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I had to check the DVD case twice - made in 1970. The only thing that
vaguely suggests the period in which the film was made are the
blaxploitation-style TV/hologram shows, and I'm stretching for that
one. Lucas' (and Ford Coppola's) realisation of this uniform future
society is immaculately researched and presented in costume, lighting
and shooting and - crucially - in content. The genius of this film is
that a semblance of individual autonomy is maintained, from hideous
confessional substitutes to the extraordinary, ambiguous and thoroughly
depressing end. There's also humour and realism aplenty inamongst the
surrealism of this futuristic vision. [There's also additional CGI
towards the end, but I'll overlook this error of judgment]
A fine performance from Robert Duvall as the titular number is complemented by both Donald Pleasance (a less self-aware human compared to Duvall: heartbreaking) the upbeat Don Pedro Colley. Maggie McOmie's Luh manages to be breathtakingly beautiful in a sort of Midnight Express style haircut and uniform nurses fatigues and her requited love for Duvall sets up a long bitter fall after their separation.
If Ford Coppola saw technical competence and imagination in Lucas' student short, then he deserves recognition for assisting to turn this into such a convincing feature. I was expecting an esoteric exercise in technical experimentation and loopy sci-fi postualtion and got my existential insides kicked out instead. 8.5/10
This is simply a solid, well-made film, produced on a low budget and
directed by George Lucas based on his early student film of (roughly)
the same title. (Which is included on the Director's Cut edition of the
DVD.) Fans of "A Clockwork Orange," "1984," "Brazil," and similar films
about oppressive bureaucracies will love this. It's a grim and gritty
vision of the future in which people are controlled and monitored
(think Big Brother on a large scale). Robert Duvall (THX 1138 being his
"assigned name") breaks the laws of the world by falling in love,
engaging in sex and therefore rebelling, placing him and his love in
This is a very clear moral story and allusion to politics and so on and so forth. It excels as both story and study. Duvall gives a good performance (his breakthrough role in "The Godfather" would come next year) but the real surprise here is Lucas, who goes for a Kubrick-like edge to his film that really separates it from his later work. You won't believe this is from the guy who created Jar-Jar Binks.
If anyone accuses George Lucas of being the schmaltzy sell-out he has now become, direct them to this film in order to prove that, at one point in his life, he really did have a bleak outlook on life and the future, and it didn't start with the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...".
This movie has been seen by most film buffs many, many years ago on
late night TV. If you are like me, it was an interesting film purely as
a reference point for a young George Lucas. If you remembered it at
all, it was for the use of white space and the long periods during
which almost nothing discernible happens.
Well, it is almost 35 years later (35 YEARS!) and for reasons best known to film and DVD marketers, George Lucas has pulled it out of the vaults. Instead of just transferring the original print to new film stock, Lucas has re-cut several critical scenes; added a tasteful bit of CGI; zipped up the sound track and film score; and, best of all, turned it into the best reason yet for digital projection. Whether this is the original version he had in his head as a 26-year-old or one that he has fleshed out over the years is sort of beside the point. What is on the screen now is definitely worth your $10.
Yes, it is still a bit tedious at times (in a '2001: A Space Odyssey' kind of way) and, yes, the plot holes and infamous continuity issues are still there.
But, Wow! The plot is a weird stew in which an allegorical Adam and Eve story is crossed with 'Brave New World.' (The Catholic act of confession will never be the same after you see it re-imagined here.) The crystal clear cinematography is a revelation. The characters' multiple layers are wonderful. Donald Pleasence's performance as the would-be leader/rebel is downright creepy. The way the camera lingers on a scene rather than quick cutting for effect is a welcome relief. This is adult subject matter and it is not what you expect out of Lucas. You have to ask why he didn't pursue themes like this in later films. (Who knows, maybe the upcoming Darth Vader fest will return us to the dark side.)
Be forewarned, this is not a casual film that you can sit back and munch popcorn while it plays out in front of you. This is definitely art-house fare by a young director finding his chops.
