Cast & Crew
Don Pedro Colley
In the early twenty-first century, computers manage human society, guiding people who are kept on a steady diet of sedatives that deaden the senses through their subterranean world. Assigned numbers instead of names, individuals are further stripped of their uniqueness by wearing the same white outfits and being shaved bald. As workers toil in nuclear laboratories where robotic police figures are constructed, soothing computer voices direct them through each movement, including the occasional catastrophic accident. One man, THX 1138, grows increasingly restless, unaware that his flat mate, female LUH 3417, has been rebelling against their emotionless existence by gradually reducing his normal drug intake. Confused by his mounting agitation, THX seeks comfort from a computerized confessional where he relates his anxiety to a televised image of a painting of bearded man while a computer voice drones sympathetic pre-recorded phrases. THX confides that his increasing inability to concentrate has led to minor problems at work that distress him, and admits to having difficulties with LUH. The computer bestows blessings of the state and the masses and urges THX to be grateful for his job, which allows him to be the perfect consumer. Back at his flat, THX seeks diversion watching holograms of erotic dancers, news, a comedy program and a discussion on spirituality. LUH anxiously listens as THX becomes fixated on a violent hologram of robotic police beating a man. The next day, THX returns to the confessional, which repeats the same recorded blessing. None of the surrounding hooded monks intervene when THX becomes violently ill in the booth. Later, THX manages to return home where LUH tends to him. The following morning, LUH acknowledges that she yearns for physical intimacy with THX, which is forbidden. When THX responds to her, LUH expresses fear that they are being observed, but THX assures her no one is watching them and the couple has sex. Afterward, LUH confesses having reduced THX's drug intake and cautions him that he cannot return to his regular dosage, especially if they have developed feelings for each other. Although LUH admits to her fear of being arrested for drug violations, she suggests that they run away and try to live together outside of the underground community. A few days later, LUH anxiously tells THX that she has had a work shift change and has been ordered to see her superior, SEN 5241. Unknown to the couple, SEN has monitored most of their recent exchanges over the last few days and, with his fellow monitors, knows of LUH's drug transgressions as well as the fact that the couple has had illegal intimate relations. That afternoon, SEN visits THX at work and discloses that LUH requested a transfer to new quarters. Doubtful, THX returns to the flat that evening and waits worriedly for LUH, but she does not appear. The next morning, SEN meets THX, who questions why he is in his work sector again. SEN blithely acknowledges that he can program his own shifts, then admits he transferred LUH and reminds THX that he needs a new roommate. Piqued by SEN's attitude, THX reports him for illegal program shifting. During work, however, THX is overcome by stress over LUH's absence and very nearly causes a major accident when he drops a nuclear rod. High-security monitors place a mind block on THX as his co-workers are ordered to leave the area and robotic police are dispatched to arrest him for drug evasion. THX is taken to a confinement area where he is beaten, but he refuses to make a statement. A trial is rapidly arranged and THX is brought up on charges of drug evasion and sexual perversion. Upon being found guilty he is sentenced to detention and conditioning, which consists of several rounds of electric torment, followed by numerous medical test procedures that lead to severe torture by unseen security monitors. After THX rests and recovers from the ordeal, LUH is allowed to visit him and reveals that she is pregnant. The couple is given permission to have sex, but when robot police arrive to escort THX away he resists and is knocked out and taken to a place of detention for defectives. Reviving, THX discovers SEN has been sentenced there, too, along with several others who have failed to conform. Quickly growing frustrated with the rambling monologues and bizarre behavior of the other detainees, THX decides to escape. SEN accompanies THX and the pair walk a great distance along a pure white expanse before spotting a man in the distance who waves at them. When the pair reach the man, he introduces himself as SRT, a hologram who has tired of his dull existence as an erotic dancer and is also attempting to escape. The men proceed and eventually come to a darkened area and a glowing ball before a doorway. Opening the door, the men are startled to find scores of people bustling along a wide walkway. THX and SRT struggle across the hordes of people, but SEN is swept along with them and separated from the others. Meanwhile, security has monitored THX and SEN's escape and orders an official search. As SEN boards a tram, THX and SRT wind their way through a room full of large jars holding fetuses and on to a vast circuit room, then find themselves in a darkened room with several bodies on gurneys. Just as THX inspects the bodies and realizes they have had all their organs removed, an attendant arrives to tag each corpse. When THX is almost tagged, he flees, followed by SRT. While SEN finds himself in a studio that broadcasts the confessionals, THX and SRT discover an uninhabited monitoring station. THX performs a computer search for LUH and learning that her name and number have been reassigned to a fetus, realizes that she is dead. The robotic police continue seeking THX while monitors keep track of the rising costs of the search. Meanwhile, SEN returns to a tram station and talks with several children who have just started their sedative regimen. THX and SRT find several jet cars parked near the monitoring station and THX breaks into one and drives away. SRT has difficulty starting his car and as the robotic police move in, he guns the car and slams into a cement post. THX races away through a long tunnel pursued by the robotic police on jet motorcycles. After one cyclist crashes against a construction zone, the other is finally ordered to cease the chase as THX's pursuit has gone over budget. Abandoning the car, THX climbs up through a long shaft and, opening a hatch, emerges into the outside world just as the sun rises.
