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THX 1138

THX 1138 – 1971
Visit the future where love is the ultimate crime.
George Lucas

George Lucas (story)
George Lucas (earlier screenplay)
George Lucas (screenplay)
Walter Murch (screenplay)

Francis Ford Coppola executive producer
Edward Folger associate producer (as Ed Folger)
Larry Sturhahn producer (as Lawrence Sturhahn)

Robert Duvall – THX 1138
Donald Pleasence – SEN 5241
Don Pedro Colley – SRT, the hologram
Maggie McOmie – LUH 3417
Ian Wolfe – PTO, the old prisoner
Marshall Efron – TWA, a prisoner
Sid Haig – NCH, a prisoner
John Pearce – DWY, a prisoner
Irene Forrest – IMM, a prisoner
Gary Alan Marsh – CAM, the radical prisoner
John Seaton – OUE, a prisoner
Eugene I. Stillman – JOT, a prisoner
Raymond Walsh – TRG, a prisoner (as Raymond J. Walsh)
Mark Lawhead – Shell Dweller
Robert Feero – Chrome Robot
Johnny Weissmuller Jr. – Chrome Robot
Claudette Bessing – ELC
Susan Baldwin – Control Officer
James Wheaton – OMM (voice)
Henry Jacobs – Mark 8 Student
Bill Love – Mark 8 Instructor
Doc Scortt – Monk
Gary Austin – Man in Yellow
Scott L. Menges – Child #1
Toby L. Stearns – Child #2
Paul K. Haje – Trial Prosecutor
Ralph Chesse – Trial Proctor
Dion M. Chesse – Trial Defender
Bruce Chesse – Trial Pontifex
Mello Alexandria – Hologram Dancer
Barbara J. Artis – Hologram Dancer
Morris D. Erby – Hologram Newscaster
Willie C. Barnes – Hologram Comic
Richard Quinnell – Hologram Comic (straight man)
Jean M. Durand – Hologram Listener
Scott Beach – Announcer (voice)
Neva Beach – Announcer (voice)
Terence McGovern – Announcer (voice) (as Terrence McGovern)
Julie Payne – Announcer (voice)
James Cranna – Announcer (voice)
Ruth Silveira – Announcer (voice)
Bruce Mackey – Announcer (voice)
David Ogden Stiers – Announcer (voice) (as David Ogden Steers)
Bart Patton – Announcer (voice)
John Rigg – Computer Operator (uncredited)

George Lucas adapted this, his first film, from a short he made at University. THX 1138, LUH 3417, and SEN 5241 attempt to escape from a futuristic society located beneath the surface of the Earth. The society has outlawed sex, with drugs used to control the people. THX 1138 stops taking the drugs, and gets LUH 3417 pregnant. They are both thrown in jail where they meet SEN 5241 and start to plan their escape.

Review by Bill Slocum

Bald New World,
Made in the last days of the 1960s and released in 1971, “THX 1138″ is, like many movies imagining a distant future, a perfect time capsule of the time in which it was made. Some conventions of the Flower Power period are adhered to (Sex GOOD! Society BAD!); others are challenged (Drugs BAD?), all with a faithful Orwellian dystopian cast.

There’s something disturbingly Orwellian about “THX 1138,” alright, namely the pathetic history-bending way director George Lucas has visually tampered with the legacy of his landmark first film. Lucas similarly played with his “Star Wars” films, but those movies have a deep fanbase and a sense of being a going concern with the newer trilogy Lucas just completed. Inserting odd creatures and more impressive special effects like an assembly line blowing up feels like cheating somehow, like Lucas is expecting viewers to think he really did all that back in 1971 with his under-million budget.

Very avant-garde, both for its time and today, “THX 1138″ tells a simple story of head-shaven humans living in an oppressively conformist society, seeking escape. There’s a man, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) and a woman, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), the latter of whom somehow discovers the joy of living without socially prescribed drugs and introduces THX to the same. Before long, they are making passionate, illegal love, catching the attention of a third person, SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence), whose meddling creates complications and eventually leads to the lovers being discovered by the state.

Defenders of this movie, who seem to be equally divided into “Star Wars” lovers and haters (I’m in the former camp, for the record), say the problem with this movie is it makes people think. My problem with “THX 1138″ is that it doesn’t reward you much for the effort. Good movies usually have a message somewhere inside, but here the movie is the message: I’ve seen the future, and it hurts.

That’s not to say the movie’s without value. The bold fashion in which “THX 1138″ is presented commands respect for the very starkness that holds us at bay. Duvall is good underplaying his part, and McOmie even better, her baldness only enhancing her sexiness as she leads her man out of his narcoticized haze into a world of glorious sensuality. I join other reviewers in wondering how she never burst out into a bigger career.