Many of the message boards and most of the reviews of this film point out how many elements carry over to later Lucas films. (C3PO, the climactic chase scene, drones in service to masters, etc.) For me, the touchstone is not for Lucas, but for the Executive Producer, Francis Ford Coppola. Many of the themes explored in THX show up in Coppola's 'The Conversation' three years later. Gene Hackman's Harry Caul character is a clone of Robert Duvall's loner forced to confront a faceless progenitor. See if you don't agree.
Though they are releasing the film to theaters ahead of the DVD release, the place to see it is in a theater with digital projection. Similar to 'Lawrence of Arabia,' much of the action takes place in the far corners of the scene and I can't imagine seeing this on anything less than a very large HDTV screen.
The first big screen commercial film of George Lucas 'THX 1138' is now
back in a re-made production. I did not yet form a clear opinion about
directors re-visiting their films decades after the original
production. It's certainly their right to do it, but I cannot refrain
from suspecting that this shows some sort of dilution of their creative
force. In other words, I would rather prefer George Lucas doing
something completely new, rather then re-doing old films of his.
However, 'THX 1138' is a visionary movie, almost a masterpiece. I liked it. It is one of the first Orwellian films in describing a world of the future controlled by an omni-present mind-control machine. These theme means a lot of me, and for many people who have spent part of their lives in a system that tried to create 'a new man' by using a system of control and repression that was targeting towards suppression of individual freedom and personality. What is however very strong in 'THX 1138' is the visual quality of the world created by Lucas. This is what cinema is for, this is what real art is about - creating a new world from existing materials, transporting the viewers in an alternate world of the future using the cinema art means. Although realized about 20 years before computer graphics in films, the vision is fresh and impressing.
An ageless Robert Duvall does here one of the best roles of his career. Donald Pleasance is a very good counter-part. I liked very much Maggie McOmie, how does it come that this film did not launch her in a star career? It actually looks like this is the only film she did, according to IMDb.
The extra features on the DVD are interesting and bring a lot of new information for fans of science fiction, of the 70s films and of Lucas. The film itself gets 9 out of 10 on my personal scale.
This movie truly is a piece of cinematic science-fiction art. People
who say the last couple of years that George Lucas is a bad writer and
director should be forced to go and watch this movie.
The movie is very artistic and therefor is not really that watchable for everybody. Fans of the science-fiction genre however will love this movie. Star Wars fans will also notice some subtle things and elements in this movie, that Lucas later used, mostly in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope".
A lot of professional people were involved in this brilliant serious big movie debut by George Lucas. Producer Francis Ford Coppola, composer Lalo Schifrin, Walter Murch and actor Donald Pleasence. Robert Duvall plays the main part in the movie but he was a fairly unknown actor at the time. Donald Pleasence really was a wonderful actor and he shows that once more in this movie. Robert Duvall also really is excellent as the main character THX 1138.
The story really is secondary in this movie. It's all about the visuals. The special effects in this movie were also surprising good especially when considering that this movie was made in 1971.
The movie also knows to be tense at the right times and the end chase is pretty spectacular and nicely done.
I for one truly love this perfect piece of visual art. Not a movie for everyone though.
George Lucas has a fairly small body of work, as a director; and most
of it is fairly simplistic, except this film. Lucas' first feature is
steeped in the French New Wave mode of philosophical musings and
strange visuals. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily make for an
exciting film. However, there are enough intriguing ideas to sustain
some interest, although you do have to fight off the boredom factor.
Lucas is, and has always been, a visual filmmaker. He is not great with actors and his films aren't noted for their performances, except American Graffiti. That was a more personal film, and Lucas probably had a clearer idea of the characters thoughts and emotions. Here, emotions are stifled by drugs and the wooden performances reinforce this.
According to Lucas, the film is the story of escape, told in three different forms: an escape from the drugs that keep people in check, an escape from a prison with no visible barriers, and an escape from the city itself. The final sequence contains most of the action, but is marred by the budget constraints.