Don Pedro Colley
Gary Alan Marsh
Eugene I. Stillman
Raymond J. Walsh
Johnny Weissmuller Jr.
Scott T. Menges
Toby L. Stearns
Paul K. Haje
Dion M. Chesse
Barbara J. Artis
Morris D. Erby
Willie C. Barnes
Jean M. Durand
David Ogden Stiers
Francis Ford Coppola
In the Twenty-Fifth Century, a totalitarian society works and lives under a strict, and bland, rule. Dress is plain white and heads are shaved, and everyone is on a regimen of sedative drugs; those who do not take medication are punished for "drug evasion." THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is a worker who is part of a group that helps assemble the robot police who enforce the rules of society. He slowly becomes aware of his bleak existence because his female roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), has been diluting his medication. THX discovers love and sex - intercourse has also been outlawed, replaced by artificial insemination. When the couple is found out, punishment is swift. THX finds himself held prisoner in a white void. He meets another rebel, SEN (Donald Pleasence), and together with a Hologram (Don Pedro Colley) escaping the "entertainment circuits," they determine to leave the void and the oppressive underground society.
Lucas made clever use of some existing locations for his stark, futuristic sets. For the chase sequences at the end of the film, Lucas shot in several mass transit tunnels, such as the Alameda tunnel in Oakland, California, which stretches between the airport and downtown, and the then-unfinished Broadway tunnel in San Francisco. For the impressive "void prison" sequences, Lucas filmed an enormous white set, shot with a lens so long that the camera had to be set up on an adjoining stage as the technicians communicated with each other by radio headsets. Actor Don Pedro Colley described the void set in an interview: "The floor of one stage was constructed with curved walls up to the catwalks, then painted white. The first time I entered the stage, I found myself lifting my feet, as if I were walking in knee-deep cotton. You had to hold your arms out for balance until your eyes could focus on depth perception."
The storyline for THX 1138 may seem exceedingly bleak, especially from the man who would later hatch the Star Wars saga. There are moments of dark comedy to be found, however. As John Brosnan points out in his book, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction, "[one] Star Wars seed in THX 1138 is the obvious fun Lucas has with robots. For all their apparent efficiency they're far from perfect, and their foibles provide the film's main source of humor: ...'Please come back,' cries a robot as the unheeding THX flees... 'we only want to help you.'"
Writing in the genre fan magazine Cinefantastique, Dale Winogura called THX 1138 a "brilliant minor masterpiece," comparing it favorably to Metropolis (1927) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). He has high praise for the director, saying "Claustrophobia is the main concept of the film, and Lucas visually realizes this through extreme close-ups and long shots of people surrounded by machinery or white empty space." Mainstream critic Roger Ebert found that "the movie's strength is not in its story but in its unsettling and weirdly effective visual and sound style. ...The sound effects add to the illusion of a distant and different society. The dialogue seems half-heard, half-forgotten; people talk in a bemused way, as if the drugs had made them indifferent. Their words are suspended in a muted, echoing atmosphere in which only the computer-programmed recorded announcements seem confident."
