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 omnipresent, 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, developed from his student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which he made in 1967 while attending the University of Southern California. 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.
- George Lucas claims that the scene where technicians mess with THX’s nervous system, sending him into comical spasms, was drawn from his antipathy towards the doctors who treated him after his near-fatal car crash as a youth.
- The underground chase near the end was shot in a not-yet-completed segment of the BART subway system in San Francisco.
- The music playing during the end credits is the first movement from Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244.
- Shortly after THX steals a police car, and shortly before his fellow escapee crashes the one he tries to steal, you can hear someone on the radio say, “I think I ran over a wookie back there on the expressway.”
- A scene in which THX falls into a garbage compactor and fends off a mutated rodent was cut because the monster did not look realistic. This situation was later reused in Star Wars (1977).
- The opening credits scroll down instead of up.
- George Lucas has worked the title of this film, or parts of it, in some of his other films. In American Graffiti (1973), the license plate of one car is “THX 138”. In Star Wars (1977), a reference is made to “prison cell 1138”. The cinema sound certification his company developed is called “THX”.
- This film was made as a result of George Lucas’ student film short project at USC, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB (1967). Having won significant praise and attention for what was, at the time, an unconventional short, Lucas was given the opportunity to direct a feature-length version starring Robert Duvall, produced by his mentor Francis Ford Coppola under his newly formed production company American Zoetrope. Zoetrope was a financial failure, as was “THX-1138”, but the attention was enough to win Lucas the opportunity to make American Graffiti (1973), the success of which paved the way for the opportunity to make Star Wars (1977).
- Director George Lucas insisted on casting the stage actor James Wheaton over Orson Welles to play the voice of “OMM” in the film.
- In the computer room near the end of the film, the lights on one computer can be seen flashing the word “TILT”.
- This was the first film for Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope.
- Officials at Warner Bros. did not like the finished film. They cut the film and reduced the marketing budget.
- George Lucas apparently named the film after his San Francisco telephone number, 849 1138 – the letters THX correspond to letters found on the buttons 8, 4 and 9.
- To provide the large number of extras required, George Lucas contacted the Synanon drug rehabilitation facility. He found many recovering drug users who were required to be shaved bald for the drug program anyway.
- To provide the voices of the unseen overseers and announcers, George Lucas contacted San Francisco-based theater group The Committee. He gave them brief character outlines, and allowed the actors to improvise all the “overheard” dialogue in the movie.
- Co-writer Walter Murch has said in interviews that George Lucas never explained the origins of the character names THX and LUH to him, but he believes that they are deliberate homonyms for sex and love – the two factors that set them apart from society.
- Publicity photos and some foreign posters and video covers feature a shot from a scene not included in the final film: The police robots approaching the dead body of the OHM priest (who SEN killed earlier) and checking for a pulse.
- For the final sequence in which THX is climbing up to the surface, it is a simple perspective trick. It is not a ladder, but re-bar embedded in concrete. The actors are actually crawling along a horizontal surface. By tilting the camera to appropriate angles, it appears that the characters are climbing upward.
- The cat-and-mouse chase scene between THX and the robot cops was apparently shot in a telephone exchange; the endless rows of electronic equipment are actually telephone switches.
- Average Shot Length (ASL) = 6 seconds
- George Lucas’s original plan was to shoot the film in Japan, but Francis Ford Coppola did not give Lucas enough money in the film’s budget to take the entire production to Japan. The film was shot in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
- Some of SEN’s dialogue is taken from speeches by Richard Nixon.
- David Ogden Stiers’s film debut.
- The image of OMM in the confessional booths is a cropped image of Hans Memling’s painting, ‘Christ Giving His Blessing’, dated 1481.
- The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) features a car chase where the license plate is given as THX 375. The cinematographer on this film was Douglas Slocombe who would go on to work with Steven Spielberg, a long time friend of George Lucas.