Cyberpunk Review » THX-1138

February 12, 2006


Year: 1971

Directed by: George Lucas

Written by: George Lucas (story and screenplay), Walter Murch (screenplay)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • THX 1138: Robert Duvall
  • LUH 3417: Maggie McOmie
  • SEN 5241: Donald Pleasence
  • Rating: 8 out of 10



    Overview: George Lucas’s THX-1138 is one of the many good small-budget films long forgotten that has found new life on DVD. THX-1138 gives us a wonderful commentary on how Lucas, back in 1971, thought society would be if those in power ever really got their way. Everything here is antithetical to the 60s movement. Freedom and in fact most of humanity is squashed in this depiction of a dehumanizing nightmare society. All actions are controlled and securitized to ensure compliance.




    The Setting: THX-1138 takes place in an underground facility in some ill-defined future where all aspects of humanity have been squashed. Everyone has all individuality removed, including possessions, hair (everyone has shaved heads). Humanity is controlled by television brainwashing combined with medications that remove human emotions. All citizens have a have a specific role to perform, and must adhere to completely programmed time schedules. Regularly scheduled “confessions” with mind control officers are used to catch any unexpected problems with individual expression. In this setting, Robert Duvall, known as THX-1138, and his room mate “dare” to have affection for one another.




    A series of events occur which make THX-1138 disenchanted with society. He begins to cut down on his medication, and convinces his room mate, LUH 3417 to do the same. When emotions return, so does their humanity. They begin to find emotional desire and love for one another, but this is cut short, when a ranking facility member, SEN 5241, decides he would prefer to have THX-1138 for a room mate, and removes LUH 3417. But THX-1138 has gone too far, and instead, seeks out a budging resistance movement. Unfortunately for him, the control group has discovered his deceit.




    The Visuals: Like many cyberpunk films, dominating color schemes are used for conveying the moods. In this case, white is used to depict dehumanized society; yellow is used for the controlling machinery, and darkness is used for the unknown innards of the facility’s inner-workings. THX-1138 provides much of the storyline through its visuals. We aren’t told the history of this futuristic dystopia, nor are we given much indication of how this society is run. As an interesting side note, although its never stated, one really gets the feeling in watching this that the powers that be would strongly prefer replacing humans with emotionless robots.




    Changes to the Original Release: I have only seen the director’s cut of THX-1138, so I cannot comment on the original cut. However, I notice a similar level of anger to this version as was seen in changes to Star Wars. I probably need to track this down, but not having seen it, I don’t really see many of the problems they list, including poorly integrated CG effects (the shot above is an example of added CG into the background). Many also complain that while the film length is the same, some shots are missing. I don’t notice any complaints about changes to the sound, which seems very well engineered to me. Again though, having come to this movie without seeing the earlier version, I do have a hard time with people stating there is no value to this version, or that it is so far worse than the original that it is not worth watching. These sentiments seem like severe overkill. Still, like Star Wars, one hopes that the original eventually gets released as well.




    The Bottom Line: THX-1138 is a very well made low-budget art film where Lucas takes the controlling elements in society to what he sees as their logical conclusion. While this isn’t very realistic in many ways, it certainly sends a powerful message. The pacing is consistent and the themes, while not new, are interesting and well conveyed. As long as you’re not looking for lots of action, you will probably enjoy this.


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    Tags: cyberpunk movie review THX-1138


    April 15, 2006

    Glam Creature said:

    The movie is an extended and updated version of George Lucas short movie “Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB”. The 15 minutes lenght movie was created during Lucas studies in University of Southern California film school in year 1967. As student’s film it’s made very professionaly.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Glam, this is a good point, and you’re right - definitely something I should have mentioned in the review. I must confess that while I listened to the commentary, I haven’t gotten to that extra on the DVD yet. Perhaps some screen caps are in order from it when I do.

    August 8, 2006

    Adam Doub said:

    George Lucas’s best film, a true work of art. This is PERFECT for those who enjoy post-apocolyptic films in the vein of George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984. This film remains to be one of my all time favorite films, PERIOD. The original, despite its oddly shot “special effects” is solid, though the remake did add a few really good CGI parts and a quite a few absolutely HORRIBLE CGI parts (I.E. the outside dwellers that were originally just hairy midgets are now replaced with things that look like the rejected frames of Golum from LOTR) The car chase scenes look worse than the worst Xbox/PS2 racing game on the market, and some of the city scapes are just a bit overkill, reducing that clostraphobic feeling the original held in with it’s errie lack of colors (everything is white) If you can find a Laserdisc copy of this film JUMP ON IT IMMEDIATELY, but chances are the easiest to get your hands on is the updated version.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Adam, yeah, I have only seen the recent release.

    October 29, 2006

    Willie said:

    I am writing a paper on Cyberpunk and digital media now, and watched this film (and many others! Joy!!) - I loved it - having already studied visual communication, I loved the almost luminescent white, giving a sterile and cold feel to the whole thing. I was unsure if it fell into the Cyberpunk genre, but thanks to your site, I believe it does! I really wanted confirmation of that, because I really thought, despite the fact that it doesn’t deal so much with digital media, it has all the great elements of cyberpunk - the authoritarian state, the mind drugs, the suppression of things which make us human, the advancement of technology trying to overrule that humanity.

    Ther are a few moments in the plot though that lost me - I am unsure how LUH even got into THX’s ‘cell’ to make love to him, after she tells him she is pregnant. Some suggest it is because THX is already dead, and it is an apparition, but I’m still lost on that one.

    Anyway, great site! I have been really enjoying it, especially your section on Aeon Flux!