Robert Duvall commands attention when he is on screen, but you never really feel like you get to know THX. Donald Pleasance, as SEN, provides a nice turn as the antagonist, of sorts. The rest of the cast is fairly forgettable, with only minor moments. The philosophical underpinnings of the film are often lost in pretension, the same flaw which hit the Matrix in its sequels. Lucas could have delivered his message in a far simpler fashion, probably with greater result. Still, the film does have its interesting moments and memorable ideas and images. The robot police are quite chilling, although they are used sparingly. The white prison is quite unsettling as well. The final escape is the most riveting sequence of the film.
The new DVD has Lucas' trademark tinkering. Only this time, the alterations help to add scope to the film. The city scenes are expanded to add complexity to the environment that was missing in the original. There are no fundamental story changes, as in the Star Wars Special Edition (Greedo shoots first). The commentary and featurettes help the viewer to understand the intent of the story and help to establish the context in which it was made. Lucas makes a statement that he would like to return to this kind of film. Given the disappointing nature of the Star Wars prequels, I wouldn't mind seeing Lucas take another crack at a more cerebral sci-fi story. My only request is that he works with a great scriptwriter.
One of the neat things about this movie is that even in it's finished version it has a independent/student film look....which I think helps it! Parts of this film were shot in the underground BART transit system that was being constructed near San Franscisco (I believe). George Lucas was a film major at USC when his film was spotted and changed into a theatrical release. (The same thing happend to John Carpenter) This film marks the first collaboration of Francis Coppola and Lucas...the two have remained friends ever since. I liked the robot police men depicted in this film, they have a simple look and are still credible in the menace they portray. This is a science fiction film that is darker than anything Lucas has yet done. I think it's a underestimated classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THX 1138, as we all probably know, was the first official film of
George Lucas. It was made largely while he was still a film student,
and it was actually produced by Francis Ford Coppola. For a first film,
it is a rather impressive effort, but it's hardly 2001: A Space
The film centers around the life of THX 1138 who is played by Robert Duvall. He is a man living in a futuristic society where everyone is drugged up, nobody is allowed to have sex, and big brother always seems to be watching. Citizens are expected to just take their meds and conform. Order is kept by a bunch of chrome-plated robots dressed as police officers. They speak softly but carry big sticks to keep people in line. People are constantly being reminded over loud speakers to increase productivity and remain cost-efficient. There is some semblance of religion, but it's hardly compelling as a source of strength to these future citizens. The world which we are shown seems to be entirely underground and synthetic. Emotion is not encouraged, and the meds help with that aim.
We see THX go through his usual routines. He appears to work at an assembly plant where the police robots are constructed. It's dangerous work, and we see a meltdown occur in a nearby facility in one of the best early scenes of the film. The work is apparently too stressful for a person to do it unless they're highly sedated. THX 1138 is experiencing some personal problems the society cannot tolerate. He and his female roommate have been going off their meds, and having sexual relations. They are about as in love as two people can be in this strange world, and the powers that be quickly try to re-program THX 1138, and take him away from his woman. All of this happens within the first half hour. What follows is mostly ponderous, and the story drags somewhat.
THX 1138 is placed in a virtual prison with others who cannot seem to conform. One of these persons is played by Donald Pleasance. He has designs to lead the others out of their prison, but we find that he can only talk the talk. When the possibility of escape is presented to him, he panics and tries to get back inside the only world he knows. Our hero THX 1138 simply "keeps his wits about him" and climbs out of the city to a freedom we can only speculate about.
The film has its strengths. Considering the limited budget it had, the film is an absolute treat in terms of its appearance. The color white is certainly dominant in the sterile society these people live in. Lucas even at this early stage of his career showed his ability to dazzle the audience with sound. The film has a unique kinetic energy in some scenes, but then goes flat as a pancake in others. The CGI that Lucas added for the director's cut is unnecessary, but pleasant to look at.
The story needed some buffering. Even at 88 minutes, you may be tempted to hit the FF button. There are a few scenes that really don't amount to much, and many questions are left unanswered. Lucas obviously had 2001 in mind when you consider some of the ambiguity we are presented with. The conclusion of THX 1138 is in some ways a rebuttal to the ascension of man's intellect we saw in 2001. In THX 1138, the objective seems to be for the hero to break away from the futuristic society and retreat back to a more primitive existence.