Ebert was justified in praising the sound montages in THX 1138. They were created by Walter Murch, who was also the co-screenwriter with Lucas on the film. Murch had worked previously as a sound designer with Coppola on The Rain People, and with Lucas on the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter (1970). Following his notable work on THX 1138, Murch would go on to define the modern age of sound editing, re-recording and montage in Lucas' American Graffiti (1973) and Coppola's The Conversation (1974), creating aural landscapes that were as important to the storytelling in those films as the visuals and acting. (Lucas always recognized the importance of sound in both filmmaking and in theatre exhibition, and when Murch and others at Lucas' Skywalker Sound developed new audio reproduction techniques for use in theaters worldwide, it's worth noting that the system was named THX).
When American Zoetrope handed THX 1138 over to Warner Brothers, the studio heads were perplexed to say the least. The film was reedited without Lucas' approval, and the result was quietly released with a minimum of publicity. Although reviews were quite positive, the film died at the box-office. Coppola's San Francisco company was dissolved, although he would revive it in a spectacular fashion following the enormous success of The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974), which were produced at Paramount Pictures.
Speaking on a DVD commentary, Lucas has said of THX 1138, "It was designed to be a metaphor about the way we lived in the early '60s; about consumerism, about conformity, disintegration of emotions, of trying to make everything perfect in a way that was nightmarish." Speaking of trying to make everything perfect, Lucas revisited his first feature in 2004 for THX 1138: The George Lucas Director's Cut. In this edition, he not only reedited the film 33 years after Warner Brothers took it out of his hands, he also made several changes and additions using CGI technology, creating some new environments and characters. As with the altered versions of his first three Star Wars films, this "tinkering" opened the director up to a fair amount of criticism from fans of the original 1971 film.
Executive Producer: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Larry Sturhahn
Director: George Lucas
Screenplay: George Lucas, Walter Murch, based on a story and earlier short film by George Lucas
Cinematography: Albert Kihn, David Myers
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Film Editing: George Lucas
Art Direction: Michael Haller
Sound Montage: Walter Murch
Cast: Robert Duvall (THX 1138), Donald Pleasence (SEN 5241), Don Pedro Colley (Hologram SRT), Maggie McOmie (LUH 3417), Ian Wolfe (PTO, the old prisoner), Marshall Efron (TWA), Sig Haig (NCH), John Pearce (DWY).
by John M. Miller
THX 1138: The George Lucas Director's Cut
Unfortunately, the 1971 feature has been retro-revised for a new 2004 release, and 'augmented' with extensive CGI computer work. Movies can become Clockwork Oranges too.
Synopsis: THX (Robert Duvall) and LUH (Maggie McOmie) are cheerless proles living in an underground city where all citizens are controlled via Orwellian monitoring and Huxley-style sexless breeding. THX and LUH defy the ban on sex. They also commit the crime of drug avoidance - everyone is kept on mandatory stimulants and depressants. Under the stress, THX causes an accident on an assembly line that uses radioactive materials. A meddling admirer of THX, SEN (Donald Pleasance) manages to get LUH arrested so he can have THX to himself. Both THX and SEN end up in a featureless limbo that serves as a kind of detention room. That's when THX decides to flee the city to the unknown world outside the city.
THX 1138 was a superior product of its day, and it's too bad that we can't see it any more. In its place, George Lucas has given us his revised version, adding visuals and augmenting scenes. Once a downright spartan and featureless world, the film now has giant factories assembling golden robots that look like C3PO. Escher-like tangles of high-speed roadways have been added where once stood monotonous views of the same BART tunnels. And every previously vacant space is now packed with crowds, dozens of vehicles, etc. It's like those street scenes in Star Wars where a couple of original pedestrians now share the road with enough aliens to fill a page in Where's Waldo? THX's lonely escape in a sole vehicle has been replaced with a full-scale Grand Prix of zooming Formula One cars. And a short skirmish with some dwarf denizens of the city's outer shell, is now a full-on attack by a pack of mutated monkey creatures.
