THX 1138

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THX 1138
Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Lucas
Produced by Lawrence Sturhahn
Screenplay by
Story by George Lucas
Music by Lalo Schifrin
  • David Myers
  • Albert Kihn
Edited by George Lucas
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • March 11, 1971 (1971-03-11)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $777,777[2][3]
Box office $2.4 million

THX 1138 is a 1971 American science fiction film set in a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through android police and mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotions. It was directed by George Lucas in his feature film directorial debut in 1971. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola and written by Lucas and Walter Murch, it stars Donald Pleasence and Robert Duvall.

THX 1138 was developed from Lucas's student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which he made in 1967 while attending the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The feature film was produced in a joint venture between Warner Bros. and American Zoetrope. A novelization by Ben Bova was published in 1971. The film received mixed reviews from critics and failed to find box office success on initial release; however, the film has subsequently received critical acclaim and gained a cult following, particularly in the aftermath of Lucas's success with Star Wars in 1977.


In the 21st century, sexual intercourse and reproduction are prohibited, whereas use of mind-altering drugs is mandatory to enforce compliance among the citizens and to ensure their ability to conduct dangerous and demanding tasks. Emotions, coitus, and the concept of family are taboo. Everyone is clad in identical uniforms and has shaven heads to emphasize equality, except the police androids (who wear black) and robed monks. Instead of names, people have designations with three arbitrary letters (referred to as the "prefix") and four digits, shown on an identity badge worn at all times.

At their jobs in central video CCTV control centers, SEN 5241 and LUH 3417 keep surveillance on the city. LUH has a male roommate, THX 1138, who works in a factory producing android police officers. At the beginning of the story, THX leaves the job while the loudspeakers urge the workers to "increase safety", and congratulate them for only losing 195 workers in the last period, to the competing factory's 242. On the way home, he stops at a confession booth in a row of many, and mumbles prayers about "party" and "masses", under the portrait of "OMM 0000". A soothing voice greets THX, and OMM ends every confession with a parting salutation: "You are a true believer, blessings of the State, blessings of the masses. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy".

At home, THX takes his drugs, and watches holo-broadcasts while engaging with a masturbatory device. LUH secretly substitutes pills in her possession for THX's medications, whereupon THX eventually suffers physical discomfort (vomiting) along with mental/emotional changes (confusion). The drug substitution also leads to LUH and THX becoming involved romantically, resulting in the two engaging in intercourse. THX later is confronted by SEN, who arranges THX as his new roommate, but THX files a complaint against SEN for the illegal housing mate change. Without drugs in his system, THX falters during a critical and hazardous phase of his job, and a control center engages a "mind lock" on THX which raises the level of danger. After the release of the mind lock, THX makes the necessary correction to that work phase. THX and LUH are arrested. THX enjoys a brief reunion with LUH, disrupted shortly after she reveals her pregnancy.

At THX's trial, THX is sentenced to prison, alongside SEN. Most of the prisoners seem uninterested in escape, but eventually THX and SEN find an exit and they are later joined by hologram SRT 5752, who starred in the holo-broadcasts. During the escape, THX and SRT are separated from SEN. Chased by the police robots, THX and SRT are trapped in a Control Center, from which THX learns that LUH has been "consumed", and her name has been reassigned to fetus 66691 in a growth chamber. SEN eventually escapes to an area reserved for the monks of OMM, where a lone monk notices that SEN has no identification badge. SEN attacks him and later wanders into a child-rearing area, strikes up a conversation with children, and sits aimlessly until police androids apprehend him. THX and SRT steal two cars, but SRT crashes his into a concrete pillar.

Pursued by two police androids on motorcycles, THX flees to the limits of the city and escapes into a ventilation shaft. The police androids pursue him on motorcycles along the ventilation shaft to an escape ladder but are ordered by Central Command to cease pursuit, on grounds that the expense of his capture exceeds their budget by 6%. It is then revealed that the city is entirely underground, and that THX has escaped onto the surface where he then witnesses the Sun setting.


Hans Memling's Christ Giving His Blessing (1478) is used as the visual representation of the state-sanctioned deity OMM 0000.[4]


THX 1138 was the first film made in a planned seven-picture slate commissioned by Warner Bros. from the 1969 incarnation of American Zoetrope.[5][6] Lucas wrote the initial script draft himself based on his earlier short film, but Coppola and Lucas agreed it was unsatisfactory. Murch assisted Lucas in writing an improved final draft.[2][7] For some of SEN's dialogue in the film, the script included excerpts from speeches by Richard Nixon.[8]

The script required almost the entire cast to shave their heads, either completely bald or with a buzz cut. As a publicity stunt, several actors were filmed having their first haircuts/shaves at unusual venues, with the results used in a promotional featurette titled Bald: The Making of THX 1138. Many of the shaven-headed extras seen in the film were recruited from the nearby addiction recovery program Synanon.[9]

