THX-1138: Director's Cut (1971)

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Released 10-Nov-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-George Lucas And Walter Murch
Isolated Effects Track-Theatre Of Noise
Seamless Branching-Master Sessions With Walter Murch
Featurette-A Legacy Of Filmmakers: The Early Years Of American Zoetrope
Featurette-Making Of-Artifact From The Future: The Making Of THX-1138
Short Film-Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB
Theatrical Trailer-1971 Original and 2004 Re-releases
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 84:53 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By George Lucas

Warner Home Video
Starring Robert Duvall
Donald Pleasence
Don Pedro Colley
Maggie McOmie
Ian Wolfe
Marshall Efron
Sid Haig
John Pearce
Irene Forrest
Gary Alan Marsh
John Seaton
Eugene I. Stillman
Raymond Walsh
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Lalo Schifrin

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Isolated Effects Track Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, sun fading, possible Lucasarts logo inspiration

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    It would have been ironic if the DVD release of THX-1138 had not been THX certified.

    This is the movie that inspired the leading name in audio and video quality standards. While the THX label originates from this 1971 classic science fiction film, it was not until 1983, for the cinema release of Return of the Jedi, that this subdivision of Lucasfilm would be visible to the public eye, forever making an impact on the quality of movies to come, ensuring that a movie released under the tagline "Digitally Mastered - For superior sound and picture quality" would inform the viewer that there is no better version of that film out there.

    Wait a minute. I am not supposed to be talking about the THX company and all it has done for video and audio standards. This review is about the movie THX-1138. It was originally developed in the late 1960s for a film school project called THX-1138:4EB. A few years later, with a production company and a budget behind him, writer/director George Lucas made his break into Hollywood with the full length remake. Unappreciated at the time, years later it developed a cult following, most likely due to Lucas' other success, namely a little phenomenon called Star Wars.

    The setting is a futuristic world where society is controlled by big brother. All citizens are bald, though for what reason I do not know. It possibly looks more futuristic the less hair there is on one's pate. All are being monitored by higher up organisations, instructing people to take the medications prescribed and to be sedate. With a society under strict drug control there is no desire, therefore there is no sexual activity. It is a crime to have relations with a mate. Either engaging in relations, or not taking the prescribed drugs when instructed to, is grounds for immediate apprehension and punishment.

    THX-1138 works in a robot assembly factory. His role has become difficult to perform due to a lack of concentration. He slowly gets sick, leading him to wonder what is wrong. He is having more feelings for his mate LUH-3417. LUH has been replacing THX's medication, allowing him to escape from his normal sedated state to one she already experiences. Together they do have forbidden love, which is frowned upon when discovered. THX is taken into custody and sent to a prison of endless white, a seemingly unescapable landscape. Together with inmate SEN-5241, the pair attempt to escape. After running into SRT, a hologram, the trio succeed and are on the run from authorities.

    This is not your typical prison escape movie. It changes tone throughout, with the first half very similar in story to Equilibrium, even down to people not taking their medication to experience feeling and emotion, and the authorities pursuing those who evade. These movies show a bleak future where life is controlled by big brother.

    Robert Duvall is the title character, giving an excellent, if somewhat restricted performance. Donald Pleasance is the strange, if somewhat insane SEN. His performance is probably the most unique in the film. Maggie McOmie superbly plays THX's mate LUH-3417. This is her only feature film, not even making an appearance on television. The next time she would appear in front of the camera would be some thirty years later, for the making-of documentary.

    With several scenes of nudity and sexuality, it is a wonder that the movie did not get a higher rating than PG. In the U.S. an R rating is given, which can equate to either an M, MA or R rating here.

    This new Director's Cut is to be expected from George Lucas. The movie was flawed, lacking the scope that Lucas supposedly envisioned. As with the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucas decided to go back and fix up scenes that he felt were not up to scratch, enhancing them with new digital effects. While fans have frowned upon the new special editions of the Star Wars movies, it is a different story for THX-1138. It benefits from every change made, from wider shots showing more people and vehicles, through to totally new shots and colour changes of rooms and backgrounds. While writing this review, I am rewatching several scenes on my VHS copy. Surprisingly, there are more scene changes than what I had previously assumed. In the new cut, several shots are undoubtedly CGI, while others were so well done that they looked to be from the original. However, the tone of the movie has not changed. I like to compare this to Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition, which had new CGI shots that matched the look the 1970's effects work, improving the quality of scenes that faltered.