In other words, THX 1138 has gone the way of Star Wars, which it seems Lucas will also never again let out in its original form. You can't have a simple image of an ordinary lizard sitting on some computer wires without adding CGI moth antennae to it. What happened to old-style film directors, who were too excited to move on to new projects to screw around with old ones?
New viewers to THX 1138 will be able to follow the film just as well and will enjoy the sound design, which isn't appreciably changed from the original even with the addition of 5.1 audio. LUH's disappearance was once a tragic shock, but now there's too much happening for us to miss her. Robert Duvall's controlled performance hasn't changed, but the extra cars, screaming monkeys and teeming crowds distract from the focus on his character.
The basic structure of THX 1138 is still there, like a good layer cake with too much frosting. Duvall's soulless life gains meaning once he gets off drugs and becomes determined to leave the city, as LUH had hoped to do. When we originally saw THX burst through to the surface to be confronted with an orange sunset, it was a wonderfully ambiguous finale. Where the heck is he going to go now? Is the topside an ecological wasteland or the preserve of a lucky ruling elite? The final shot seems to have been processed to put more of a visual distortion on THX's tiny figure silhouetted against the sky. That distracts from the final joke where a bird flies by and we imagine Duvall thinking, "What the heck was that?" With all the unnecessary visual additions to the film, THX's triumph now plays like a letdown.
For audiences unaware of film history, Warner's two disc set of THX 1138 will certainly not be the cultural outrage described above. The beautifully mastered image looks far better than it ever did projected, where all those featureless white rooms showed every tiny scratch and piece of dirt.
The extras are pentiful. There's a nice transfer of the original USC student film, and a featurette that focuses on all the actors having their heads shaved. We get okay commentaries from Lucas and Walter Murch. In the docus special effects whiz Dennis Muren seems bored with it all, while Walter Murch delights in detailing his sound designs to the nth degree and making sure that we know he inspired the music score - he says that Lalo Schifrin simply recorded the 'notes' produced by Murch's classical records taped backwards at 1/4 speed. The best docu included is an overview of the early years of the Zoetrope Co. and its unfulfilled creative promise. Nowhere is any mention of the extensive CGI revision. Is it Lucas' intention to rewrite movie history to fit his personal agenda?
For more information about THX 1138: Special Edition, visit Warner Video. To order THX 1138: Special Edition, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
THX 1138: The George Lucas Director's Cut
If you feel you are not properly sedated, call 348-844 immediately. Failure to do so may result in prosecution for criminal drug evasion.- Voice in medicine cabinet
Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses.- OM
Thou art a subject of the divine, created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses.- OM
Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy.- OM
Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.- OM
You have nowhere to go. I am here to protect you.- Chrome Robot
The source of the title "THX-1138" is the mnemonic form of George Lucas's phone number in San Francisco when he was a student.
George Lucas claims that the scene where technicians mess with THX's nervous system, sending him into comical spasms, was drawn from his antipathy towards the doctors who treated him after his near-fatal car crash as a youth.
The underground chase near the end was shot in a not-yet-completed segment of the BART subway system in San Francisco.
The music playing during the end credits is the first movement from J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244.
Shortly after THX-1138 steals a police car, and shortly before his fellow escapee crashes the one he tries to steal, you can hear someone on the radio say, "I think I ran over a wookie back there on the expressway."
THX 1138 opens with a trailer for the second episode of the 1939 Universal serial Buck Rogers, which starred Larry "Buster" Crabbe as a man in suspended animation who revived five hundred years later to a strange, new future. THX 1138 is a feature-length version of a student film directed by George Lucas when he was a graduate student at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. According to a January 1968 Daily Variety news item, Lucas, winner of the National Student Film Festival's dramatic picture prize, was signed by budding producer and director Francis Ford Coppola to make the first film for Coppola's new company, later called American Zoetrope, to be co-produced with Warner Bros. and the old Seven Arts company, renamed W7. Lucas, who had met and become close friends with Coppola earlier, became partners with Coppola in creating American Zoetrope in 1969.
