DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


George Lucas
Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe, Marshall Efron, Sid Haig, John Pearce, Irene Forrest
Writing Credits:
George Lucas, Walter Murch

Visit the future where love is the ultimate crime.

A chilling exploration of the future is also a compelling examination of the present in George Lucas' THX 1138, starring Robert Duvall as a man whose mind and body are controlled by the government. THX makes an harrowing attempt to escape from a world where thoughts are controlled, freedom is an impossibility and love is the ultimate crime.

Box Office:
$777 thousand.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $26.99
Release Date: 9/14/2004

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer George Lucas and Co-Writer/Sound Designer Walter Murch
• Isolated Music and Effects Track
• Branching Video Segments
Disc Two
• “A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope” Documentary
• “Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX-1138” Documentary
• “Bald” Vintage Production Featurette
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

THX 1138: Director's Edition (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 12, 2004)

Of the five movies to date directed by George Lucas, four took in scads of money. His sixth flick sits on the horizon with 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, and it clearly will earn substantial amounts of cash as well. And then there’s 1970’s THX-1138. The most unusual and experimental of Lucas’ works, THX remains in the public memory largely because of its creator’s later successes, as it’d likely have vanished totally without its pedigree.

Not that it deserves to disappear. I wouldn’t call THX a great film, but it’s distinctive and ambitious. Set in an undetermined future point, THX focuses on its namesake character (Robert Duvall), an employee in a factory that builds robots. We see that he lives in a nameless, generic society in which everything is standardized and citizens forced to stay on sedatives. All the humans have shaved heads and wear the same dull white jumpsuits, and literally faceless robot cops enforce the oppressive rules. The society pushes consumerism and discourages any thought, as it makes all the citizens stay subdued on sedatives.

For reasons unknown to him, THX feels depressed, which sends him to a therapeutic confessional at which he gets a canned response. He lives with roommate LUH-3417 (Maggie McOmie) who apparently has been cutting back his meds and wants to escape their life. She’s already bucked the medicated system herself, and when both fail to keep themselves drugged, they fall in love. However, before they can flee, authorities intervene and arrest her for “possible drug violation”.

SEN 524 (Donald Pleasence) wants THX for his roommate, and he claims the missing LUH agreed to switch roommates. This is against the rules, as the system dictates living conditions, but the scheming SEN knows how to use the computers to manipulate things. In any event, THX gets arrested before too long due to his own drug evasion, an issue that comes to a head when he messes up on the job. He gets convicted for this as well as “sex perversion” - the physical acts performed by THX and LUH are forbidden - and he gets stuck in an immense prison without formal walls.

His captors experiment on him, and eventually he ends up with other inmates, a group that includes SEN. The latter chats about organizing the others and busting out, but he’s all talk, and it takes THX to make things happen. The pair attempt to find a way out of the prison, and the rest of the movie follows what happens to them.

For those of us conditioned to see George Lucas as a purveyor of pop movies like 1977’s Star Wars or 1973’s American Graffiti, THX-1138 may come as something of a shock. It bears very little resemblance to his later work, at least in regard to its storytelling and ambition. Lucas’s other flicks from the Seventies are excellent but fairly conventional. THX seems less satisfying but Lucas does attempt to offer something unusual with it.

Most of the film’s success comes from its amazing visual execution. The DVD presents a “George Lucas Director’s Cut” of the movie that may or may not offer new footage – or possible cut some. The DVD runs 88 minutes, while the occasionally-questionable IMDB gives the flick a running time of 95 minutes. I hunted for information on cuts and could find none, so I don’t know if any edits or additions occur.

Whether or not this version cuts and adds anything, the new THX clearly benefits from some updated effects. The film’s visual scheme was never insanely ambitious, as it remains a small-scale story for the most part. However, given its age and tiny budget, it seems clear that Lucas spiffed up the surroundings, mostly in some of the bigger environmental shots. Since much of the film takes place in plain white settings, this wasn’t consistently necessary, and the new computer elements blended neatly with the original photography.

While some of the visual impact stems from those modern effects, most of the credit goes to Lucas’ vision when he first shot the movie. He makes the flick’s world cold, sterile, and very unusual for the era. The setting lacks many showy notions and definitely doesn’t present a “whiz-bang” concept of the future. Instead, we get an involving and chilly feel that seems very well-executed and convincing.

