Cinema: Future Imperative

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THX 1138 begins with a clip from the 1939 serial Buck Rogers, showing Buster Crabbe happily engaged in space exploration in the 25th century. But the real 25th century, says THX 1138 director George Lucas, is a denatured anthill where populations lead lives of quiet respiration. Every bodily function is mechanically analyzed; sexual relations are forbidden; food consists of ampuls and dehydrated protein bars.

The government—a wretched wedding of Mao Tse-tung and the Internal Revenue Service—treats each person as a consumer-producer who lives to enhance the glorious state. In a world of progressive monotony, Lucas flashes some bright signs of humor: when THX (Robert Duvall) watches television, he turns to a channel where a beating proceeds incessantly—the violence and sadism of today's viewing, minus the annoyances of plot. When THX is tried for the forbidden act of lovemaking, his judge is a computer. The police of the 25th century are chrome-plated automatons, one of whom is played by Johnny Weissmuller Jr. If Lucas creates an eerie universe, he also implies a rather damning thought; Haven't we been here before? Indeed we have, in the constructions of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, who used their views of the future to warn the present. Despite his scenes of bland horror, Lucas offers the 25th century as a arch, campy place, a conception not satiric enough to be accepted as comedy and not quite insightful enough to be taken seriously.

Some of the faults afflict The Andromeda Strain, a bigger, better-league movie. Micheal Crichton's novel posed the conumdrum: What would happen if a space-probe satellite returned to earth carrying a malignant? The solution it offered was disquieting. The film is a faithful replica complete with deux ex machinations.

Bateriologist (Arthur Hill), biologist (Kate Reid), surgeon (James Olson) and pathologist (David Wayne) are assigned to the microscopic object which consumes plastic and turns blood to powder. One American has already been annihilated; now the Andromeda strain seems bent on total destruction. The Thing multiplies by some unknown process. At great—too great—length, the brains decide to nuke it to death. But wait! They suddenly realize their folly. Split atoms are what make the Thing thrive. It eats them for breakfast. The countdown begins. Can the stalwart defuse the bomb in time? The clock eats up seconds—30...20...28...

Director Robert Wise and his quartet are so expert at sustaining suspense that they almost disguise The Andromeda Strain's great pretense. Despite its trappings, the plot employs nothing but the conventional weaponry of the grade-B thriller. Andromeda strains for significance and emerges as very modest entertainment. Still, in its darker moments, like THX 1138, it does a thorough job of belittling science as savior.· S.K.