THX 1138

THX 1138

Infobox Film
name = THX 1138

caption = Theatrical release poster
director = George Lucas
producer = Lawrence Sturhahn
writer = Matthew Robbins (story) [Robbins wrote the original treatment on which the film is based.]
George Lucas
Walter Murch
starring = Robert Duvall
Donald Pleasence
Don Pedro Colley
Maggie McOmie
Ian Wolfe
Sid Haig
music = Lalo Schifrin
cinematography = David Myers
editing = George Lucas
distributor = Warner Bros.
American Zoetrope
released = March 11, 1971
runtime = Theatrical cut
86 min.
Director's Cut
88 min.
country = United States
language = English
budget = $777,777.77 ["Seven was Coppola's lucky number." Quote and figure are from Pollock 1999, p. 97.]
gross = $2.437 million
website =
amg_id = 1:48303
imdb_id = 0066434

"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 ever-present 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 "", which he made in 1967 while attending the University of Southern California, 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.

Literary Influences

Lucas gathered inspiration from dystopian, futuristic novels like George Orwell's "1984", Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We", and Ayn Rand's "Anthem".THX 1138 depicts a dystopian futuristic society in which conformity, collectivism, and commerce are mandatory and love and emotion are forbidden.

Brave New World - Drugs, Eugenics, and Social Control

The characters in the novel "Brave New World" either ingest or are administered the drug "soma" whenever they experience anxiety or become dissatisfied with circumstances. Soma's intoxicatingly pleasurable effect serves as a means of appeasement by neutralizing dissent and preventing potentially subversive behavior. The mandatory sedatives taken by the populace in THX 1138 function very similarly. They too neutralize and prevent deviant behavior and reinforce conformity. While the sedatives in THX 1138 do not cause euphoria, it is duly noted that both they and the soma mutually promote and maintain social control. Additionally, eugenics is practiced in Brave New World. And while sex is permitted and promiscuity encouraged, traditional conception and reproduction is strictly prohibited. In the novel reproduction is scientifically computed and controlled giving rise to various "castes" of citizens yielding a substantial stratification of society. In THX 1138 sexual behavior is also prohibited. While it is not explicitly detailed in the film, one could conclude that due to the prohibition of sexual activity and the clone like appearance of the citizenry, that a similar eugenics reproductive system may be in operation.

1984 - Big Brother and the Culture of Surveillance

George Orwell's famous novel, "Nineteen eighty-four", depicts a conformist society devoid of privacy- where even the most seemingly insignificant moments are observed and monitored by randomly placed "telescreens". In the novel Winston (the protagonist) is cogniscent of the intrusive surveillance telescreen in his apartment and strives to stay out of its view. In Lucas's film, Luh 3417 presumes (correctly) that her forbidden sexual activity with Thx 1138 is being watched by authorities. In the novel sexuality is highly regulated and chastity is promoted. Marriages are arranged and only for the conception and birth of children. Winston sneaks into the rural countryside surrounding London to have unauthorized sexual intercourse without being surveilled. In THX 1138, just as in "1984", a telescreen is used for audio and video entertainment as well as the broadcast of propaganda.


The film consists of three acts. In the first, 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. [Lucas 2004.]

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 and often-copied 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, birds intermittently fly overhead, indicating that life is possible on the surface.


*Robert Duvall as THX 1138
*Donald Pleasence as SEN 5241
*Don Pedro Colley as SRT, Hologram
*Maggie McOmie as LUH 3417
*Ian Wolfe as PTO, Old prisoner
*Marshall Efron as TWA, Prisoner
*Sid Haig as NCH, Prisoner
*James Wheaton - OMM 0910 (voice)


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 "". 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 Arts in San Francisco. 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. [Pollock 1999, p. 100.]

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 Area automotive tunnels: the Caldecott Tunnel between Oakland and Orinda, and the underwater Posey Tube between Oakland and Alameda. The final climb out to the daylight was actually filmed, with the camera rotated 90 degrees, in the incomplete (and decidedly horizontal) BART Transbay Tube 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. [imdb name|0730422|Matthew Robbins]


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.

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".


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". Not only did Warner demand that Coppola repay the $300,000 they had loaned him for the Zoetrope studio, but insisted that Lucas cut five minutes from the film. The film was taken from Lucas and the studio cut the five minutes themselves.

The film was released to theaters on March 11, 1971 and was commercially unsuccessful. However, due to the success of "" in 1977, the film was re-released with the five minutes edited back in by Lucas, but still did not gain popularity. Today, the movie is considered by many as a "cult classic."


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 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. Combinations of the title and number can be found in several Lucasfilm releases, including the "Star Wars " and "Indiana Jones "films. In "American Graffiti", the license plate of John Milner's car is THX 138.

In Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds Stormtroopers can be heard saying "THX 1138 ready, sir," if you click on one multiple times.

In 1981, the rock band Queen made a video for the song Calling All Girls in a very similar way to THX 1138.

The logo of LucasArts software shows a drawing of a stick-man raising his hands towardthe sun, a possible reference to the final scene.

The Pinky and the Brain theme song includes a reference to THX 1138 as the part of Brain's "theory of everything" equation.

In the episode "Blackfoot and Slim" of Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter is given an ear tag labeled "BF 1138".

It has been speculated (though Misfits vocalist Glenn Danzig refuses to comment) that the Misfits song "We Are 138" is a reference to this film.Fact|date=September 2008

Notes and references

*Cite video | people=Lucas, George (Director) | year=2004 | title=THX 1138 (The George Lucas Director's Cut Two-Disc Special Edition) | medium=DVD | location=USA | publisher=Warner Brothers | url= | isbn=0790765268
*Cite book |last=Pollock |first=Dale |authorlink= |coauthors= |others= |title=Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas |year=1999 |publisher=Da Capo |location= |isbn=0306809044

External links

* [ Official site] (requires Flash to run site)
*Imdb title|id=0066434|title=THX 1138
*Amg title|id=1:48303|title=THX 1138
* [ DVD THX forum]
* [ DVD release changes]
* [ Clip showing changes on DVD THX forum]
* [ Interview with Don Pedro Colley about his experiences working on "THX 1138"] (at a Lucas fan site)

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