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This article is about the 1971 film. For the high fidelity sound company, see THX.

THX 1138 is a 1971 science fiction film directed by George Lucas, from a screenplay by Lucas and Walter Murch. It depicts a dystopian future in which a high level of control is exerted upon the populace through omnipresent, faceless, android police officers and mandatory, regulated use of special drugs to suppress emotion, including sexual desire.

It was the first feature-length film directed by Lucas, and a more developed, feature-length version of his student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which he made in 1967 while attending the University of Southern Californiamarker, based on a one and a quarter page treatment of an idea by Matthew Robbins. The film was produced in a joint venture between Warner Brothers and Francis Ford Coppola's then-new production company, American Zoetrope. A novelization by Ben Bova was published in 1971.

Plot

In the first act, we are introduced to daily life in the underground dystopia through the central character, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall), a nuclear-production-line worker. All emotions are suppressed in THX's world through the compulsory use of soma-like drugs, and through ever-present centralised monitoring of all human activities at all times. THX's female roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) becomes disillusioned and makes a conscious decision to break the law and stop taking her drugs, and subsequently secretly substitutes inactive pills for THX's medications. As the drug's effects wear off, THX finds himself experiencing authentic emotions and sexual desire for the first time. He and LUH begin a loving relationship, and plan to escape to the "superstructure", where they hope to be able to live in freedom. Before they can attempt this escape they are arrested and charged with having unauthorized sex and not taking state-prescribed drugs.

The second act sees THX incarcerated for his crimes in a white limbo world along with a collection of other prisoners, including Donald Pleasence as SEN 5241 – a sinister technician who has been using his programming skills to try to replace LUH as THX's roommate and became a "prisoner" of the limbo because THX reported him for said programming violations. Some of SEN's dialogue is taken from speeches by Richard Nixon.



Most of the prisoners seem uninterested in escape, but eventually THX and SEN decide to find an exit. They encounter SRT (Don Pedro Colley), who starred in the holograms broadcast citywide. SRT has become disenchanted with his role in the society and is making an attempt to escape. Upon exiting the limbo, THX attempts to find LUH and learns that her identity has been reassigned to a fetus in a growth chamber. This indicates that she has been considered "incurable" and killed. Separated from the other two fugitives, SEN makes a tentative exploration of the limits of the city's underground network. Cowed by what he sees, he returns to the city and is captured by the authorities.

The third act is an extended escape sequence, featuring a futuristic car-chase sequence through a tunnel network. THX and SRT steal two cars, but the latter has difficulty operating the vehicle and crashes into a concrete pillar. It is uncertain whether SRT survives the impact, although the film's script indicates he does not. THX flees to the limits of the city's underground road network while being chased by two police androids on motorcycles, and eventually locates a mode of escape that leads to the surface. The police pursue THX up an escape ladder, but are ordered by central command to cease pursuit at mere steps away from capturing him, as the expense of his capture exceeds their pre-determined budget. THX climbs out of the ground and stands before a magnified setting sun in a red sky, while birds intermittently fly overhead, indicating that life is possible on the surface.

Cast



Production

In order to emphasize the dehumanizing nature of the world of THX 1138, Lucas insisted that most of the actors and actresses in the film shave their heads, with some characters going completely bald, while others were allowed to maintain a buzz cut. As a publicity stunt, Lucas arranged for several actors to get their first haircuts/shaves at unusual venues, and have this filmed for later use in a tongue-in-cheek promotional featurette entitled Bald. Robert Duvall had his head shaved while watching a baseball game, while his co-star, Maggie McOmie, had hers done at the scenic Palace of Fine Artsmarker in San Franciscomarker. Another actor, who would later play an insane man in the film, was allowed to cut off his own hair and was filmed doing so in a bathtub. The Bald featurette was included in the 2004 DVD release. Many of the extras seen in the film were recruited from the addiction recovery program Synanon, most of whose members had shaved heads.

