• 27-year-old prodigy George Lucas debuted with THX 1138 in 1971- a remarkable achievement of sight and sound
  • It is a bleak film, Orwellian—Empire Strikes Back is also gloomy but this is as cold (sort of like Lang or Kubrick) as Lucas would ever be.
  • He served as his own editor- and it is a fantastic feat of montage. The crew surrounding Lucas is noteworthy as well. Lalo Schifrin did the score—I’m not sure how Lucas got the backing of Lalo Schifrin (Cool Hand Luke in 1967) as an unknown in 1971. Walter Murch is the co-writer and does the “sound montage”. Murch is a genius—he’d go on to win some Oscars and work on The Conversation and Apocalypse Now but the mastery is right here in 1971 before both of those collaborations with Coppola.
  • The ASL (average shot length) is low—this is Eisenstein or 1990s Oliver Stone and the sound design to match Lucas’s rapid-fire images.
  • Lucas’ story is minimal— he’s taking on religion and consumerism. In retrospect it seems highly suspect that Lucas has a film where the mantra of the evil system is “let us be thankful we have commerce”.

such excruciating detail in the visual/audio concoction.

  • The two spherically shaped shaved heads and naked bodies of Robert Duvall and Maggie McOmie in front of a white backdrop—not totally different from Bergman’s connecting heads in Persona.

Another great frame of Duvall and Donald Pleasance this time against a white wall.

A flickering collage – operators on the phone, control room monitors are constantly used as bouncing off points from the central story.

Lucas often uses a harsh flared orange lighting scheme

  • The film is really broken into thirds, and alas, it is only two-thirds of a brilliant movie. The opening is Lang’s Metropolis meets The Parallax View meets The Trial (needless to say this is one of the good sections!). There’s a fine assembly line wide frame shot. A long shot capturing a cross section of structures, angles and space.

Lucas seems to have an innate sense of framing and architecture at age 27

the dystopian assembly line

  • The middle second submarines the film and keeps it from transcending to another echelon of cinema art. There is far too much just white on white in the prison—it washes and mutes out everything.. It is like a 25-minute long Mike Teevee section of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
  • Lucas returns the film to greatness in the final third. This section is a chase—gorgeous tunnels like Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949).

from the film’s final act– part The Trial and part The Third Man

the final chase sequence almost makes you forget about that pretty poorly conceived middle section… if you are going to wow them though– wow them in the opening and the closing like Lucas has

Lucas ends on a high as well with the golden sun final image as the credits roll

  • Again, this is colder than anything Lucas would ever make again—it is a downer—but there is genius here in spades and the amount of craft that must have been put into it is staggering- such excruciating detail in the visual/audio concoction.
  • Duvall was not a big name in 1971 and this was not a big budget film- he’s fine here but I did spend some time thinking about who would have been better in the lead. He’s not the right age in 1971 but John Hurt would have been better—I thought of him because he’s so good in 1984 in a similar role. I think a younger Alec Guinness if you could have caught him between his lighter comedies and River Kwai. Duvall is the better overall actor historically, but I would have preferred Tom Courtenay in 1971. Perhaps it is because it is Orwellian that all of my ideas here are British!

Robert Duvall’s first significant lead. He had been in Altman’s MASH the year prior and supporting roles often in the 1960’s in films like To Kill and Mockingbird, Bullitt, and True Grit. The projection of his career would change dramatically the year after THX 1138– when The Godfather is released

  • Highly Recommend/Must See border