Back in the day, George Lucas actually made art films and had no interest in big movies. THX 1138 was the first film from American Zoetrope, an independent creative collective formed by the likes of Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. When it was first screened for Warner Brothers (who agreed to fund the movie), this bizarre science fiction film was dismissed as confusing and sterile, a couple of labels that still work when talking about the movie today.
It was certainly daring for its time, telling the story of a man (Robert Duvall, with a shaved head) imprisoned in an Orwellian society, a factory worker making robots in an underground jail. When his female roommate withholds his government-prescribed sedatives, his mind is freed, and he tries to escape. Warner Brothers made cuts and changes to Lucas' original version, but now that George is the big man that he is, he's restored the film to his intended vision. He's also done some of that patented Lucas tinkering, adding digital effects here and there, and they blend in nicely, for the most part.
While it certainly represents an important milestone in the evolution of cinema and the changing studio systems, it's just not that great of a movie. It's impressive for its intentions, just not a truly rewarding viewing experience. Of course, Lucas went on to greater things (American Graffiti, Star Wars), and his notoriety has created some curiosity and demand for his less-successful first feature. It's a little hard to believe that this is the same guy who made Attack of the Clones, a decent movie but the direct opposite of the sort of film Lucas intended to direct when he was starting out. After the next, and supposedly final, Star Wars film, Lucas claims he wants to go back and make films more like THX 1138. That should be interesting.
Special Features: The special features are actually much, much better than the movie. Two fantastic documentaries provide some engaging cinema history. One goes into the history of American Zoetrope, and the origins of such projects as The Conversation and Apocalypse Now (a film that Lucas was originally slated to direct). The other goes behind the scenes of the making of THX 1138 (including shots of the performers getting their heads shaved). The documentaries include interviews with Lucas, Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, a treasure chest of film knowledge. It's never a boring thing to listen to these guys reminisce. Lucas provides a good commentary, and actually makes viewing the film a better trip. Also included is the student movie that inspired the feature film.
Writer's complaint: I wanted to review Lucas's Star Wars trilogy in this issue, but the cheap bastard wouldn't part with a DVD set for me. Next issue, we'll talk Star Wars.
Thanks to the brilliant mind of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Jim Carrey gets a film that perfectly blends his wide-ranging mannerisms. He plays Joel, a miserable man going through the end of relationship who comes to find that his loved one (a radiant Kate Winslet) has had all memory of him erased from her mind via a sci-fi movie technique. Joel decides to get the same procedure, but his subconscious starts to fight for the memories. The result is a funny, hallucinatory movie that is as mind-blowing as it is entertaining. Director Michel Gondry is quite the visionary, and Kaufman continues to write some of the best films of the last few years. It came out early in the year, so with the awards season approaching, it's time to remember how great this is. Will somebody please nominate Carrey for an Oscar!
Special Features: I love the music video Light & Day from the Polyphonic Spree, and it's here for the archives. Gondry and Kaufman provide entertaining commentary, but the behind-the-scenes stuff is routine.
This one gets a DVD reissue right in time for the recent poker craze. (If you haven't seen Celebrity Poker on Bravo, it is highly recommended. David Cross is a scream.) Matt Damon is good as a generally well-meaning law student who can't help gambling on the cards, and Norton is the generally lousy guy who helps him get into a lot of trouble. Damon and Norton do good work, but the normally reliable John Malkovich is terrible as a Russian immigrant who rules the poker underground. His thick, fake accent and repeated crunching on Oreos is tedious stuff.
Special Features: There's a poker video game, hosted by the voice of Ed Norton, that is simply not worth your time. A commentary with director John Dahl and Norton is decent, but the behind-the-scenes special is underwhelming.