Filming began on September 22, 1969.[10] The schedule was between 35[2] and 40[11] days, completing in November 1969. Lucas filmed THX 1138 in Techniscope.[12]

Most locations for filming were in the San Francisco area,[13] including the unfinished tunnels of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system,[2][13] the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,[2] the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, the San Francisco International Airport and at a remote manipulator for a hot cell. Studio sequences were shot at stages in Los Angeles, including a white stage 100 feet long by 150 feet wide for the "white limbo" sequences.[2]

The chase scene featured two Lola T70 Mk III race cars[14] being chased by Yamaha TA125/250cc 2-stroke race replica motorcycles through two San Francisco Bay Area automotive tunnels: the Caldecott Tunnel between Oakland and Orinda,[2] and the underwater Posey Tube between Oakland and Alameda.[2] According to Caleb Deschanel, cars drove at speeds of 140 mph while filming the chase.[2] Other cars appearing in several scenes of the movie include the custom-built Ferrari Thomassima cars; one of them is currently on display in the Ferrari museum in Modena, Italy.[15]

The chase featured a motorcycle stunt: Stuntman Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton (credited as Duffy Hamilton), rode his police motorcycle full speed into a fallen paint stand, with a ramp built to Hambleton's specification,[2] flew over the handlebars, was hit by the airborne motorcycle, landed in the street on his back, and slammed into the crashed car in which Duvall's character had escaped. According to Lucas, it turned out Hambleton was perfectly fine, apart from being angry with the people who had run into the shot to check on him. He was worried that they might have ruined the amazing stunt he had just performed by walking into frame.

THX's final climb out to the daylight was filmed (with the camera rotated 90 degrees) in the incomplete (and decidedly horizontal) Bay Area Rapid Transit Transbay Tube before installation of the track supports, with the actors using exposed reinforcing bars on the floor of the tunnel as a "ladder".[2] The end scene, of THX standing before the sunset, was shot at Port Hueneme, California, by a second unit of (additional uncredited photographer) Caleb Deschanel and Matthew Robbins, who played THX in this long shot.[2]

After completion of photography, Coppola scheduled a year for Lucas to complete post-production.[16] Lucas edited the film on a German-made K-E-M flatbed editor in his Mill Valley house by day, with Walter Murch editing sound at night; the two would compare notes when they changed over.[2][16] Murch compiled and synchronized 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.

On completion of editing of the film, producer Coppola took it to financiers Warner Bros. Studio executives there disliked the film, and insisted that Coppola turn over the negative to an in-house Warners editor, who cut approximately 4 minutes of the film prior to release.[17]


THX 1138 was released to theaters on March 11, 1971 and was initially commercially unsuccessful, earning back $945,000 in rentals for Warner Bros., but still leaving the studio in the red.[17] Critical reception was mixed at the time of its release. A contemporary survey of reviews found 7 favorable, 3 mixed, and 5 negative.[18]

The film, however, started to receive positive reviews over the years and gained critical acclaim. As of 2015, the film is rated "fresh" on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 88% and an average rating of 6.9/10. The consensus reads, "George Lucas' feature debut presents a spare, bleak, dystopian future, and features evocatively minimal set design and creepy sound effects."[19] The film has a score of 75/100 at Metacritic indicating "generally favorable reviews".[20]


1967 Student Film[edit]

The first version was a student film for USC School of Cinematic Arts entited Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. The run time was 15 minutes. It was released as a bonus feature on the 2004 Directors' Cut.

1971 Studio Version[edit]

The 1971 studio version, distributed to theaters, had five minutes taken out (apparently against Lucas' wishes) by Warner Brothers studios.[21] This version (81 minutes long) has never been released on any home media format.

1977 Restored Version[edit]

The George Lucas Director's Cut includes completely new footage, as seen in this shot of the factory where THX works.

In 1977, after the success of Star Wars, THX 1138 was re-released with the footage that had been deleted by Warner Bros. edited back in, but it still did not gain popularity.[22] This version (86 minutes) was subsequently released on VHS and LaserDisc.