    November 11, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Hi Willie, thanks for the compliments! Hopefully we see you on more here. :)

    January 28, 2007

    Soren said:

    If you can find it, THIS PERFECT DAY (novel) seems to have inspired a lot of THX-1138, right down to the numbered names and emotion-numbing drug treatments. If you got off on this you’ll probably love the book.

    […] For pictures and another review you can check out the THX-1138 Review @ […]

    Steve Wake said:

    One thing, from my interpretation it’s actually LUH who starts altering THX’s drug regimen so that he becomes more human - motives unknown but presumably she has herself gone off the meds and has fallen in love. I believe SEN also falls in love with THX and uses the medication alteration as an excuse to get LUH removed from the ‘apartment’ she shares with THX.

    And don’t forget the hologram who escapes from the entertainment system, one bit of fantasy maybe a bit too far in the scientific sense though the rest might easily happen from a sociological point of view.

    April 13, 2007

    calz said:

    This is a good movie…but a bit bland and i think the ending lacks substance. like most i have only seen the ‘new’ version but i can’t imagine the actual movie being much different.

    as to the “hologram”, i think maybe he just THINKS he’s a hologram, it would be easy to lose your mind in this sterile society.

    ps i really like this site….

    July 21, 2007

    Urshanabi said:

    There is a remarkable similarity between the plot of this movie and [i]Equilibrium[/i]…

    August 29, 2007

    Maverick said:

    The two versions have their good and bad points. I’ve watched both versions and like both equally and to say the director’s cut has no worth is like you say overkill. Of coarse both versions on DVD would please everybody, The original Wicker Man (1973) directors cut released on DVD with both versions in one package was how THX should have been released. I’ve made a comparison of the original and the directors cut, maybe you will find it interesting.

    August 30, 2007

    fisk0 said:

    I saw this one a few years ago, and judging by Maverick’s comparison images it was the original version I saw.
    It’s a good film, and I can understand why some of the changes where made (but not why Lucas choose not to say it was changed, just “restored”). The things they drive through on the highway makes sense, as does some of the robot factory shots and remade holographic stuff, but the addition of all those skyscraper like structures changes the claustrophobic underground tunnels into giant caverns or even dark surface structures, it really changes the feel in my opinion. And the CGI creatures looks horrible.
    Both this review and Maverick’s comparison (especially the “Grievances”) where very good.

    September 29, 2007

      THX 1138 by said (pingback):

    […] imdb link crtica y valoracin cyberpunk review […]

    October 19, 2007

    Michael Cimpher said:

    “He begins to cut down on his medication, and convinces his room mate, LUH 3417 to do the same.”
    .isn’t this backwards? doesn’t 3417 first take 1138 off his med?

    June 29, 2008

    jmalmsten said:

    The problem I have with the “restorations” of both star wars and, since then, THX1138 is the all too apparent danger that people are being misled. I bought the 2004 DVD… I watched it thinking that it was a 1971 picture that I was watching… but as the views presented on me got more and more spectacular my doubts began to gather to the obvious conclusion.

    If you didn’t notice yet… a rant is following:

    So I watched the included documentary, it’s a really good documentary but… I started to see major differences in the scenes presented there and the movie I just watched…

    So that’s what I mean that people are being misled… because NOWHERE on the box does it state that the image has been altered… NOWHERE in the included material does it state this… So for the average viewer this will BE the original movie… This is a 2004 movie and should not be compared to other 1971 movies… because the movie I watched wasn’t the movie they watched, those that originally saw the movie.

    As a 2004 movie it’s still really a good movie. I won’t say anything else about that. But they are stating that the film is a 1971 movie and that’s my problem.

    In the documentary George Lucas tells about his ordeal in making the movie back in the days when he didn’t have final cut. He described the experience of the execs cutting out 5 minutes as something like “think of your daughter, she’s perfect as you love her. And you love her as she is. Now think if someone came into your life and cut away one of her fingers… and said ‘but she still got 9 left, what are you complaining about?’. But I loved her just as she was. She was perfect… now you made her a cripple!”… Well… I did track down a bootleg of the original release cut on bittorrent… So I have seen the “9-fingered version”… and the “restored 11 fingered version”… But I do wonder… what was she like with only the perfect 10 fingers? the, using GL’s own words, “10-fingered version”.

    And technically wise… since it’s a 2004 movie you cannot compare it to 1971 movies in any terms since they didn’t have the VFX-power of 2004… People will get misled. People are going to think that george lucas made this film in 1971 and marvel at the technical brilliance he showed back then.

    The two films are quite good. But they do make me think: “Isn’t this a lie?”. What stopped him from putting a subtitle on the cover like “Redux”, “Special Edition” or anything else that would give a hint that the movie has been altered.

    That’s my gripe… That’s why I so much prefer Ridley Scotts decision to call his latest cut of Blade Runner the Final Cut to emphasize that what the viewer is watching isn’t the 1982 Original Cut, or the 1992 Directors Cut, or even the Workprint… no…

    And that’s my rant on the subject. I like the movies, I just wish that GL would stop being so revisionistic about his own filmography.

    June 13, 2009

    Sonne said:

    Long list of endless!
    Absolutely a 10!!!
    As one of the rare that I personally would rate 10 +!
    Love his movies but this is his masterpiece!

    January 25, 2010

    SSJKamui said:

    The visuals of the movie are really cool.

    The Society of the movie reminds me on the Book Anthem by Ayn Rand. (Numbers instead of names, totally surpressed individuality and all is claimed by the state to be done for morality, humanity etc.)

    The clothing of the characters reminds me of prison clothing.

    August 6, 2010

    ewkeane said:

    the moral of the story;
    to become human, stay away from government dope, steal a car and outrun the cops to escape ‘civilization’.

    December 27, 2010

    deadmovie said:

    boring movie

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