THX 1138 (1971)

GP | 88 or 90 mins | Science fiction | March 1971

Director:

George Lucas

Producer:

Lawrence Sturhahn

Cinematographers:

David Myers, Albert Kihn

Editor:

George Lucas

Production Designer:

Michael Haller

Production Companies:

American Zoetrope Productions, Warner Bros., Inc.
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HISTORY

THX 1138 opens with a trailer for the second episode of the 1939 Universal serial Buck Rogers , which starred Larry “Buster” Crabbe as a man in suspended animation who revived five hundred years later to a strange, new future. THX 1138 is a feature-length version of a student film directed by George Lucas when he was a graduate student at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television. According to a Jan 1968 DV news item, Lucas, winner of the National Student Film Festival’s dramatic picture prize, was signed by budding producer and director Francis Ford Coppola to make the first film for Coppola’s new company, later called American Zoetrope, to be co-produced with Warner Bros. and the old Seven Arts company, renamed W7. Lucas, who had met and become close friends with Coppola earlier, became partners with Coppola in creating American Zoetrope in 1969.
       In an onscreen written acknowledgment after the closing credits, the filmmakers thank Caleb Deschanel, Cal Bernstein, Haskell Wexler, Synanon, Fibre Fab, Inc., BART System, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland and Marin County. Assistant editor Marcia Lucas was Lucas' wife and worked on his subsequent productions after THX 1138 until their divorce in 1982. THX 1138 was shot on location in San Francisco, Oakland and the East Bay area. The chase scene at the close of the picture was filmed in the Caldecott tunnel in Alameda County. "SEN"'s flight through the subway system was filmed in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tunnels that were still under construction at the time.
       Lucas' ... More Less

