THX-1138 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not stunning, the transfer looked quite good.
Sharpness usually came across well. Some shots revealed the limitations of the source material and could be a smidgen soft. However, those weren’t a substantial issue, and the movie mostly provided good clarity. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws also appeared absent.
With mostly white characters who wear white clothes in front of white backgrounds, THX may well be the whitest movie ever made, and the film lacked much color. The shots of THX at work demonstrated a golden hue, and a few other tones sporadically popped into view, but white was the order of the day. The smattering of colors that did appear looked acceptably concise and vivid. Contrast was solid and the dominant whites were depicted as clear and appropriately bright. The occasional black elements looked deep and firm, and the few low-light shots were also clean and smooth. Overall, the image of THX looked positive.
Since George Lucas’ name has become synonymous with good audio, I figured the DTS-HD MA5.1 remix of THX-1138 would work well, and I was correct. Don’t expect Star Wars style fireworks from it, though, as the audio stayed appropriately subdued most of the time. Indeed, the quiet nature of the flick meant it often remained essentially monaural.
Music often spread to the sides with strong stereo imaging, and some sequences featured positive delineation of effects from the sides. Those elements came into play mainly during bigger scenes at the robot factory and with other crowds. During those sequences, the mix spread out well, and the surrounds played a minor role. They added reinforcement to the track and a little unique audio such as from the movement of vehicles from front to rear. The mix mostly focused on the front, though, where it created a pretty good sense of environment that suited this low-key flick.
Audio quality was much better than average for a movie from 1970. Speech consistently sounded natural and distinctive, with no signs of edginess or problems connected to intelligibility. Effects were appropriately dynamic and clear. They didn’t often take center stage, but when they did, they sounded firm and accurate. Music was rich and full, as the score presented good life and dimensionality. Not a lot of deep bass popped up, but the sequences that used those elements - such as in the prison - featured tight low-end response. The audio of THX lacked enough scope to enter “A” territory, but it remained very good given the movie’s vintage.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-ray compare to the 2004 Special Edition DVD? I thought the audio was a wash. Maybe the lossless track boasted a bit more range and punch, but I didn’t sense that it did much to better the prior disc’s audio.
To my surprise, the same seemed true for the visuals. While the Blu-ray looked better, it didn’t provide a major step up in picture quality. Indeed, this was one of those movies that almost lost a little on Blu-ray, as the DVD’s lower resolution tended to hide its flaws better.
That didn’t mean I preferred the DVD’s image, but the Blu-ray did seem softer than expected. I felt that the DVD looked sharp for DVD, but when confronted with higher potential resolution, the image’s natural softness became more apparent. Of course, that’s not a criticism of the Blu-ray; an accurate portrayal of the source is always a good thing. Nonetheless, it did mean that the Blu-ray didn’t seem substantially more attractive in terms of visuals. It was a minor upgrade in that regard.
The Blu-ray provides all the same extras as the DVD. We open with an audio commentary from co-writer/director George Lucas and co-writer/sound designer Walter Murch. Both recorded their own running, screen-specific commentaries that were later edited together. This format results in a pretty solid discussion of the movie.
The commentary starts with information about the film’s origins and how it developed. We get many notes about its themes and concepts as well as visual and sound design. The track goes over the restrictions of the budget and era plus some information about casting, working with the actors, the nuts and bolts of the day-to-day production, and various other components. Unfortunately, we get almost no remarks about the changes made from the original film to the “director’s cut”, and some dead air occasionally mars the chat. Nonetheless, it usually moves well and presents a great deal of interesting information. It’s well worth a listen.
Next we find Theatre of Noise, an isolated music and sound effects track. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, it offers exactly what that concept implies. Actually, a lot of speech pops up during the track, as all of the movie’s background chatter gets relegated to the status of “effects”. None of the dialogue from the main characters shows up, though. This feature doesn’t do much for me, but it comes as a moderately worthwhile addition to the set.