    Undoubtedly purists will be readying their placards to go and protest outside George Lucas' window. This group, who have not had a chance to recover from protests about the Star Wars Special Edition DVD release not including the original theatrical version, will be up in arms again about THX-1138 being cleaned up and digitally enhanced with all those new shots and scenes inserted/replaced and boasting crisp clear sound. With Superman: Special Edition, the soundtrack was rebuilt with some sound replaced due to damaged or missing elements. The new soundtrack was updated to a superb 5.1 mix, yet there were many arguments about the exclusion of the original stereo mix by purists who wished to reminisce. If people want to live in the past, VHS still exists. DVD is the future.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    I did find any evidence of a widescreen VHS release in circulation, so unless you saw this movie back in 1971 at the theatre, this is the first time you can watch this classic movie in the way it was supposed to be seen. It was never meant to be viewed in fullscreen, as so much vital image information is lost. The theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is preserved for this DVD release, which is also 16x9 enhanced.

    The THX certification at the introduction to the movie assured me that I was seeing the movie in the best possible quality. I was not led astray. This is the cleanest print I have ever seen for a movie of this age, matching even the new Star Wars DVD release. I was straining my eyes looking for a hint of film grain, but to no avail. For the most part, scenes were almost totally white, which I thought would make it easier to spot imperfections. Alas, the restoration effect was a complete success. This is reference quality, deserving five stars across the board. If I did not know anything about this movie, I would not have guessed it was even filmed in the early 1970s. It is just that good.

    Colours are accurate and easy on the eyes, despite somewhat lacking in variation. White is the primary colour here. In several scenes the colours have been enhanced. At 7:40 in the opening factory scenes where THX is building a new robot, a yellow tinge has been given to all shots behind the yellow safety glass. Small enhancements such as these lend a more futuristic feel.

    The image is incredibly sharp, with great detail apparent across the board. There is no edge enhancement either. Being probably the whitest movie ever, no halo can be seen surround any of the characters, who also wear white all the time.

    MPEG compression artefacts are non-existent, even though the movie does not utilise all of the available disc space.

    The disc is dual layered. Perhaps I am getting old, but I am noticing layer changes less and less often.

    Subtitles are offered in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Arabic, Bulgarian, Romanian, Dutch, English for the Hearing Impaired and Italian for the Hearing Impaired.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are several soundtracks available for the main feature, the primary option being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 384kbps. The other soundtracks available are French and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, again encoded at 384kbps. There is an isolated 5.1 music and effects soundtrack at 384kbps, and an audio commentary encoded at 192kbps. With the amount of space free on the disc, it is a wonder why higher bitrates were not used for all 5.1 mixes.

    The entire soundtrack has been updated from the original sources, with the 5.1 channels allowing for more freedom than there has ever been before. There are no dropouts, hisses or any unwanted glitches present.

    Dialogue is generally clear and in sync with lip movements. There are several instances where the dialogue is soft and mumbled, making it hard to understand, although this may well be intentional. Much of the movie lacks dialogue, relying more on sound effects and visual action than on conversation.

    The score is composed by Lalo Schifrin. While most of his composing credits were for generally unpopular films and shows, he has recently received recognition for movies such as Mission: Impossible, Rush Hour and Shrek 2. For THX-1138, the very haunting music fits perfectly with the setting of the movie.

    The surround stage is not used as extensively as I thought it would have been. The majority of sound effects are heard from the front speakers, including several explosions and sirens. It is not until the end of the movie that the surrounds kick in, during the car chase scene as vehicles weave in and out of traffic.

    The subwoofer is subtly used for a few effects, primarily towards the end of the chase sequence. Once again not overly busy, it provides the deep bass required for a few choice scenes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio & Animation

     Nice white menus, with a sample of the soundtrack playing in the background. The menu loop lasts less than 10 seconds, compared to many menus that try to push the one minute mark. Easy to navigate.