THX 1138 opens with a trailer for the second episode of the 1939 Universal serial Buck Rogers , which starred Larry “Buster” Crabbe as a man in suspended animation who revived five hundred years later to a strange, new future. THX 1138 is a feature-length version of a student film directed by George Lucas when he was a graduate student at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television. According to a Jan 1968 DV news item, Lucas, winner of the National Student Film Festival’s dramatic picture prize, was signed by budding producer and director Francis Ford Coppola to make the first film for Coppola’s new company, later called American Zoetrope, to be co-produced with Warner Bros. and the old Seven Arts company, renamed W7. Lucas, who had met and become close friends with Coppola earlier, became partners with Coppola in creating American Zoetrope in 1969.
       In an onscreen written acknowledgment after the closing credits, the filmmakers thank Caleb Deschanel, Cal Bernstein, Haskell Wexler, Synanon, Fibre Fab, Inc., BART System, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland and Marin County. Assistant editor Marcia Lucas was Lucas' wife and worked on his subsequent productions after THX 1138 until their divorce in 1982. THX 1138 was shot on location in San Francisco, Oakland and the East Bay area. The chase scene at the close of the picture was filmed in the Caldecott tunnel in Alameda County. "SEN"'s flight through the subway system was filmed in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tunnels that were still under construction at the time.
       Lucas' prize-winning student film, “THX-1138-4EB" was seventeen minutes in length and has only one line of dialogue, and uses unusual sounds throughout to convey an unsettling mood. The sporadic use of animated effects in the short suggests that “THX” is constantly being observed, but it is not clear by whom. Unlike the feature film, in the short version the people are not shaved bald and it is vague why THX flees from mysterious technicians. Modern sources indicate that Lucas made up the name of the film and the lead character from his San Francisco phone number, with “THX” corresponding to the numbers 849.
       In a documentary on the making of THX 1138 , Lucas revealed that he was heavily influenced by contemporary Japanese cinema, which frequently depicted inexplicable actions, and that he had hoped to make the feature film in Japan. Lucas stated that when it became apparent that shooting in Japan would be impractical and too expensive, it was decided to make the film in northern California using Coppola and Lucas’ new studio, American Zoetrope, and nearby locations. Lucas further explained he wanted to transmit mood and meaning through abstract visuals and preferred a detached documentary look and feel rather than being dependent on dialogue. Co-screenwriter Walter Murch stated in the documentary that he re-wrote much of Lucas’ dialogue for THX 1138 .
       Lucas stated that the film was not meant to represent the future, but was a direct comment on the consumer-obsessed culture of 1970. THX 1138 marked Robert Duvall’s first lead film role, although he had appeared in increasingly important supporting roles since his debut in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, see below). The final shot of THX stepping outside into the real world featured a double wearing a skull cap, not Duvall. Lucas revealed that for the extras needed for the film, he and Murch approached the Synanon drug rehabilitation facility, and several recovering patients agreed to shave their head and appear in the film for thirty dollars a day. According to an LAT article, after the success of Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977, THX 1138 was re-released in Sep 1977. In 2004 Lucas reissued THX 1138 in a “director’s cut” format, with several scenes digitally enhanced to magnify and detail the appearance of the subterranean world. The student version, the original release and the director’s cut were viewed.
       As noted above, THX 1138 was Lucas’s first feature film. In 1973 Lucas wrote and directed the popular Universal release American Graffiti . In 1977 Lucas wrote, produced and directed the Twentieth Century-Fox mega blockbuster Star Wars , followed by two sequels and three “prequels,” all produced and written by Lucas over the next twenty-eight years. Along with films by Coppola and director Steven Spielberg, Lucas’ Star Wars series revolutionized the industry, ushering in the era of summer blockbuster releases. In 1982, during the production of one of the Star Wars sequels, Return of the Jedi , Lucasfilms’ technical director, inspired by Lucas’ interest in upgrading film presentation standards, developed a new and unique sound system, called the THX System in honor of Lucas’ first film. The system considered architecture, theater acoustics and sound equipment and strove to recreate the sound exactly as recorded by the filmmaker. In recognition of Lucas's achievement, in Jun 2005, he received AFI’s Life Achievement award. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
23 Jan 1968.
---
Daily Variety
10 Sep 1969.
---
Daily Variety
10 Mar 1971.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 143-45.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jan 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Mar 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Mar 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 Sep 1977.
---
New York Times
12 Mar 1971
p. 27.
New York Times
21 Mar 1971.
---
Newsweek
31 May 1971.
---
Time
29 Mar 1971.
---
Variety
17 Mar 1971
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Cam asst
Lighting gaffer
Key grip
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Loc sd
Loc sd
Sd mont
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and anim
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting supv
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
STAND INS
Car stunts
Bike stunts
DETAILS
Release Date:
March 1971
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles openings: 11 March 1971
Production Date:
23 September--October 1969 at American Zoetrope Studios, San Francisco
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc.
Copyright Date:
11 March 1971
Copyright Number:
LP41627
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Techniscope
Duration(in mins):
88 or 90
MPAA Rating:
GP
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the early twenty-first century, computers manage human society, guiding people who are kept on a steady diet of sedatives that deaden the senses through their subterranean world. Assigned numbers instead of names, individuals are further stripped of their uniqueness by wearing the same white outfits and being shaved bald. As workers toil in nuclear laboratories where robotic police figures are constructed, soothing computer voices direct them through each movement, including the occasional catastrophic accident. One man, THX 1138, grows increasingly restless, unaware that his flat mate, female LUH 3417, has been rebelling against their emotionless existence by gradually reducing his normal drug intake. Confused by his mounting agitation, THX seeks comfort from a computerized confessional where he relates his anxiety to a televised image of a painting of bearded man while a computer voice drones sympathetic pre-recorded phrases. THX confides that his increasing inability to concentrate has led to minor problems at work that distress him, and admits to having difficulties with LUH. The computer bestows blessings of the state and the masses and urges THX to be grateful for his job, which allows him to be the perfect consumer. Back at his flat, THX seeks diversion watching holograms of erotic dancers, news, a comedy program and a discussion on spirituality. LUH anxiously listens as THX becomes fixated on a violent hologram of robotic police beating a man. The next day, THX returns to the confessional, which repeats the same recorded blessing. None of the surrounding hooded monks intervene when THX becomes violently ill in the booth. Later, THX manages to return home where LUH tends ... +