In an onscreen written acknowledgment after the closing credits, the filmmakers thank Caleb Deschanel, Cal Bernstein, Haskell Wexler, Synanon, Fibre Fab, Inc., BART System, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland and Marin County. Assistant editor Marcia Lucas was Lucas' wife and worked on his subsequent productions after THX 1138 until their divorce in 1982. THX 1138 was shot on location in San Francisco, Oakland and the East Bay area. The chase scene at the close of the picture was filmed in the Caldecott tunnel in Alameda County. "SEN"'s flight through the subway system was filmed in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tunnels that were still under construction at the time.
Lucas' prize-winning student film, "THX-1138-4EB" was seventeen minutes in length and has only one line of dialogue, and uses unusual sounds throughout to convey an unsettling mood. The sporadic use of animated effects in the short suggests that "THX" is constantly being observed, but it is not clear by whom. Unlike the feature film, in the short version the people are not shaved bald and it is vague why THX flees from mysterious technicians. Modern sources indicate that Lucas made up the name of the film and the lead character from his San Francisco phone number, with "THX" corresponding to the numbers 849.
In a documentary on the making of THX 1138, Lucas revealed that he was heavily influenced by contemporary Japanese cinema, which frequently depicted inexplicable actions, and that he had hoped to make the feature film in Japan. Lucas stated that when it became apparent that shooting in Japan would be impractical and too expensive, it was decided to make the film in northern California using Coppola and Lucas' new studio, American Zoetrope, and nearby locations. Lucas further explained he wanted to transmit mood and meaning through abstract visuals and preferred a detached documentary look and feel rather than being dependent on dialogue. Co-screenwriter Walter Murch stated in the documentary that he re-wrote much of Lucas' dialogue for THX 1138.
Lucas stated that the film was not meant to represent the future, but was a direct comment on the consumer-obsessed culture of 1970. THX 1138 marked Robert Duvall's first lead film role, although he had appeared in increasingly important supporting roles since his debut in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, see below). The final shot of THX stepping outside into the real world featured a double wearing a skull cap, not Duvall. Lucas revealed that for the extras needed for the film, he and Murch approached the Synanon drug rehabilitation facility, and several recovering patients agreed to shave their head and appear in the film for thirty dollars a day. According to an Los Angeles Times article, after the success of Lucas' Star Wars in 1977, THX 1138 was re-released in September 1977. In 2004 Lucas reissued THX 1138 in a "director's cut" format, with several scenes digitally enhanced to magnify and detail the appearance of the subterranean world. The student version, the original release and the director's cut were viewed.
As noted above, THX 1138 was Lucas's first feature film. In 1973 Lucas wrote and directed the popular Universal release American Graffiti. In 1977 Lucas wrote, produced and directed the Twentieth Century-Fox mega blockbuster Star Wars, followed by two sequels and three "prequels," all produced and written by Lucas over the next twenty-eight years. Along with films by Coppola and director Steven Spielberg, Lucas' Star Wars series revolutionized the industry, ushering in the era of summer blockbuster releases. In 1982, during the production of one of the Star Wars sequels, Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilms' technical director, inspired by Lucas' interest in upgrading film presentation standards, developed a new and unique sound system, called the THX System in honor of Lucas' first film. The system considered architecture, theater acoustics and sound equipment and strove to recreate the sound exactly as recorded by the filmmaker. In recognition of Lucas's achievement, in June 2005, he received AFI's Lifetime Achievement award.
Released in United States Spring March 11, 1971
Released in United States March 1975
Released in United States March 1979
Released in United States September 2004
Based on the short film "The Electronic Labyrinth" (1968) directed by George Lucas.
Feature directorial debut for George Lucas.
An expanded version of the sci-fi short "Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138: 4EB" (USA/67).
Released in United States Spring March 11, 1971
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States March 1979 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FilmEssay: Misappreciated American Films) March 14-30, 1979.)
Released in United States September 2004 (Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 3-6, 2004.)