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USA 1971
Directed by
George Lucas
88 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

THX 1138 (Director's Cut)

George Lucas’s 1971 debut feature, made under the aegis of Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, and which he expanded from a student short film is a marvellous effort that remarkably, was made for a measly $700,000, not a lot of money even in its day.

Robert Duvall plays THX 1138, an anonymous worker in an underground world whose systemic compliance which is maintained by a daily regime of soothing drugs.  His confomity begins to break down when his love for his mate, LUH (Maggie McOmie in her only feature film appearance) encourages his suspicion that there must be more to life than being a affectless cog endlessly reiterating the system of which it is a par. The authorities decide that he needs a re-programming but he makes a break for freedom to the world outside.

Making excellent use of real locations in and around San Francisco notably the Bay Area Rail Transit system which was then still under construction THX 1138 is a bold vision of a social engineered world, albeit slightly dysfunctional, and is a film that sits comfortably with classics of the genre such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Godard’s Alphaville although there is no evil overlord as work here, just society itself. 

Intentionally he film is not particularly strong on plot or dialogue (much of which was improvised) but aspires rather to evoke an atmosphere. Here the production design which was impressive for its day still holds up splendidly, a middle all-white section standing out, whilst the complex sound design by Walter Murch, who co-wrote the screenplay, is a crucial element of the film’s success.  Lucas is commonly dismissed for his nerdy preoccupation with technology and SFX, manifested to great commercial success in the Star Wars films, but at least at the outset of his career his directorial judgement was perfectly focussed.

FYI: The figure seen silhouetted against a rising sun in the film's final shot is Matthew Robbins who penned the original outline of THX 1138.  Woody Allen extensively drew on the film for his sci-fi spoof, Sleeper (1973).




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