Directed and edited by George Lucas and screenplay by Lucas and Walter Murch from a story by Lucas that is based on his own short film, THX 1138 is the story of a man who falls in love with a woman during a dystopian world run by an android police force and mandatory drug use to suppress emotions. The film is a sci-fi drama set in a dystopian world where a man comes out of this state as he deals with the chaos around him. Starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasance, Maggie McOmie, Don Pedro Colley, and Ian Wolfe. THX 1138 is a sprawling and engaging film from George Lucas.
Set in the 25th Century where humanity live in a dystopian underground where everyone has their head shaved, wear the same white clothes, take drugs to suppress their emotions, and all work in a factory to create androids as the police force. The film revolves around a man named THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) who becomes ill during his work as he starts to become emotional as his living partner notices as they fall in love where trouble ensues once he starts to rebel. It’s a film with a simple premise as screenwriters George Lucas and Walter Murch play into a man who works to create androids as he starts to act erratically as his mate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) works in surveillance notices his illness as she starts to feel for him where the two fall in love and have sex as the latter is considered taboo. This would put both of them in trouble as another surveillance officer in SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance) offers to be THX’s new roommate but things eventually go wrong as THX stop using drugs as it starts off a chain of events that would put himself, LUH, and SEN in trouble.
Lucas’ direction does bear some style in the way he presents this dystopian world as it is shot largely at the Zoetrope Studios in San Francisco along with a few areas nearby. Lucas maintains a world that is cold in its presentation but also futuristic as it play into a world where everyone is watched with surveillance footage being prevalent throughout the film. Yet, it opens strangely with an episode of a sci-fi TV show from the 1950s/1960s as it play to into this idea of what the future would be like yet Lucas would then showcase a future that isn’t pleasant at all. The wide shots do play into this massive dystopian world including the factories with medium shots showcasing the surveillance room and rooms that the people live in as there’s also a bit of claustrophobic feel to how small the homes that THX and LUH live in that also include a living room where they would watch holographic programming including pornography through a machine that helps THX masturbate.
Also serving as the film’s editor with additional help from his then-wife Marcia, Lucas does put in bits of style in the editing with a few jump-cuts and dissolves while also playing up to the film’s suspense that includes a tense scene of THX having a blackout of sorts during work as it is this chilling moment of him losing control and the surveillance people trying to get him back on track. Lucas also play up the idea of what happen to those who stray from the rules as the setting in this white prison where it is vast and inescapable showcase a man that is stuck in the middle of this large white room. Yet, it would serve as the catalyst for THX to make sense of the world he’s in as there are also some revelations for those he had met and befriended where they endure some serious challenges. Even in the climax where Lucas does maintain the suspense of what is out there that THX is trying to find and see if there is a world that is better than the one he and so many others are living in. Especially as there’s another character who is trying to make sense as he would encounter children and later contemplate his own fate. Overall, Lucas crafts a mesmerizing yet eerie film about a man living in a dystopian world where emotions are suppressed.
Cinematographers David Myers and Albert Kihn do amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of lights for many of the interiors including bright white for the white room scene and low-key shades for some of the interior scenes in the surveillance room. Art director Michael D. Holler does brilliant work with the look of the film including some of the factory interiors and the rooms that the people live in as well as the design of the android police force. Visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr., for the 2004 restored/director’s cut edition, does nice work as it is largely minimal that includes bits of scenes in the factory.
The sound work of Walter Murch, with additional sound design by Tom Myers for the 2004 restored/director’s cut edition, does excellent work with the sound as it adds to the atmosphere of the film along with the montages that Murch has created that is an early example of sound design with Myers adding broader mixes for the 2004 edition of the film. The film’s music by Lalo Schifrin is fantastic for its wondrous orchestral score with lush strings and choirs that includes variations of classical music as it help add to the film’s suspenseful moments.
The casting by Ann Brebner is wonderful as it features a voice appearance from David Odgen Stiers as a computerized voice, Ian Wolfe as an old prisoner THX and SEN meet, the trio of Marshall Efron, John Pearce, and Sid Haig as prisoners that THX meets, James Wheaton as the voice of a god-like figure that everyone confesses to, and Don Pedro Colley as a hologram actor that THX and SEN would later meet in the film’s third act as he would be someone that would help them escape. Maggie McOmie is excellent as LUH 3417 as THX’s mate who lives with him as she falls for him only to get themselves in trouble as she also causes trouble through her own actions that would put THX in deeper shit. Donald Pleasence is brilliant as SEN 5241 as a surveillance official who watches THX and LUH where he tries to help the former to not get into bigger trouble only to get himself in trouble as he tries to understand the world he’s in as well as pondering his own existence. Finally, there’s Robert Duvall in an amazing performance as the titular character as a man who becomes ill and suddenly stops taking drugs and rebels where he deals with the world he’s in as well as his own emotional vices as it is this low-key yet mesmerizing performance from Duvall.
THX 1138 is a phenomenal film from George Lucas. Featuring a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, an eerie music score, and a simple yet chilling premise of a dystopian world. The film is definitely a unique sci-fi suspense drama that play into the idea of de-humanization and consumerism in which the individual doesn’t have a choice only for that individual to rebel in the hopes to find something better. In the end, THX 1138 is a sensational film from George Lucas.
George Lucas Films: (American Graffitti) – Star Wars - The Phantom Menace - Attack of the Clones - Revenge of the Sith
© thevoid99 2021
Lucas gets a lot of earned grief for crappy dialog, but this is a hell of a movie for its time. Credit where credit is due.
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