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From One SF Filmmaker To Another

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I am not particularly looking forward to the DVD release of STAR WARS next month. I have so many issues with the Special-er Editions that it’s hardly worth getting into (although the soon-to-be-posted Jedi Council will do exactly that). Right now, what I’m really curious about is the new Director’s Cut release of THX-1138. I’m going to a theatrical screening of it next week, and I must admit... I’m excited. If nothing else, I’ll close my eyes and bask in the soundscape that Walter Murch created, an absolute master’s class in the use of sound. That and THE CONVERSATION really woke me up to the potential for making your soundtrack an important part of the overall experience in the theater, something that could be as impressionistic and emotional as the visual imagery onscreen.

Scooter McCrae, a truly outrageous underground SF filmmaker who I had the pleasure of meeting in Montreal last year, managed to see the new THX already, and he sent me this report, which certainly makes me even more curious to see what George is up to...

George Lucas, where did our love go? STAR WARS was probably the single most important experience of my youth, the movie that got me interested in filmmaking. From this single flick I developed a voracious appetite for cinema from all over the world, no matter what the genre, as long as it was good, interesting, unique or special in some way. Not even the diminished returns of the numerous sequels have quashed my determination to receive a joy of some kind from each and every entry in the series, as I’ve always been able to find at least a spark or a moment of inspiration tucked away in the heart of all of them. When the time came for me to go back and examine your previous works, such as AMERICAN GRAFFITTI and THX-1138 it was rewarding to discover that you were in fact a legitimate director who was capable of working with actors on material that was both intriguing and challenging. Like another American original, George Romero, you not only wrote and directed your films, you even served as your own editor, which added yet another dimension of personal signature on the work, another level of authorship that marked the rugged individuality of your early films which were trendsetters in their own, special way.

THX-1138 (1970) has been a special favorite for me. In the midst of all the usual dystopian paranoia and sci-fi trappings you were able to shoehorn a level of self-aware and pitch black humor that raised the film far above the standard, humorless and straight-laced dunderheaded science fiction of the time. Sure, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) may have graced the screens two years earlier and changed the shape of speculative films to come for all time, but THX-1138 brought the future to us in a palpable way that Kubrick’s attempt to drag us kicking-and-screaming into his future could not. The layering of sound and image was richly experimental in both tone and it’s attempt to tell a fairly linear story in as non-linear a way as possible while still maintaining coherency. The committed performances of all the performers and the truly striking choices as concerns camera composition makes even the most potentially mundane moment feel special and “futuristic” even as two people sit on the floor of a bare room and embrace (as David Cronenberg’s STEREO and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE shorts also do). The melding of sound and image grabs normalcy by the scruff of the neck and projects it head-first into the visionary future of a defamiliarized here and now.

But you had to go and fuck it all up, didn’t you? Seriously, pal; I don’t know who you’re hanging out with these days and how far they’ve allowed you to jam your head up your own ass, but you took the jewel of your empire and treated it like toilet paper after a particularly rough night of Taco Bell indulgence.

I’m referring of course to the Director’s Cut of THX-1138 I saw digitally projected last night for what I hope will be the only time I will ever have to suffer the indignity of watching a classic film gang-raped by underage hooligans in public.

It’s all over, George. I’ve been rooting for you ever since I heard you were restoring the damn thing. I remember hearing the first rumblings about changes being made and CGI effects being added to open things up a bit, but mentally I stood by your side and said to myself that you’re a smart guy and that since this was your first feature and (to me, arguably) your best film, the choices you made would be tasteful and augment what was already there. And when the first frame grabs of the changes were leaked, I balked at a few of the decisions reached, while other images raised an eyebrow and made me think that some improvements might actually be made. So it was with that (relatively) open mind that I excitedly attended the screening last night.

