It’s interesting to see where directors started from. I mean, who isn’t interested in seeing the first movie that Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Zemeckis, Clint Eastwood, Spike Lee, or anyone of their stature directed? Well, I sure am. I would have to say that it is very rare, though, that a person’s first film is treated with the kind of care and reverance that George Lucas’s THX 1138 has been. To most Star Wars fans, the director’s first feature film is like the Holy Grail.
I’ll be honest and up front. I had never seen the film until last week. Somehow, I just never got around to seeing it. I am a huge Star Wars fan, love Indiana Jones, and I have a special place in my heart for Mr. Lucas. I even like the Star Wars prequels. When I saw it was being released on Blu-ray, I figured it was time to finally make some time and see it.
The movie “is a chilling look at a 25th-century totalitarian state where mankind is stripped of any individuality. People are numbered drones, and a government-enforced program of sedating drugs controls the populace. The story’s title character, THX 1138, is a factory worker whose life is irrevocably changed when he stops taking his mind-numbing drugs.”
THX 1138 is an interesting little film. You can tell right away that Lucas had extremely lofty goals for the film. He had a lot to say to people and to society with that little film. It’s very apparent that it was made with the sort of passion and energy that a only a new or student filmmaker could muster. Lucas wanted to make sure that anyone who saw this movie would know exactly what he thought about consumerism, individualism, and all the other -isms he takes on in this dreary and futuristic tale.
The pacing of the film brings to mind Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. I think I even felt a little influence from the first Planet of the Apes movie. The movie makes the watcher feel a sense of stress and nervous anticipation as you wait for something to happen. The frantic yet perfect editing with the soundtrack makes the film appear to be disjointed, but if you look closer you realize that there is a method to the madness.
For someone’s first film who has come to be known as a director that doesn’t do well with actors, Lucas sure commanded good performances out of this cast. Robert Duvall plays THX 1138, who is desperate to get out of the controlled and sterile prison that society has made of itself. Donald Pleasance is great as a half-crazed (or full maybe?) man known as SEN 5241 who is bent on escaping with THX to where he doesn’t know. Maggie McOmie as Duvall’s “roommate,” LUH 3417, plays the role of the scared and hopeless woman perfectly. Her shaved head look conjures images of the Jewish women in the Nazi prison camps of World War II. The film also has some interesting supporting actors that may leave some genre fans with their mouths gaping. Don Pedro Colley, previously seen playing one of the crazy telepathic mutants in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, plays SRT who helps THX ultimately escape. You also have horror icon Sid Haig in what had to be one of his first roles as a locked up crazy person. Then, in a very strange bit of casting, you have the legendary Johnny Weissmuller Jr. (Tarzan) playing a faceless Chrome Robot.
One of the most disturbing things in the film is these type of “confessional” boxes where you can go and talk to Jesus or God. It’s basically a clear glass telephone booth with a bench to sit on and a wall-sized image of Jesus. As you talk to the image or pray, every once in a while they have pre-recorded messages and responses that answer your questions. It’s very eerie. Another example of the frightening control the human race has succumbed to is when THX has his brain shut down and almost ends up being blown up because he can’t make himself move out of danger.
The last act of the film is where all the action is. There’s about a five to ten minute car and motorcycle chase scene that’s pretty cool. It’s funny to see what people thought the vehicles of the future were going to look like back in the 70s. There’s a couple of really nice crash scenes, with the Chrome Robot motorcycle “police” being thrown from their bikes and such.
Having made the film in 1969 and then with it being released in 1971, you can imagine what sort of limitations Lucas had as far as special effects would be concerned. It’s very evident that for this Director’s Cut, he spruced up the special effects and visuals sort of like he did with the Star Wars movies. I’d like to see what changes he made by watching the two versions side-by-side or maybe even frame-by-frame.
THX 1138 definitely shows you how idealistic George Lucas was as a young filmmaker. You can feel through the entire film that he wanted to make a statement about our society and it’s downfalls. You can also feel his drive and determination to prove himself as a thoughtful and successful director.
THX 1138 Director’s Cut has recently been released for the first time on Blu-ray through Warner Bros. The Special Features include Commentary with George Lucas and Walter Murch; Theater of Noise (Sound Effects Only Track); Master Sessions with Walter Murch; A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope; Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX 1138; the original short film Electronic Labyrinth TXH 1138 4EB; BALD Vintage production featurette; and the Theatrical and Re-release Trailer.
The format of the disc is Color, Subtitled, and Widescreen. The Aspect Ratio is 2.40:1. Language is English (DTS-HD High Res Audio), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1). Subtitles include English, French, and Spanish.