As for the story, it really doesn’t have much to it. The film’s Orwellian vibe is less than subtle, and the tale lacks great depth. However, Lucas creates such a nuanced and multi-faceted take on this soulless society that the movie becomes more interesting. He doesn’t always spell things out for us bluntly, though the messages from the canned confessional drive home points like “buy more now and be happy”. Still, Lucas lets the themes emerge with moderate subtlety and helps form a clear feel for the setting.

That allows the movie to overcome its narrative limitations. THX is an adaptation of an earlier Lucas short film, and it occasionally feels like a stretched-out piece. The flick becomes more heavy-handed as it proceeds, and some parts of it come across as tacked-on, such as the action elements of the escape. These are fun but feel like they’re from a different movie, as though Lucas wanted something that fit into the more conventional idea of the sci-fi flick so he tossed in a bit of action.

Despite a mix of flaws like this, THX-1138 mainly succeeds. It doesn’t offer an engrossing tale, but it comes across as ambitious and visually creative. Ultimately it presents a quirky and intriguing look at an overly conformist and suppressed society that proves compelling.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

THX-1138 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the film’s age, this transfer made it look absolutely terrific.

Sharpness came across well. The movie consistently presented a tight, well-defined picture, with only a minor hint of softness in some wide shots. Otherwise, it seemed crisp and distinctive. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws also appeared absent. Light grain popped up occasionally but caused no distractions, and I noticed no other indications of source issues.

With mostly white characters who wear white clothes in front of white backgrounds, THX may well be the whitest movie ever made. The film lacked much color. The shots of THX at work demonstrated a golden hue, and a few other tones sporadically popped into view, but white was the order of the day. The smattering of colors that did appear looked concise and vivid. Contrast was solid and the dominant whites were depicted as clear and appropriately bright. The occasional black elements looked deep and firm, and the few low-light shots were also clean and smooth. Overall, the image of THX looked much better than I expected.

Since George Lucas’ name has become synonymous with good audio, I figured the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of THX-1138 would work well, and I was correct. Don’t expect Star Wars style fireworks from it, though, as the audio stayed appropriately subdued most of the time. Indeed, the quiet nature of the flick meant it often remained essentially monaural.

Music often spread to the sides with strong stereo imaging, and some sequences featured positive delineation of effects from the sides. Those elements came into play mainly during bigger scenes at the robot factory and with other crowds. During those sequences, the mix spread out well, and the surrounds played a minor role. They added reinforcement to the track and a little unique audio such as from the movement of vehicles from front to rear. The mix mostly focused on the front, though, where it created a pretty good sense of environment that suited this low-key flick.

Audio quality was much better than average for a movie from 1970. Speech consistently sounded natural and distinctive, with no signs of edginess or problems connected to intelligibility. Effects were appropriately dynamic and clear. They didn’t often take center stage, but when they did, they sounded firm and accurate. Music was rich and full, as the score presented good life and dimensionality. Not a lot of deep bass popped up, but the sequences that used those elements - such as in the prison - featured tight low-end response. The audio of THX lacked enough scope to enter “A” territory, but it remained very good given the movie’s vintage.

The two-DVD edition of THX-1138 comes with a mix of supplements. On the first disc, we open with an audio commentary from co-writer/director George Lucas and co-writer/sound designer Walter Murch. Both recorded their own running, screen-specific commentaries that were later edited together. This format results in a pretty solid discussion of the movie.

The commentary starts with information about the film’s origins and how it developed. We get many notes about its themes and concepts as well as visual and sound design. The track goes over the restrictions of the budget and era plus some information about casting, working with the actors, the nuts and bolts of the day-to-day production, and various other components. Unfortunately, we get almost no remarks about the changes made from the original film to the “director’s cut”, and some dead air occasionally mars the chat. Nonetheless, it usually moves well and presents a great deal of interesting information. It’s well worth a listen.

Next we find Theatre of Noise, an isolated music and sound effects track. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, it offers exactly what that concept implies. Actually, a lot of speech pops up during the track, as all of the movie’s background chatter gets relegated to the status of “effects”. None of the dialogue from the main characters shows up, though. This feature doesn’t do much for me, but it comes as a moderately worthwhile addition to the set.