As the screening began, and the first images of THX-1138 unfolded with a sharpness of image and clarity of soundtrack that I’ve never heard before, I was elated as I noticed little details in the frame that I’d never seen before and also picked-up on some dialogue that had always been just a little bit to muddy for me to decipher. You really had me going there, George; even the first epic CGI shots of a grotesquely overpopulated future world, which were intrusive to someone who knows the film as well as I, were forgiven and shrugged off as an unnecessary but not horrifying addition. I felt good about myself and my ability to adjust my expectations, to trust in you as an artist who still had some integrity and not just some desiccated old-man running an empire on autopilot; not some King Lear, victim to the whims of his own infirmities and the connivings of his underlings.

But then, suddenly, when LUH (Maggie McOmie) tells THX (Robert Duvall) she thinks everyone is watching them as they engage in illegal drug evasion and sexuality, you really do cut to a series of faces that appear to be watching them (re-edited from a much more subtly evocative moment from the original version). And now SEN (Donald Pleasance) is watching them have sex on his viewscreen as well?!? Could you please connect the dots for us any more? Someone asleep in the balcony might have missed that. Worst of all, defying the wonderfully paranoid logic of the original version just to make a plot point more clear for today’s “dumber” audience, when THX turns in SEN for his crimes, the act is now not the furtive scribbling of the illegality on a card in an empty hallway – an illicit act filled ripe with paranoia, as it was in the original version. Nope, now we get a CGI added viewscreen above the box THX is writing his card on so we can clearly see what he’s writing and the fact that he’s turning SEN in to the authorities. What was implied, very clearly, in the original is now punched into our heads with no subtlety whatsoever. Worst of all, it defies all logic for THX to turn in SEN if he knows that it’s not an anonymous process (as in the original, ala the boxes outside the firehouses in FAHRENHEIT 451); who in their right mind would issue a report on anyone if they knew they were being recorded while doing it?!?

There’s more; oh, so much more, so I’ll just jump to the other worst offenders. Like why, in god’s name, did a more elaborate scaffolding set-up (complete with extra people on it) for THX to drive through need to be added to the already exciting tunnel scene? Was it for the ha-ha moment where a worker jumps to safety just before it collapsed beneath him? Jeezus, did Greedo REALLY shoot first?!? And worst of all, the fuck-it-all-I-just-give-up moment of all film history for me (really, this was the moment that enraged me the most) was creating CGI versions of the shell-dwellers, which were originally played by little people, who briefly attack THX just before he escapes. They look awful, everyone in the audience (rightfully) laughed at it (not with it) and it’s the most jaw-droppingly embarrassing moment I’ve experienced in a movie theatre in a long time. And let’s face it, this summer has given all of us ample opportunity to feel embarrassed sitting in a theatre.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have been rooked, and let nobody tell you otherwise. The next time someone moans about how audiences have gotten stupider and that’s why it’s harder to see good, intelligent cinema at the local Cineplex anymore, you just point them right at this Director’s Cut of one of the smartest sci-fi films of it’s era and tell them (in your best Norma Desmond voice) that it’s the producers who got stupid, not the audiences.

(As a footnote, a super-special “fuck-you!” is in order for the MPAA, who saw fit to retrofit the film with an R-rating. What the hell is wrong with you idiots? No obscene language, brief frontal nudity from a hologram and some people in the far-off distance. It’s a sci-fi flick about people trying to escape the drugged-out stupor of their addicted society and you don’t want high school age kids to see this? Please just die, Jack Valenti, and soon. You are a further pox upon the movie-going public. Do everyone a favor and take a dip in the tar bath with the rest of the moronic ghouls you work with; consider it recycling, and the best thing you can do for the people of the United States.)

-Scooter McCrae

Wow. One of the things that has become apparent to me is that it’s less about the changes Lucas makes to the films and more about the idea that he refuses to make both versions of a movie available that creates such angry reactions. I think the very definition of irony is his reaction to the colorization of old Three Stooges shorts this week. CLICK HERE and ask yourself how someone who feels that way could ever alter a film and then bury the original theatrical version.

One thing’s for sure... I am positively hyper about seeing this one as soon as possible, and on the best screen I can.

"Moriarty" out.

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