THX 1138 (1971) dir. George Lucas
I watched THX 1138 again, thinking I might have missed something in my first viewing. I hadn't.
THX 1138 is instructive because of where it fails as a dystopia.
It succeeds in its atmosphere. The genre elements of surveillance, conformity and shallow sedation have never been portrayed better. The "special edition" includes a lot of hokey CGI, but the most memorable images - the wallless white prison and the bald, naked makeout scenes - are powerful.
It fails because there is no content.
The world of THX 1138 isn't a world where one idea is taken to the extreme, or society's flaws are extrapolated into focus. Instead, its simply a random version of a future that is somewhat worse than the world of Buck Rogers.
For example, Lucas's Big Brother figure parrots recorded consumeristic slogans to the masses. But no one buys anything in the movie, no one seems to own anything, and no one produces anything except state security. THX 1138 doesn't attack consumerism - it simply tosses in a line here and there as filler.
Each plot point seems to be plucked from other sci-fi works, and has little relation to any other plot point. In one scene, nearly a hundred workers are killed in an accident, and no one seems to care. But just 20 minutes later, the security apparatus goes to great lengths to save Robert Duvall's life from an identical accident. The workers seem to be so valuable, that at one point it seems the justice system might let him off the hook because he is needed to build robots.
Perhaps Lucas meant it all as a critique of the idea that a computer could create an efficient world. His Alphaville would be run by would-be utilitarians, but terribly stupid ones. The final scene of the film just seems more absurd than anything else.
But, I'm not going to give him that much credit.
THX 1138 is the 12th entry in my 45.1 Essential Dystopias list.