THX 1138 – Live Score by Asian Dub Foundation | Manchester Bridgewater Hall

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

Coming many years before Star Wars, and even the breakthrough American Graffiti, George Lucas’ feature debut has gained a status way above cult. It’s a ponderous, dense film that has delighted fans and alienated casual viewers for years.

Back in 2004, Lucas gave the film a digital overhaul, adding effects, changing scenes and the like, (sound familiar?) and so it feels only fitting that this current tour of the film should feature a whole new score – performed live at each venue by Asian Dub Foundation, an indie-dub band who recently did a re-score of brutal French film La Haine.

The film (or was it concert?) was proceeded by a filmed interview with Walter Murch, who devised the original ‘sound montage’ for the film, as well as co-writing it with Lucas. This gave some fascinating insight to the how the sound design and eerie feel of the movie came about. Not that we’d get a chance to experience it when the main show began.

ADF’s new score for the film completely changes the viewing experience, dialogue becomes difficult to decipher at times – no doubt a problem for first-time viewers of the film – and almost feel like samples added over a complex music video. It’s not a particularly negative thing, however. Unless, of course, you’re completely precious about Lucas’ picture, in which case you’d have stayed at home clutching the original release VHS, blinkered to the digital enhancements.

We have to approach this version of THX 1138 as a new entity – a completely different beast. And it does become a beast. The languid pace of the movie, often a stumbling block for first time viewers who expect a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure, is transformed into a frantic, zippy and strangely immersive view as the synthesisers, drums, guitars and even flute of the band take over and guide you through the dystopian future in which sex is forbidden and the workers are kept under control by drugs administered by the government. The film is possibly more relevant now than it was in 1971. Often, lines of dialogue will resonate through the wall of sound and hit home like a master baseball player. We have the soothing voice of the medicine cabinet that asks what’s wrong as soon as the characters open the door. “If you feel you are not properly sedated, call 348-844 immediately. Failure to do so may result in prosecution for criminal drug evasion.” The cyber police – a potent and iconic image – have equally placid tones, at odds with the violent nature seen on holographic projections meant to stimulate the masses and release any sexual tension that might not be suppressed by the sanctioned tablets. Everything is managed by budget and figures; the THX himself (Robert Duvall) works with radioactive substances building robots, and mishaps, it seems, are a regular occurrence: “That accident over in Red Sector L destroyed another 63 personnel, giving them a total of 242 lost to our 195. Keep up the good work and prevent accidents. This shift is concluded”. Likewise, the amount of attention the police can give any given situation is budget controlled. Go over that budget, and everything is called off. Sound familiar?

It’s very difficult to say how much of a success the new score is; it isn’t the same film we are familiar with. It becomes a remixed souped-up mind fuck of a film, and its power and energy cannot be denied. It’s an adrenaline rush experience that pummels the senses; a brave and audacious experiment in sound that could easily have been a complete mess. The fact it isn’t is a testament to the talent of ADF and the power and relevance of Lucas’ original vision.

Catch it while you have the chance.

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