the story embraces the entire previous saga, with bold gestures obvious to most viewers, as well as subtler references apparent only to core fans. Tom Felton gets to deliver a few cutely placed quotes from Charlton Heston’s Taylor in the 1968 film that will be caught by anyone familiar with pop culture. Devoted fans are treated to the fulfillment of a legend, recounted by Cornelius (McDowall) in ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, to explain how apes rose to the top of the food chain. I am resisting like hell to share a Spoiler; suffice it to say that we actually see Cornelius’ parable played out, and it is even more intense than I imagined all those years ago. I nearly jumped out of my seat. With the possible exception of HARRY POTTER the normally stoic 10 a.m. Boston crowd cheered this scene like nothing I’ve heard for another film this year.

Among the recent litany of remakes (or reimagined reboots) RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is most similar to Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN. These films begin with a story with which we are already familiar, but distill the focus to a single character, treating the new film as a true biography of a fictional character. Zombie’s HALLOWEEN expands the first ten minutes of John Carpenter’s 1978 original to nearly a full hour, focusing entirely on how Michael Meyers came to be a serial killer, before condensing the bulk of Carpenter’s story into the action filled third act. The first two acts of RISE explores Caesar’s previously unseen life between the third (ESCAPE) and fourth (CONQUEST) Apes films of the 70’s, with the final act taking story liberties with the whole of CONQUEST. Inasmuch as this film alters the Apes timeline, it maintains the APES film tradition of social and political commentary. Eric Greene’s excellent 1996 book “Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture” examines reflections of 1960’s and 70’s unrest and upheaval in each chapter in the Apes saga. RISE offers insights into the science vs. commerce equation in medicine, the marginalization of the infirm, and even prison reform via the ape sanctuary. As a lifelong fan of the earlier films I wholeheartedly enjoyed this new vision of The Planet Of The Apes. I anxiously await the next battle in Caesar’s revolution.

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