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  THX 1138 The Running Man
Year: 1971
Director: George Lucas
Stars: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe, Marshall Efron, Sid Haig, John Pearce, Irene Forrest, Gary Alan Marsh, John Seaton
Genre: Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 4 votes)
Review: It is the far future and what's left of civilsation is living in a huge, sterile, underground city. One of its denizens is THX 1138 (Robert Duvall), a worker in a factory building the robot policemen who patrol the city, but all is not going well for him. The population now have their emotions suppressed by an unrelenting diet of pharmaceuticals given out by talking medicine cabinets in their homes, yet THX is finding they are no help, and is growing attracted to his roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) - the feeling is mutual. As sex is outlawed in this compliantly totalitarian society without proper permission, THX and LUH are skating on thin ice when they decide to consummate their relationship...

Based on an award-winning short film director George Lucas made while a student, this film was scripted by him and Walter Murch, who also designed the distinctive sound effects (the voices heard over the action sound like astronauts in conversation with Mission Control). The first thing we see is a trailer for an old Buck Rogers serial, but this is ironic - and a hint of what was to come in Lucas' career - as the future depicted here could not be further from Buck's pulpy adventures, where excitement amongst the population is all but extinguished, channelled through the familiar 20th century avenues of medication, religion, consumerism and television. The holographic, banal television THX watches consists of sex, violence, a meaningless but apparently highbrow discussion and idiotic comedy.

You'll see that as the film progresses, and like all science fiction, it is concerned with contemporary issues, presumably the way that Lucas was worried the future was heading if we carried on the way we did. For counselling when the drugs don't work, THX will visit a booth where he confesses his thoughts, only to be met with anodyne responses that offer no assistance, so it's little wonder he goes ahead with his love affair not realising LUH has been illegally lowering his dosage. A rather basic science fiction conceit, that true love is outlawed, is enhanced by low key acting and the smothering atmosphere of complete control, so when LUH disappears, you can expect the worst for the couple.

Bringing a spark of character to the film is Donald Pleasence as SEN 5241, a talkative drone who wants a better life than the one he's been given. Having been part of the monitoring team that has been spying on THX and LUH, he tries to move in with THX (Duvall's driven manner must be attractive to the aspirational SEN), seeing him as someone who could help. It's not long before THX is arrested and subjected to tests and torture to force him back into conforming. It's now that he, lying in a strikingly barren all-white landscape, meets LUH for the last time and she tells him she's pregnant with his child. Why the authorities would let them meet once again is a mystery, and seems more to do with plot than anything else, but now THX wants something other than love - he wants to escape.

SEN pops up again in a prison without walls where the captives jabber or mill around aimlessly. Although regularly judged a cold, passionless film, his frustration is deeply felt, and when he starts walking away, SEN following, it's the closest thing so far in the film to a deliberate act of defiance since the lovemaking, which the film builds on. The two escapees eventually meet a man claiming to be a hologram (Don Pedro Colley), and they find a way out, entering into and revealing more of the world they live in. An unexpectedly poignant moment sees the separated SEN finding a television studio where the image of their God is featured prominently, and the lost soul uselessly praying to it as the police close in. The futility of breaking free is always at the edges of the story - what will THX do when he gets out? He has nowhere to go. A powerfully filmed car chase enlivens the last act, but the impression of fruitless lives is what remains with you, as well as the film's striking appearance.

In 2004, Lucas once more demonstrated his view that nothing is ever finished by returning to THX 1138 and adding new effects to its remastered state. Some of these work very well, such as the opening out of the city to a sprawling metropolis and the enhanced car chase, but others were less fortunate, like the obviously fake ape people which attack THX during his flight. The visually unforgettable original version still holds up without the added decoration. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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