I guess I'd give it 7 of 10 stars. What we needed was more plot added; not more CGI images! The Hound.
===EDIT: The following review was written before I knew the extent of
the cgi doctoring that Lucas added recently. These are the "cheap
action scenes" I'm talking about below. If you can find a copy of the
original undoctored THX-1138, that's the one to watch.===
Aw man. This film had so much promise. It starts out abstract, minimalist, challenging and poetic. It gets deeper, more bizarre and artistic. But then it suddenly degenerates into a cheap action flick with hi-tech car chases, and it ends with the most simplistic, meaningless resolution. Total letdown.
It's as if Hamlet's famous soliloquy went:
"To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows... and CARS! and MOTORCYCLES! and fast whizzy things BAM!! The End!!!!"
I suspect that Lucas began this film with a fantastic premise & with artistic intent, but then he suddenly realized "hey wait, I don't know what I'm doing. How do I end this damn thing?" True, it's an interesting dystopian drama. George must've been reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut when he filmed this. Yes, it's very much in the style of 2001: A Space Odyssey. George must've been watching a lot of Kubrick. But that's where it ends. George fails to present anything original. And as it unravels into a simplistic action flick in the last 20 minutes, you realize that George has been fooling you for the last hour and a half. Literally, it ended, and I said out loud, "Uh... is this where Lucas got bored and stopped filming?"
Still, I have to give him an "A" for effort. Like most of the other reviewers, I was blown away by the fact that George Lucas was capable of this type of abstract poetry. With the exception of those cheezy action scenes (which I'm sure Lucas added ex post facto, like he did with Star Wars + CGI) it is reminiscent of the old Michael Crichton films (Andromeda Strain, Westworld) with maybe a dash of Rollerball.
The early 70s was a wonderful time for scifi, because all the directors were scrambling to emulate Kubrick's masterpiece. But like this film, the effort ran out of gas and eventually slumped into plot-driven cheese. What is so frustrating is that Lucas could have made something truly great if he had just followed up on Donald Pleasence's cryptic ramblings midway. Unfortunately, he chose to go in the other direction, and the film ends with no dialogue for the last 20 minutes. Instead we get a lot of (ex post facto CGI) special effects and chase scenes. What a shame. We literally see before our eyes the unfortunate turning point of Lucas' career.
In space, sometimes a nebula--for all its swirling promise--never quite consolidates itself into a star. This movie, like Lucas, like the failed nebula, is the big one that got away.
P.S. George, if you're listening, please stop adding "new" special effects to the old films! You're not impressing anyone. You & Ted Turner both...
In an undefined future, a dystopian underground society is oriented to
production and consumption in the malls. The population is controlled
by drugs and people do not feel affection or sympathy for the others.
Sexual intercourse are absolutely forbidden and roommates are chosen by
the computer. Faceless androids are responsible for the surveillance of
the behavior of the dwellers and people pray in Unichapels for their
god OMM 0910 that responds through recorded electronic messages.
The worker THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) handles radioactive materials in a factory and lives with his roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie). When she decides to stop using drugs, she becomes lucid and replaces the drugs of her partner for harmless pills. THX becomes emotional again and falls in love with LUH. He plans to escape with LUH to the superstructure, where they expect to live in freedom. But when SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance) manipulates the computer to live with THX, he reports a complaint to the authorities and SEN is arrested. When THX commits a mistake in his work, the Powers That Be discover that THX and LUH are not taking drugs and having sexual intercourse and they are sentenced to be imprisoned in a weird white place. THX and SEN plan to escape with the hologram SRT (Don Pedro Colley) and THX discover that LUH was killed by the authorities and he decides to find the way out to the surface.
"THX 1138" was a cult-movie in Brazil in the earlier 70's; however watching it again in 2012, I found it a plagiarism of the Logan's Run novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson that was published in 1967 and become a cult-movie in 1976. "THX 11238" is also very similar to George Orwell's "1984"; Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World"; and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis".
The narrative is boring in many moments and the excessive white landscapes are tedious. Anyway, this is a film mandatory for any cinema lover or student. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "THX 1138"
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