It's an interesting little thing, on a number of levels. Firstly, the film comes, as all Lucas films do these days, with Updater Disease. Since I've never seen the original version, I honestly can't tell you how much he has added, tweaked, and run his aging little hands over it to get a shine. Sure, my pick is for some of the city scape shots, and a few other bits and pieces here and there, but the truth is, I thought the film, tweaked and rubbed up, actually held together quite well. At the end of the film, I was left with the idea that maybe, just what the fuck maybe, we're all wrong about the updates of the Star Wars trilogy--
Fuck, now I'm remembering that Han Solo and Greedo scene.
Fuck you, Lucas! You were wrong! Give us back the scene! Admit you're wrong!
Anyhow, moving along, and back to THX 1138. Like I said, the film has been fiddled with as Lucas demonstrates the bad side to being an independent director with too much success. But in this case, the film updates are actually quite seamless for the first time viewer. Indeed, the whole film, surprisingly, holds up quite well. The faults are not what you would expect from a film made in 1971--which, for me, would be the visual aspect and social commentary. Instead, the fault of the film is purely located in the script, and the fact that it's a mostly directionless narrative that would have done well by making it's protagonist, THX 1138, more goal orientated.
The film is firmly located in the dystopian world view of things. It owes a lot to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four (and one suspects that Lucas would have just been better off adapting that book), but I really can't hold that against it. A lot of dystopian works, be they prose or film, owe a lot to those two books, though Orwell, if he were perhaps alive, might've made a few inquires about how he could get some money for his ideas. At any rate, this messy paragraph actually finally leads into the plot, which is that THX 1138, a mindless drone who builds mechanical policemen, is about to break the social taboo of this society, and have sex (which, Lucas suggests, is love--but there's really not enough emotion between the two to qualify as love to me).
From there, THX 1138 ends up in prison. He then escapes with the help of a hologram given flesh, and SEN 5241, who is rather infatuated with THX himself.
There are no great shakes in the plot. It works as an extended metaphor on consumerism and production and profits verses losses of big business. It's not exactly the most subtle argument, nor the most intelligent, but these are the kind of problems that are quite common with first works of dystopian vision. However, what is perhaps the most interesting comment of the film, and which I would have liked to see explored more, is Lucas' vision of a pristine white world, where everyone but the holographic actors, are white, and live in an endlessly bright white world.
There's a lot about the dominance of whiteness in the Western world that could have been placed into through this, questions that could have been raised, society commentary that could have been made. Lucas doesn't make them in the film, but that doesn't mean that the viewer can't read commentary from the new millennium into it. It's certainly something I did, even as I watched this white world unfold around THX 1138. It's a really quite interesting world, actually, an austere visual for an austere culture, but still remaining visually impressive in the way that very few films are.
The film is, at the end, a failure. It doesn't matter how impressive it is visually, or how much I adore the look of the silvery mechanical cops... in the end, the narrative is flawed, and so is the film. But it's an interesting failure as a film, and reveals aside of Lucas that is a touch surprising if all you've seen is the Star Wars films. It leaves you, in fact, somewhat curious to see what he is capable of making after he has finished with lightsabers and Saturday morning reruns.