- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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!
- Highly Recommend/Must See border
Didn’t you notice a similarity between Robert Duvall in THX 1138 and James Caan in Rollerball?Both are of course great in The Godfather. They are the lead in Rollerball and THX 1138. Both are early 1970’s sci-fi films. And even though both are fine in the lead you spent some time thinking about who would have been better in the lead.
Since this page (I believe) came after the 1971 page (which had this as a R), this
would be the official rating (HR/MS) for THX, correct?
@Matthew- that’s correct- HR/MS- I do not go back and update the individual pages (like Lucas or 1971) until the next update