Master Sessions with Walter Murch offers a branching feature; when an icon pops onscreen during the film, hit “enter” to watch any of the 13 short clips. We can also examine these independent of the movie via a menu; taken together, the segments last a total of 29 minutes and 41 seconds. He offers an extended discussion about the film’s audio and provides a very compelling and useful examination of that subject.
Next we shift to A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope. This documentary runs one hour, three minutes and 36 seconds as it explores its subject. Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, it presents clips from various movies, archival materials, and interviews with Lucas, Murch, fellow filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, John Milius, Robert Dalva, Francis Ford Coppola, Willard Huyck, Matthew Robbins, John Korty, Caleb Deschanel, Carroll Ballard, former Warner Bros. head of production John Calley, transportation captain Tony Dingman, actor Robert Duvall, American Zoetrope treasurer Mona Skager, Coppola’s wife Eleanor, and producer Ron Colby.
They discuss the state of the Hollywood system in the Sixties and the changes it underwent, the impact of Easy Rider, the origins of the American Zoetrope organization in college, the early inroads made by Lucas and Coppola and how they met, how their experiences led them to form Zoetrope, the creation of the studio, getting funding, the contrast in the personalities of Lucas and Coppola, collecting other collaborators and moving projects along, the youth movement of the era and its impact on the studio, making THX, negative studio reactions to THX and the way it affected Zoetrope, Warner Bros. recutting of THX, the crumbling of Zoetrope as originally constituted and where those involved immediately went.
One major positive related to “Legacy” comes from the cooperation of so many notable names. Unlike the somewhat similar Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, “Legacy” features the cream of the crop of connected filmmakers. Folks like Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg and Scorsese skipped the other piece, and their presence here adds a lot to the experience. The construction of the program helps, as it moves briskly and covers the subjects concisely. “Legacy” provides a fascinating and involving documentary that definitely earns a look.
Another documentary appears next via Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX-1138. It fills 31 minutes and eight seconds with the usual elements. We find notes from Lucas, Murch, Duvall, Robbins, Ballard, Coppola, Korty, Huyck, Calley, Colby, Dalva, Deschanel, Spielberg, lighting gaffer William Mayley, director of photography David Myers, key grip Ken Phelps, property master Ted Moehnke, filmmaker Frank Darabont, and actors Maggie McOmie, and Don Pedro Colley. They go into the film’s origins, its path to the screen, casting and dealing with the head shaving, visual and conceptual ideas, shooting the flick and telling its story, locations, post-production, and the flick’s legacy. While not as interesting as the prior program, “Artifact” provides a reasonably useful examination of the flick. Only a smidgen of material repeats from the commentary, as the extra participants help flesh out matters well. The documentary doesn’t follow a terribly concise path, and I’m disappointed we still don’t hear anything about the differences between the original flick and the “director’s cut”, but this remains a good program full of interesting tidbits.
A very worthwhile addition, the disc includes Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB, the short film precursor to the theatrical version. It fills 15 minutes and 10 seconds as it tells an abbreviated and fairly different version of the tale. It hasn’t aged terribly well, as it often seems amateurishly acted and silly, but I’m happy to get in on this set, as it’s very interesting to see Lucas’s early work.
In addition to both one original and five re-release trailers, we get a vintage production featurette called Bald. It runs eight minutes, three seconds and includes a chat between Lucas and Coppola as well as occasional comments from McOmie, Duvall, Murch and some minor actors. They discuss the roots of THX, its look, and the shaved heads. A little interesting vintage footage shows up here, though we’ve already seen some of it in “Artifact”, and it’s also amusing to hear Coppola berate Lucas for the shaved head concept. That topic heavily dominates “Bald”, as the featurette really plays up the unusual lack of hair. That and the many movie clips makes this a lackluster program.
George Lucas’s first flick, THX-1138 will inevitably remain his least famous. However, that doesn’t make it his worst, as THX provides a flawed but intriguing and experience. The Blu-ray presents good picture and audio plus a fine set of useful and informative extras. I recommend this unusual movie, though I suspect fans who already own the 2004 DVD will be fine with it, as I don’t think the Blu-ray marks a notable step up in terms of quality.
To rate this film, visit the Director's Cut review of THX 1138