For the final substantial DVD One supplement, we discover Master Sessions with Walter Murch. This offers a branching feature; when an icon pops onscreen during the film, hit “enter” to watch any of the 13 short clips. We can also examine these independent of the movie via a menu; taken together, the segments last a total of 29 minutes and 29 seconds. He offers an extended discussion about the film’s audio and provides a very compelling and useful examination of that subject.

As we move to DVD Two, we begin with A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope. This new documentary runs 63 minutes and 25 seconds as it explores its subject. Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, it presents clips from various movies, archival materials, and interviews with Lucas, Murch, fellow filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, John Milius, Robert Dalva, Francis Ford Coppola, Willard Huyck, Matthew Robbins, John Korty, Caleb Deschanel, Carroll Ballard, former Warner Bros. head of production John Calley, transportation captain Tony Dingman, actor Robert Duvall, American Zoetrope treasurer Mona Skager, Coppola’s wife Eleanor, and producer Ron Colby.

They discuss the state of the Hollywood system in the Sixties and the changes it underwent, the impact of Easy Rider, the origins of the American Zoetrope organization in college, the early inroads made by Lucas and Coppola and how they met, how their experiences led them to form Zoetrope, the creation of the studio, getting funding, the contrast in the personalities of Lucas and Coppola, collecting other collaborators and moving projects along, the youth movement of the era and its impact on the studio, making THX, negative studio reactions to THX and the way it affected Zoetrope, Warner Bros. recutting of THX, the crumbling of Zoetrope as originally constituted and where those involved immediately went.

One major positive related to “Legacy” comes from the cooperation of so many notable names. Unlike the somewhat similar Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, “Legacy” features the cream of the crop of connected filmmakers. Folks like Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg and Scorsese skipped the other piece, and their presence here adds a lot to the experience. The construction of the program helps, as it moves briskly and covers the subjects concisely. “Legacy” provides a fascinating and involving documentary that definitely earns a look.

Another documentary appears next via Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX-1138. It fills 30 minutes and 55 seconds with the usual elements. We find notes from Lucas, Murch, Duvall, Robbins, Ballard, Coppola, Korty, Huyck, Calley, Colby, Dalva, Deschanel, Spielberg, lighting gaffer William Mayley, director of photography David Myers, key grip Ken Phelps, property master Ted Moehnke, filmmaker Frank Darabont, and actors Maggie McOmie, and Don Pedro Colley. They go into the film’s origins, its path to the screen, casting and dealing with the head shaving, visual and conceptual ideas, shooting the flick and telling its story, locations, post-production, and the flick’s legacy. While not as interesting as the prior program, “Artifact” provides a reasonably useful examination of the flick. Only a smidgen of material repeats from the commentary, as the extra participants help flesh out matters well. The documentary doesn’t follow a terribly concise path, and I’m disappointed we still don’t hear anything about the differences between the original flick and the “director’s cut”, but this remains a good program full of interesting tidbits.

A very worthwhile addition, the disc includes Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB, the short film precursor to the theatrical version. It fills 15 minutes and five seconds as it tells an abbreviated and fairly different version of the tale. It hasn’t aged terribly well, as it often seems amateurishly acted and silly, but I’m happy to get in on this set, as it’s very interesting to see Lucas’s early work.

In addition to both one original and five re-release trailers, we get a vintage production featurette called Bald. It runs eight minutes and includes a chat between Lucas and Coppola as well as occasional comments from McOmie, Duvall, Murch and some minor actors. They discuss the roots of THX, its look, the shaved heads, A little interesting vintage footage shows up here, though we’ve already seen some of it in “Artifact”, and it’s also amusing to hear Coppola berate Lucas for the shaved head concept. That topic heavily dominates “Bald”, as the featurette really plays up the unusual lack of hair. That and the many movie clips makes this a lackluster program.

George Lucas’s first flick, THX-1138 will inevitably remain his least famous. However, that doesn’t make it his worst, as THX provides a flawed but intriguing and experience. The DVD presents terrific picture along with very strong audio plus a fine set of useful and informative extras. Both an unusual and creative movie as well as a solid DVD, THX-1138 comes with my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7894 Stars Number of Votes: 19
5 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.