“THX 1138” was released in 1971 and was co-written & directed by George Lucas. It stars Robert Duvall as THX, Donald Pleasence as SEN, and Maggie McOmie as LUH. The film takes place in a dystopian future in which humans are assigned letters & numbers for names and live in an underground city monitored by robots where they’re forced to take medicine to keep them in line. The main character, THX 1138, decides to escape the city and go to the outside world after falling in love with his roommate, LUN, despite intimacy being forbidden. The film is based on Lucas’ breakthrough student film, “Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB.”
“THX 1138” excels on a visual level due to George Lucas’ brilliant direction and style, as well as the terrific production design by Ted Moehnke, who later worked on other films with Lucas such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” Every shot was meticulously crafted and stunning. The imagery was often beautiful, disturbing, and eerie all at the same time. Lucas makes viewers feel like they’re in the underground complex with THX, like they’re experiencing an Orwellian world. All of the original special effects (I’ll get to the new CGI-effects Lucas added) were truly stunning despite the shoestring budget of less than $800,000. At only 27 years old, Lucas proved himself to be a masterful visual filmmaker.
The performances in the film were fantastic as well. Robert Duvall, who made “The Godfather” the very next year, blended into the world extremely well. Due to his stoic yet thoughtful demeanor, he made the world and THX’s lifestyle more believable than it would have been with a lesser actor. Many other actors would probably overact and be excessively emotional, but Duvall knew that the most important objective of the film was to get viewers absorbed into the world, and he executed that almost flawlessly. Donald Pleasence as SEN, THX’s (sort of) friend, was also great in the film. He provided just the right amount of comic relief to the film while still giving a tragic performance, especially during the scene in which SEN spoke to children at the end of the film.
My only significant gripe with the film is the addition of digital special effects shots by George Lucas. They were added in 2004 for his director’s cut, and like the special editions for the Star Wars movies, the director’ cut made the original cut of the film no longer available. I assume he added the new CGI shots to give the world more depth, since most of the shots involve futuristic train stations and factory work, but they simply look terrible. The CGI was overly polished and fake-looking, and it was so noticeable in the film that it ruined the immersion every time it was used. I understand and respect that Lucas wanted to update his movies with modern technology to create his true vision, but the CGI is unnecessary and atrocious nonetheless.
Regarding George Lucas: Although I hated the addition of CGI into the film, it’s important to note that I think George Lucas is actually one of the best filmmakers of all time. He received a lot of hate for the Star Wars prequels, and while I think Episode I could have been better and Episode II was an abomination, the amount of hate was far too high. Lucas has said time and time again that he’s an experimental filmmaker. With all six of his Star Wars movies he pushed the boundaries of special effects, with “American Graffiti” he crafted an unconventional narrative that almost entirely took place in cars and restaurants, and with “THX 1138,” he made an artistic, beautiful film with a unique visual style. He brought thousands of jobs into Hollywood and brought joy to hundreds of millions of people with his films, and he should be respected rather than ridiculed. While on Twitter, I saw a tweet saying this on George Lucas’ birthday:
This is a perfect example of someone in the toxic community that has continued to attack Lucas and others for more than two decades because they didn’t like a few movies. That is an ignorant, disrespectful, and toxic statement, especially considering it was Lucas’ birthday. The narrative that George Lucas is an incompetent filmmaker who stood on the shoulders of others to make the original Star Wars trilogy is simply untrue. Countless documentaries, books, and articles describe the struggle Lucas went through to get the 1977 Star War film made, as well as why he was integral to the greatness of the original trilogy.
Part of the reason I wrote this review was to explain why George Lucas has always been a talented filmmaker. When he made “THX 1138,” he was able to produce a gorgeous and thought-provoking film with barely any money. I really enjoyed “THX 1138,” and I recommend it to any film lover who hasn’t seen it yet.
Ranking of the Star Wars Franchise: https://reelopinion.com/2020/10/28/all-11-star-wars-movies-ranked/