2004 Director's Cut[edit]

In 2004, The George Lucas Director's Cut of the film was released. Under Lucas' supervision, the film underwent an extensive restoration and digital intermediate process by Lowry Digital and Industrial Light & Magic, where the film's original negative was scanned, digital color correction was applied, and a brand new digital master was created.[23] Computer-generated imagery and audio/video restoration techniques were applied to the film.[24][25]

At Lucas' request, ILM and The Third Floor created new digital special effects and shot new footage, mostly to expand scenes by extending crowds, filling out settings, and adding detail to the backgrounds of many scenes.[26] The shell dwellers, seen briefly in the beginning of the movie (played by dwarves in monkey costumes), are augmented at the end of the film by several CGI dog-people which look very different from the live actors in costume.[27] These changes increased the run time of the film by two minutes, to 88 minutes. This director's cut was released to a limited number of digital-projection theaters on September 10, 2004, and then on DVD on September 14, 2004. The film was released on Blu-ray on September 7, 2010.[28] At that time, the film received an "R" rating (for "sexuality/nudity") from the MPAA, due to the changes to the ratings system since the original release (the original film was rated "GP," later changed to "PG.") It is the only film directed by Lucas to carry an "R" rating.


A novelization based on the movie was written by Ben Bova and published in 1971.[29] It follows the plot of the movie closely, with four notable additions:

  • There is an additional character, Control, who is the accountant-like ultimate administrator of the City. Several passages depict the events from his point of view.
  • After having sex with LUH 3417, THX 1138 consults a psychologist and admits everything. This psychologist transfers the confession to Control, leading to the overriding mindlock and arrest in the factory.
  • LUH 3417's trial and death are depicted first-hand from her point of view, and from that of Control.
  • Instead of climbing outside to witness a sunset, THX 1138 climbs up and spends the night in the superstructure, and exits in the morning to find other humans living outside.

Origin of the name[edit]

The significance of the name THX 1138 has been the subject of much speculation. In an interview for the DVD compilation Reel Talent, which included Lucas's original 4EB short, Lucas stated that he chose the letters and numbers for their aesthetic qualities, especially their symmetry.[30] According to the book Cinema by the Bay, published by George Lucas Books, Lucas named the film after his telephone number while in college: 849-1138 - the letters THX correspond to the numbers 8, 4 and 9 on the keypad.[31] Walter Murch states in the DVD's audio commentary that he always believed Lucas intended THX to be "sex", LUH to be "love", and SEN to be "sin".[8] John Lithgow, in "The Film School Generation" segment of the DVD series American Cinema, described the title THX 1138 as "reading like a license plate number."[32]

Numerous references to "1138" or "THX 1138" appear throughout the Star Wars movies.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THX 1138 (X)". British Board of Film Classification. May 28, 1971. Retrieved November 19, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Artifact from the Future: The Making of THX 1138 (DVD bonus disk accompanying THX 1138: The George Lucas Director's Cut]). USA: Warner Bros. 2004. 
  3. ^ Pollock 1983, p.89.
  4. ^ Compare with this image from IMDb.
  5. ^ Pollock 1983, p.88.
  6. ^ Louise Sweeney, "The Movie Business is alive and well and living in San Francisco", Show, April 1970.
  7. ^ Pollock 1983, p.89.
  8. ^ a b Lucas 2004.
  9. ^ Pollock 1983, p.92.
  10. ^ Lawrence Sturhahn, "Genesis of THX-1138: Notes on a Production", Kansas Quarterly, Spring 1972.
  11. ^ Pollock 1983, p.90, 280.
  12. ^ Pollock 1983, p.90.
  13. ^ a b Pollock 1983, p.91.
  14. ^ Breeze, Joe (5 January 2015). "The police drove Lola T70s in George Lucas's directorial debut". Classic Driver. Retrieved 5 December 2015. 
  15. ^ "Thomassima III is currently on display in the new Ferrari Museum in Modena." "Meade of Modena: An American Dreamer In the Land of Artful Science". Retrieved 1 January 2017. 
  16. ^ a b Pollock 1983, p.96.
  17. ^ a b Pollock 1983, p.97.
  18. ^ "THX 1138", FilmFacts, Vol XIV, No.7, 1971.
  19. ^ "THX 1138". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-04-08. 
  20. ^ "THX 1138 Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 12 September 2015. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ Pollock 1983, p.98.
  23. ^ "THX 1138 by Lucasfilm". Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  24. ^ "Back to the Future with 'THX 1138'". Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  25. ^ "THX 1138 (1971) - Changes" Archived May 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., Maverick Media. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
  26. ^ "The Third Floor". Retrieved December 27, 2016. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ Calonge, Juan (May 10, 2010). "Warner Announces Sci-Fi Blu-ray Wave". Retrieved 2010-07-26. 
  29. ^ Bova, Ben; Lucas, George (February 1, 1978). "THX 1138". Warner Books. Retrieved December 27, 2016 – via Amazon. 
  30. ^ Reel Talent: First Films by Legendary Directors, DVD, 20th Century Fox, 2007
  31. ^ Sheerly Avni (2006). Cinema By The Bay (Hardcover ed.). New York, NY: George Lucas Books. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-932183-88-7. 
  32. ^ Lithgow, John (host) (1995). American Cinema: The Film School Generation (Television Production). 
  33. ^


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