In the early twenty-first century, computers manage human society, guiding people who are kept on a steady diet of sedatives that deaden the senses through their subterranean world. Assigned numbers instead of names, individuals are further stripped of their uniqueness by wearing the same white outfits and being shaved bald. As workers toil in nuclear laboratories where robotic police figures are constructed, soothing computer voices direct them through each movement, including the occasional catastrophic accident. One man, THX 1138, grows increasingly restless, unaware that his flat mate, female LUH 3417, has been rebelling against their emotionless existence by gradually reducing his normal drug intake. Confused by his mounting agitation, THX seeks comfort from a computerized confessional where he relates his anxiety to a televised image of a painting of bearded man while a computer voice drones sympathetic pre-recorded phrases. THX confides that his increasing inability to concentrate has led to minor problems at work that distress him, and admits to having difficulties with LUH. The computer bestows blessings of the state and the masses and urges THX to be grateful for his job, which allows him to be the perfect consumer. Back at his flat, THX seeks diversion watching holograms of erotic dancers, news, a comedy program and a discussion on spirituality. LUH anxiously listens as THX becomes fixated on a violent hologram of robotic police beating a man. The next day, THX returns to the confessional, which repeats the same recorded blessing. None of the surrounding hooded monks intervene when THX becomes violently ill in the booth. Later, THX manages to return home where LUH tends to him. The following morning, LUH acknowledges that she yearns for physical intimacy with THX, which is forbidden. When THX responds to her, LUH expresses fear that they are being observed, but THX assures her no one is watching them and the couple has sex. Afterward, LUH confesses having reduced THX’s drug intake and cautions him that he cannot return to his regular dosage, especially if they have developed feelings for each other. Although LUH admits to her fear of being arrested for drug violations, she suggests that they run away and try to live together outside of the underground community. A few days later, LUH anxiously tells THX that she has had a work shift change and has been ordered to see her superior, SEN 5241. Unknown to the couple, SEN has monitored most of their recent exchanges over the last few days and, with his fellow monitors, knows of LUH’s drug transgressions as well as the fact that the couple has had illegal intimate relations. That afternoon, SEN visits THX at work and discloses that LUH requested a transfer to new quarters. Doubtful, THX returns to the flat that evening and waits worriedly for LUH, but she does not appear. The next morning, SEN meets THX, who questions why he is in his work sector again. SEN blithely acknowledges that he can program his own shifts, then admits he transferred LUH and reminds THX that he needs a new roommate. Piqued by SEN’s attitude, THX reports him for illegal program shifting. During work, however, THX is overcome by stress over LUH’s absence and very nearly causes a major accident when he drops a nuclear rod. High-security monitors place a mind block on THX as his co-workers are ordered to leave the area and robotic police are dispatched to arrest him for drug evasion. THX is taken to a confinement area where he is beaten, but he refuses to make a statement. A trial is rapidly arranged and THX is brought up on charges of drug evasion and sexual perversion. Upon being found guilty he is sentenced to detention and conditioning, which consists of several rounds of electric torment, followed by numerous medical test procedures that lead to severe torture by unseen security monitors. After THX rests and recovers from the ordeal, LUH is allowed to visit him and reveals that she is pregnant. The couple is given permission to have sex, but when robot police arrive to escort THX away he resists and is knocked out and taken to a place of detention for defectives. Reviving, THX discovers SEN has been sentenced there, too, along with several others who have failed to conform. Quickly growing frustrated with the rambling monologues and bizarre behavior of the other detainees, THX decides to escape. SEN accompanies THX and the pair walk a great distance along a pure white expanse before spotting a man in the distance who waves at them. When the pair reach the man, he introduces himself as SRT, a hologram who has tired of his dull existence as an erotic dancer and is also attempting to escape. The men proceed and eventually come to a darkened area and a glowing ball before a doorway. Opening the door, the men are startled to find scores of people bustling along a wide walkway. THX and SRT struggle across the hordes of people, but SEN is swept along with them and separated from the others. Meanwhile, security has monitored THX and SEN’s escape and orders an official search. As SEN boards a tram, THX and SRT wind their way through a room full of large jars holding fetuses and on to a vast circuit room, then find themselves in a darkened room with several bodies on gurneys. Just as THX inspects the bodies and realizes they have had all their organs removed, an attendant arrives to tag each corpse. When THX is almost tagged, he flees, followed by SRT. While SEN finds himself in a studio that broadcasts the confessionals, THX and SRT discover an uninhabited monitoring station. THX performs a computer search for LUH and learning that her name and number have been reassigned to a fetus, realizes that she is dead. The robotic police continue seeking THX while monitors keep track of the rising costs of the search. Meanwhile, SEN returns to a tram station and talks with several children who have just started their sedative regimen. THX and SRT find several jet cars parked near the monitoring station and THX breaks into one and drives away. SRT has difficulty starting his car and as the robotic police move in, he guns the car and slams into a cement post. THX races away through a long tunnel pursued by the robotic police on jet motorcycles. After one cyclist crashes against a construction zone, the other is finally ordered to cease the chase as THX’s pursuit has gone over budget. Abandoning the car, THX climbs up through a long shaft and, opening a hatch, emerges into the outside world just as the sun rises. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.