There’s funny moments, too, which reveal themselves on later viewings. After we watch an industrial accident take place in horrific detail (Lucas’s tinkering here, I hate to say, is pretty effective), a happy PA voice tells THX’s group “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.” “THX 1138″ also makes good use of ambient noise, as created by Lucas’s creative partner and DVD commentary cohort Walter Murch. It’s interesting to note the importance of sound in Lucas’s body of work, not just the obvious clever exotica employed in the “Star Wars” series but the radio bursts in “American Graffiti.”

But getting into “THX 1138″ is hard to do. Even when Lucas tries to engage the viewer with a chase near the end, he does so in such a comatose style that it winds up more deadening than exciting. It’s so resolutely downbeat, seeing THX in his final run leaves you wondering why he bothers. Will he be able to last if he does make it out? And why should we care? I’m glad I escaped the early 1970s and that the movie world did likewise, thanks in no small part to brilliantly entertaining fare like “Star Wars,” truly a feast for the heart and mind. “THX 1138″ is fascinating more for showing the reason why such change was for the better, and revealing Lucas’s vision in a more starkly experimental, low-budget mode.

If you like the movie, do get the DVD, which has a wonderful documentary on the early history of American Zoetrope, for which “THX 1138″ was the first and nearly only product, and a more engaging commentary from Lucas than he offered for any of the “Star Wars” films. Listening to it is critical for understanding what is going on. He sounds proud of “THX 1138″ and deserves to be; it’s not a great film or even a very good one, but pretty important in its frustrating, off-putting way.

Review by Zetes

THX 1138 (1971)

One of the best of its sub-genre and probably the best movie George Lucas has yet (read “ever”) directed,

Sure, Star Wars is a lot of fun. It’s a great way to waste some time or to keep people entertained at a party or something. However, it’s unbelievable how crazy people have become about it. In fact, people are so insanely in love with it that they actually convinced themselves that The Phantom Menace was a good movie. Now that’s the power of persuasion!

Let’s travel back in time three entire decades. In 1970, George Lucas made his first feature after graduating from film school. Francis Ford Coppola, two years away from capturing one of the greatest films ever made, helped young Lucas produce it. It is THX 1138, which is the name given to the film’s hero, played by Robert Duvall, who was not yet extraordinarily famous (perhaps people would recognize him from Robert Altman’s MASH, in which he had co-starred earlier that year). The setting is a post-apocalyptic, underground complex.

I have to throw out a caveat right here: I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies, and generally like all of them. And, in my opinion, this is one sci-fi sub-genre where the cheaper a production is, the better it is. My favorite ever is L.Q. Jones’ 1975 cult classic A Boy and His Dog. Heck, I even liked Robert Altman’s Quintet quite a bit.

What I like about these three films, what they have in common, is that they don’t spend a lot of time explaining their back-stories. A Boy and His Dog gives a brief account of the major event in its history, but does not explain what came afterwards. THX 1138 is surely much more widely known than either A Boy and His Dog and Quintet, simply because of its creator. Lucas’ film gives us hardly anything to establish its setting in time. Of course, as conventions would determine, we all assume that it was some nuclear holocaust or unbearable pollution. But Lucas really gives us little information about what is going on. When sub-genres get so specific like this, where one film is so close to its predecessors, whether those predecessors are films or even novels (no one could mistake the 1984ish tones of the film), the screenwriter and director really don’t have to tell us much.

So if these films are so close, why should anyone like them? Well, because you’re not supposed to rely wholly on the plot for the films’ worth. This is cinema, not literature. What we have to pay attention to is, well, one, the narrative structure, that is, how the story develops, not what the story is (that’s a part of literature, too, but it’s a good variable in this genre). Two, these stories do differ in their settings, which is a major part of the authors’ creativity. Three, cinematic techniques. Well, THX 1138 can be credited with having a very good structure. It does progress linearly, but, as I said above, it gives just the tiniest hints of what’s actually happening in the film and what the characters are thinking. There is very little dialogue, and a lot of it is difficult to decipher. The setting: George Lucas has great success here. He has all the sets as white as possible, and these sets mostly consist of hallways. Very cheap, and very effective. This comes in a lot if you’re going to discuss the cinematography. Lucas also makes his characters wear white, scientific outfits, often covering everything but the characters’ heads or faces. In possibly the best sequence in the film, Duvall is put in a prison that has no visible walls or corners or doors or anything. It’s just pure white, and it’s simply deafening. And since the prisoners are wearing white, too, it looks like they’re all lost in some sort of hideous limbo. Lucas also creates the best visual compositions in his entire career. Star Wars is rather bland visually. Nice colors, I suppose, but there’s hardly any attention paid to composition. I was lucky enough to see THX 1138 in widescreen, and Lucas very carefully composed the shots. He’s especially good here at posing his actors in an artistic way, while not making it obvious that he had deep artistic intentions when directing them.

To tell you the truth, I couldn’t relate what actually happens in this story at all. I have to blame part of that on my sleepiness tonight. However, even when I didn’t fully understand it, I recognize it as a great movie, a masterpiece, perhaps. 10/10.

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