Filming on THX began on September 22, 1969 with the car chase sequence in the then to-be-finished tunnels of the BART Subway System in San Francisco. Other locations in the San Francisco area included the Marin County Civic Centermarker in San Rafael, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; Lawrence Hall of Sciencemarker, Berkeleymarker; the San Francisco International Airportmarker; and at a remote manipulator for a hot cell, among other various locations which Lucas and Coppola considered futuristic. Production wrapped in mid-November 1969 and the film was edited by Lucas and Walter Murch compiled and synched the sound montage, which includes all the "overhead" voices heard throughout the film (radio chatter, announcements, etc.). The bulk of the editing was finished by mid-1970.

The chase scene featured Lola T70 Mk.IIIs with dummy turbine engines racing against Yamaha TA125/250cc 2-stroke race replica motorcycles through two San Francisco Bay Areamarker automotive tunnels: the Caldecott Tunnelmarker between Oaklandmarker and Orindamarker, and the underwater Posey Tubemarker between Oakland and Alamedamarker. The final climb out to the daylight was actually filmed, with the camera rotated 90 degrees, in the incomplete (and decidedly horizontal) BART Transbay Tubemarker before installation of the track supports, with the actors using exposed reinforcing bars as a ladder. In the end scene, writer Matthew Robbins plays THX as he climbs from the shaft and stands before the sunset.

Reception

Shortly after completion of production Lucas and Coppola brought the finished film to Warner Bros., along with several other scripts for other hopeful projects at American Zoetrope. However, upon viewing all material, studio executives strongly disliked all the scripts including THX. Warner demanded that Coppola repay the $300,000 they had loaned him for the Zoetrope studio, and insisted on cutting five minutes from the film. It was released to theaters on March 11, 1971 and was commercially unsuccessful. The film was re-released with the five minutes edited back in by Lucas after the success of Star Wars in 1977, but still did not gain popularity. The movie is now considered a cult classic.

Home video

The original cut of the film had been available for several years on both laserdisc (in letterbox format) and VHS but was not immediately available on DVD. Although this was in part the result of Lucas' early skepticism of the DVD format, it was also because of his desire to slightly re-work parts of the film before it was released on DVD.

Lucas finally set about getting a DVD version of the film together in early 2004, putting the film through a meticulous audio/video restoration and making use of computer-generated imagery to modify certain scenes to his liking, mostly by expanding crowds and sets. In addition, Lucas shot new footage for the film, and even went as far as to re-shoot several scenes using computer systems to insert the actors and replace existing footage. This Director's Cut was released to a limited number of digital-projection theaters on September 10, 2004 and on DVD in Region 1 on September 14. Region 2 and 4 releases came later. Fan and critical reaction to this version was mixed, although any negative commentary was far more low key than the backlash Lucas faced with altering the Star Wars films.

As of July 2009, the original version of the film has yet to be released on DVD. While Lucas eventually released the original pre-Special Edition of the original Star Wars trilogy to DVD, it remains to be seen if the original THX 1138 will be released in that or the Blu-Ray format in the future.

The revised DVD version does alter the narrative of the story in subtle ways, connecting the three primary characters SEN, LUH and THX from the outset, and also shifting their perceived motivations. The best example of this is the addition of exchanged glances between SEN and LUH at their observation workstations. The editing in the same scene shows LUH (as opposed to SEN in the theatrical release) paying more attention to a report of "illegal sexual activity".

Legacy

The titles of this film began a tradition for Lucas films in that they are colored green and set against a pitch black background. The original Lucasfilm LTD logo seen in American Graffiti and the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy use the same colors and typeface. The logo of LucasArts software shows a drawing of a stick-man raising his hands toward the sun, a possible reference to the final scene.

References

The film's use of the number 1138 has become an in-joke in popular culture, and more commonly in works by Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Lucasfilm and related

Combinations of the title and number can be found in several Lucasfilm releases, including American Graffiti, and the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

In American Graffiti, the license plate of John Milner's car is THX 138. In Star Wars, a Death Star officer asks "TK 421, why aren't you at your post?" - in the novelization, the line was "THX 1138, why aren't you at your post?" Luke says "Prisoner transfer from cell block 1138." In The Empire Strikes Back, General Rieekan says, "Send Rogues ten and eleven to station three-eight." In The Phantom Menace, one of the battle droids that walks by when Queen Amidala and others are being led out under arrest has 1138 stenciled on its back and, in the final battle of the film, Jar Jar knocks over a battle droid with serial number 1138 on his back. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy is fighting the bald German the number on the wing of the plane is THX-1138, and in the U-boat scene, a German is heard saying "Eins, eins, drei, acht.", which translates to one, one, three, eight.

In Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, Stormtroopers can be heard saying "THX 1138 ready, sir," if you click on one multiple times. In the video game Star Wars: Republic Commando the playable character is a clone commando with the number "RC-1138", also known as "Delta 38" or "Boss." RC-1138 also appears in the Republic Commando books, Triple Zero, True Colors and Order 66, as well as the mobile game Star Wars: Republic Commando: Order 66. The video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed has the main character Starkiller known as subject 1138, who escapes from a test facility in a scene similar to that of the escape scene. In Maniac Mansion, Weird Ed's Edsel has a license plate number THX 1138. In Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Melissa's cashcard balance is $1138, and Zak's phone bill payment is $1138.

In the PC game Outlaws, the opening cutscene depicts a steam train with the numbers 1138 imprinted on its front.

At Disney Worldmarker, while waiting for Star Toursmarker, an announcement says, "Will the owner of a landspeeder with vehicle number THX 1138 please move your vehicle? You're parked in a non-hovering zone."

Other references

The Pinky and the Brain theme song includes a reference to THX 1138 as the part of Brain's "theory of everything" equation, which states, among other things, THX=1138. In the episode "Blackfoot and Slim" of Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter is given an ear tag labeled "BF 1138". In the 2009 movie Fanboys the guards at Skywalker Ranch are wearing the police masks from THX 1138.

In 1979, the rock band Toto released the single "99", a song inspired by THX-1138's society where people were given numbers instead of names. The music video for the song features the band in an all-white room dressed in white, a set piece designed around Lucas' visionary film. In 1981, the rock band Queen made a video for the song "Calling All Girls" in a very similar way to THX 1138. The video for the song "You Know My Steez" by Gang Starr features the rapper Guru in scenes very similar to THX 1138. The Pet Shop Boys video "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More" copies a number of shots from the testing sequence.

Samples

THX 1138 was first sampled in a music song by the Belgian group Front 242 on their 1982 release Geography: the first song "Operating Tracks" uses the line "1138 What's wrong?" and many other vocal and sound parts of the film, the song "GVDT" uses the classic "What's wrong" vocal sample and the sound of the car driving off. The American industrial band Nine Inch Nails used a sample of THX 1138 in which a man is being beaten by a prison guard as the intro to the song "Mr. Self Destruct" on the album The Downward Spiral (1994). The sample starts out slow, then builds to a faster tempo before the song interruptingly plays. The 1993 album A Collection of Short Stories by Reload samples the film in the tracks "Rota Link" and "1642 Try 621". The 1995 single "My Time Is Yours", by trance artist L.S.G., contains a vocal sample of OMM 0910 saying "My time is yours". The Shamen's 1989 single "Omega Amigo" uses this sample extensively. The voice of the medicine cabinet asking "What's wrong?" was sampled, among others, by UK band Orbital in their track "Out There Somewhere? Part One" (In Sides, 1996), by FUSE (Richie Hawtin) on the track "Theychx" (Dimension Intrusion, 1993), by Doubting Thomas on the track "F862" (The Infidel, 1991), by Ryoji Ikeda on the track "What's Wrong?" (1000 Fragments, 1995) and by UNKLE on the track "I Need Something Stronger" (Never, Never, Land, 2003), which also features other lines from the film. The song "Regime of Coincidence, State of Gravity" on Laibach's 1992 album Kapital includes dialogue samples of SEN's prison speech. DJ Shadow sampled the robotic voice-over line "Are you now, or have you ever been?" on "What Does Your Soul Look Like, Pt. 2" (1994 single, also on the compilation album Preemptive Strike).

THX sound system

The cinematic sound systems company THX Ltd. was founded by Lucasfilm and has been thought to be named after this film. THX officially stands for “Tomlinson Holman’s eXperiment”. Tomlinson Holman developed the THX sound system, having been commissioned to do so by Lucas in 1982. According to Lucas’ thoughts, the “X” in the sound system name THX stands for “crossover”, a piece of audio processing equipment. In either case, it is not named for THX 1138 and Lucas says that the similar names are just a coincidence.

Further reading

See also



References

External links




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