directed by George Lucas
(Warner Brothers, 1971)
Watching George Lucas' first movie is tantamount to taking a trip in a time machine. The man that gave the world Star Wars and Indiana Jones first tried his hand at science fiction nearly three decades ago. The result is an interesting, if uneven, hour and a half.
THX-1138 is the name and designation of a young Robert Duvall, one of millions of residents in a dystopian future kept docile and sedate by a steady diet of mind-addling drugs. THX is content with his life (hey, how could he know any better?) until his mate begins substituting a placebo in his daily dose of narcotics. Turns out his regular drugs also suppress sexual urges, and finding himself suddenly unfettered, indulges all his urges with his willing mate.
Naturally enough, they're under observation by the powers-that-be, as all good future dystopian societies are wont to be. THX is assigned a new roommate, a very strange, distracted Donald Pleasance. The separation doesn't work, and THX is soon back in his mate's arms, and arrested for sexual perversion. THX is found guilty by a tribunal, and sentenced to a strange, undefined white no-man's-land detention area with all the other undesirables. Donald Pleasance ends up in there with him, and they decide to escape, wandering off into the white mist. And the hunt is on.
THX as a character, though, never does much more than react. His only goal seems to be escape, but escape to what is a question that never seems to occur to him. Donald Pleasance's character is a total cipher whose purpose and final fate are never made clear. THX also runs into a rogue hologram who is a predecessor of the holographic doctor on Star Trek: Voyager. Like that doctor, this one has none of the traits of a real hologram, and eats, gets tired and injured like any flesh- and-blood human would. His purpose and fate are ambiguous as well.
Ultimately, THX-1138 feels more like a student film than a major motion picture, despite the presence of some fairly big stars. It's easily Lucas' most artistic piece, and there's much more experimentation with traditional camera work here than in any of his following works. There's less of a straightforward story here, with a surrealism dominating the narrative.
It's not extremely original, though. THX-1138 is derivative of every dystopian story from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World to George Orwell's 1984. It shares almost the exact same plot and an identical ending with the classic SF flick Logan's Run, and although THX-1138 came out before Logan's Run and benefits from better direction, better acting and more style, Logan's Run is much more enjoyable.
Still, Lucas shows a lot of promise in his pre-American Graffiti effort. The silver-faced android police force controls disruptive citizens with charged batons, and are direct ancestors of the T-1000 Terminator from Terminator 2. His take on religious psychotherapy is a hoot, with pre-programmed tapes offering the same, unvarying pat platitudes for every conceivable problem. And, despite the lack of almost any special effects or elaborate sets, it manages to convey a distinctive sense of a future society.
Rated PG, THX-1138 contains a surprising amount of nudity. It's probably Lucas' best directorial effort, but his storytelling skills are still in their devlopmental stage. Not a fun movie like his other films, its appeal is probably limited to those curious about Lucas' development as a filmmaker.