Robert Duvall as THX 1138
Donald Pleasence as SEN 5241
Don Pedro Colley as SRT, the hologram
Maggie McOmie as LUH 3417
Ian Wolfe as PTO
Marshall Efron as TWA
Sid Haig as NCH
John Pearce as DWY
Irene Forrest as IMM
Gary Alan Marsh as CAM, the radical
John Seaton as OUE
Eugene I. Stillman as JOT
Raymond Walsh as TRG (as Raymond J. Walsh)
Mark Lawhead as Shell Dweller in Prison
Robert Feero as Chrome Robot
Johnny Weissmuller Jr. as Chrome Robot
Commentary by George Lucas and co-writer/sound effects editor Walter Murch
Theatre of Noise sound-effects track with branching segments to 13 master sessions with Walter Murch
2 New documentaries: “A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope” and “Artifacts from the Future: The Making of THX 1138”
George Lucas’s original student film “THX-11384EB”
“Bald”: 1971 production featurette
Five new trailers from the 2004 theatrical release
Original theatrical trailer
Widescreen (1.66:1) Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French Language Track
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 76 Minutes
This film was originally released in 1971. (It was a remake of George Lucas’ student film “Electronic Labyrinth: THX-11384EB”.) It has been re-released simultaneously in theaters and on DVD with new effects and other additions.
In 1975 of an alternate reality, mankind lives underground in a sterile, bleak city. Society is controlled by sedation and encouraged to work, buy, and “be happy” by a strict, soulless government.
THX-1138 is a worker at a highly dangerous robot factory in this world. He dutifully and monotonously carries out his daily tasks. However, when his “mate” LUH 3417 secretly alters his medication, THX (or “Thex”) finds his world in turmoil. He begins to become bored with his job, unsatisfied with his life, and frustrated by his inability to figure out why he is no longer content. THX also discovers a new love and passion for his wife.
Scared by these newfound emotions, THX is determined to go back to his medication and daily routine, but LUH insists there is no going back. But what will happen when the authorities discover their illegal activities?
THX-1138 is rated R for some sexuality/nudity.
The first time I saw THX-1138 was back in 1992. My roommate Darin Smith and I were big Star Wars fans (and we later started TheForce.Net together). He suggested I check out George Lucas’ first feature film THX-1138. Since I loved Star Wars, I figured I would love THX-1138. Boy, was I wrong. I ended up really hating the movie. It was everything that Star Wars wasn’t. It was bleak, depressing, slowly paced, surreal, and artsy. Throw in nudity, religious commentary, and an abstract ending and if anything you have the anti-Star Wars. It’s more like George Lucas’ version of 1984 or Brave New World.
Watching it again 12 years later, I was really surprised to find I liked it better than I did the first time around. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it quite as much. I think this was because I knew what to expect this round, the film had been cleaned up for the DVD, it was now in widescreen format, and it had some CG enhancements that improved the feel of the environment. Still, what I disliked before I still disliked 12 years later. The movie is very slow at times. The plot is quite abstract and at times hard to follow. And I could have done without seeing Robert Duvall masturbating with a machine while watching a dancing naked black woman on a hologram. THX-1138 ultimately has the same pitfalls of most “hard/adult sci-fi” movies. It’s bleak, slow, and the occasional cool parts aren’t enough to make it entirely enjoyable for me personally.
When George Lucas tinkered with Star Wars by adding new CGI scenes, fans cried foul and accused him of everything from “raping” their childhood to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. However, making modifications to THX-1138 is hardly going to cause rioting in the streets. Oddly enough, I found the new CGI enhancements helped the movie quite a bit. Most of the additions are quite subtle and they don’t affect the story or characters at all. In fact, they help get across what Lucas intended better. For example, the robot factory where THX works has been expanded. You get a better sense of the size of it and what he actually does for a job. When an industrial accident hits and you see massive new explosions, you realize just how unsafe his work environment is and it adds a lot of tension to a scene later where he almost causes an accident himself. And when a loudspeaker cheerily proclaims that they haven’t killed that many people this week, you get a better sense of the irony.
There are also CGI additions to the car chase scene at the end. You see THX zipping through traffic at high speeds and it adds a bit more excitement to the chase. As he drives through CGI expanded scaffolding, you get a better sense of the speed and danger Lucas wanted here. Other scenes show just how big the city is by showing you more of it. It gives the environment a more futuristic feel and pulls it out of the 70’s just a little more. Probably the most welcome modification is to the shell dwellers at the end. As THX nears the surface, he was originally attacked by a group of hairy dwarves that were supposed to be mutants or monsters or something. They have now been changed to one dwarf and a group of demonic looking monkeys. As they jump on THX’s back, it looks a bit less silly than him trying to shake off a dwarf. As you see the change, you think, “Ah! So that’s what Lucas had in mind.” I’m sure there are even more changes, but I can’t spot them all since I haven’t seen it in so long.
As for the acting, Robert Duvall and Maggie McOmie are OK as THX and LUH. To be quite honest, there’s not a lot for them to do in this film. There’s not a lot of dialogue and most of the acting involves looking sedated, upset, or worried. A lot of actors could have played these roles, though it’s doubtful that many would have had the guts to cut their hair like Duvall or McOmie. Donald Pleasence is given a bit more to do as SEN 5241. He gets to act like a raving lunatic and spout against the establishment while, ultimately, being completely ineffective. Don Pedro Colley is also memorable as SRT, the hologram. Since a hologram is light, I’m not sure why the character was called a hologram when he touches things and interacts with his environment. I would have bought him more as a robot. Anyway, he’s one of the few characters with a personality in the film.
In the end, I appreciate what George Lucas was able to do. Using guerilla style filmmaking, a local uncompleted subway system, a limited budget, and limited resources, he was able to make his dream come true and make a landmark science fiction film. However, the film isn’t for everybody. If you go in expecting Star Wars, you’re in for a shock or a nap or both. But I think even if you’ve seen the film before, it’s worth checking out again just to see how Lucas tinkered with it. You might find you like it better now than before.
There are quite a few extras included on this DVD. Here are the highlights:
Commentary by George Lucas and co-writer/sound effects editor Walter Murch This is a pretty good commentary by Murch and Lucas. In it, Lucas flat out explains everything he was trying to get across with the bizarre imagery in the movie. Ever wondered about the lizard in the wires? The dwarves in the shell? The masturbation machine? It’s all explained here by The Flanneled One himself. Murch talks quite a bit as well and helps keep the conversation flowing. All in all, it’s a good commentary.
Theatre of Noise sound-effects track with branching segments to 13 master sessions with Walter Murch With this option you can watch the movie with the sound effects alone. You can also kick off a series of videos where Murch explains the sound effects that he created. There’s some really interesting stuff here that’s worth checking out. For Star Wars fans he also points out a line from the film that was the origin of the word “wookiee”. Fortunately, you have the option of watching these videos in the movie or outside of it on their own.
“A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope” This is an hour long documentary discussing the creation of American Zoetrope, the independent production company that cranked out THX-1138. Formed by Francis Ford Coppola, it featured a number of people that would go on to be major talents in the film industry. They include George Lucas, Walter Murch, Willard Huyck, John Milius, Matthew Robbins, and more. The film is kind of like a version of “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” but straight from the horse’s mouth. It talks about how these young, cocky filmmakers bucked the system and created their own unique version of filmmaking outside of the established studio system. Lucas and Coppola are the main focuses of the documentary, but there are a ton of interviews that even include Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. With Lucas as a focus, though, it’s almost a biography of filmmaker. You can kind of think of it as a prequel to the documentary on the Star Wars DVD. It gets heavy into his film school career, his attitude towards studios, his friendship with Coppola, etc. It’s warts and all, too, as it talks about the party atmosphere at Zoetrope with its sex, drugs, and free spirited attitude. (Lucas and Coppola are specifically mentioned as not taking part in the partying. Believe what you will!) Anyway, if you’re a fan of either Lucas or Coppola, then you’ll be interested in hearing about the rise and fall of their fledgling company. It’s a little long, but it’s otherwise entertaining.
“Artifacts from the Future: The Making of THX 1138” This documentary is about 30 minutes long and it gets heavy into the making of THX-1138. They discuss Lucas’ early student film, how he recruited Duvall, people shaving their heads, and the shooting of the film. I’ve seen lots of documentaries and interviews with Lucas, but this is probably the most animated I’ve seen him about a subject. He has obvious fond memories about making the film and you can tell he was quite happy while making it. It’s quite a change from the horror stories you typically hear about his Star Wars experiences. Anyway, it’s interesting to see after watching the film.
George Lucas’s original student film “THX-11384EB” This is George Lucas’ original 15-minute student film that the movie was based on. As much as I was underwhelmed by the THX feature film, I found this student film to be almost unbearable. I’m baffled as to why Spielberg and others showered this student film with praise. Maybe it’s because I’m not a student of film or I’m not open minded enough, but I hated it. The plot was extremely confusing, the dialogue was almost indecipherable, and the film itself consisted mainly of images of people pushing buttons. You see elements here and there that ended up in the feature film, but otherwise it’s hard to imagine it would inspire someone to spend the time and money to invest in American Zoetrope.
“Bald”: 1971 production featurette This is kind of like a vintage “making of” featurette. As Lucas was making the film, they shot footage of the actors and actresses getting their heads shaved for the movie. Maggie McOmie looks downright miserable getting her long red hair cut off. Another actress seems to be either ditzy or high as hers is cut off. Robert Duvall doesn’t look like he has much to lose as he was balding anyway. These scenes are intercut with Coppola conducting an interview with Lucas on a back porch of a house. It’s interesting but a brief 5 minutes long.
The Bottom Line:
THX-1138 is an interesting sci-fi film, but it’s not for everybody. Even if you didn’t like it before, you may find it worth checking out again just to see the modifications Lucas has made to it.