Audio Commentary - George Lucas And Walter Murch

    If you have listened to the commentaries for the Star Wars movies, you will recognise Lucas trying to explain what each scene means to him. If you have trouble understanding the movie, Lucas can help you. Murch tries to keep up. Somewhat informative, if a little dull. It needed more people talking of their experiences.

Isolated Effects Track - Theatre Of Noise

    Pretty straightforward. Devoid of almost all dialogue except background voice announcements. For almost half of the movie there is no difference between this soundtrack and the primary one, due to the overall lack of dialogue.

Seamless Branching - Master Sessions With Walter Murch

    This feature branches off from the main movie several times throughout, with Murch describing how he created the sound effects for several key scenes. If the setting moved from him sitting in his chair to a recreation of the effects, it would have been more interesting. Instead, he explains with hand movements the objects he used to create the sounds. Perfect for sign linguists.

    Apart from the seamless branching, these features can be viewed via a "Play All" function or individually.


Featurette - A Legacy Of Filmmakers: The Early Years Of American Zoetrope 63:48

    An in-depth look at the creation of the famous movie company, with interviews from many different filmmakers who were involved in the company's creation and operation, with some others just chipping in their two cent's worth. An interesting feature that barely touches base with THX-1138 until the end; there has to be a backstory to every movie's creation. Finding out that THX-1138 was not a success is nothing new, but the extent of the disaster was unknown until now. Warner Bros. took control of the property but could not do anything with it, so they released it with minimal publicity, leaving the film to disappear. American Zoetrope would be close to folding over, with everyone almost out of work. Looking at the movie now, it is understandable how it would not have been appreciated at the time. 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 192kbps.

Featurette-Making Of - Artifact From The Future: The Making Of THX-1138 31:10

    The only gripe I have with this is the minimal coverage of the additional Director's Cut special effects. Apart from that, this is a very involved feature on the making of the movie, and much more interesting than the majority of making-ofs that are out there. It involves the usual Lucas-praising that is common in all his DVD's featurettes. 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 192kbps.

Short Film - Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB 15:13

    A college film created in the late 1960s, this is the 15-minute film that inspired the big screen production a few years later. It is the basic story of THX trying to escape, being monitored and pursued by the authorities. Lucas' unique storytelling abilities were visible even before getting a big budget. This looks to be an unrestored print from the time of filming, with film grain evident throughout and dialogue that is hard to interpret. No matter, because it is amazing that this original movie was even included on the DVD at all, let alone being presented in its original condition, i.e. not a newly updated special edition with new CGI effects. 1.33:1, 4x3 fullscreen, 2.0 192kbps.

Featurette - Bald 8:06

    A very interesting making-of featurette, beginning with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola talking about the inspiration for the movie and what the society would be like. Then cut to the head shaving. Several main cast members show how their hair was before, during and after the haircuts. I really felt bad for Maggie McOmie, as she had beautiful long hair that is slowly trimmed and handed to her to see. She was actually in tears -- this is one of the most moving scenes I have seen. Sorry Sigourney Weaver, your Alien³ effort did not cut it. 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 192kbps.

Theatrical Trailers

  • 1971 Trailer 2:59

        A trailer showing so much footage of the movie that a basic plotline could be determined on first viewing. The voiceover guy does get very annoying as well, repeating words over and over. However, these problems were typical of trailers from this era. The quality is pretty bad; it does not look digitally restored in any way. At least it is 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced. 2.35:1, 4x3 widescreen, 2.0 192kbps.

  • 2004 Trailers

        Did somebody forget to hit the 16x9 enhancement button when creating this DVD? The first 2004 trailer looks fine, but after that, 4x3 widescreen! In other words, each of the four following trailers are not quite up to the same standards of the first. While the picture quality is still quite good, it is hard to get past this shortcoming. The trailer presentation might be the only flaw on the disc, but it is still worth mentioning.

    R4 vs R1

    NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

        Apart from the PAL/NTSC differences, our disc appears to be the same as the Region 1, with the only exceptions being language options. While we have Italian as an alternative soundtrack, the Region 1 replaces that with Spanish. The North Americans also have a 1 Disc edition available for a cheaper price for those not worried about extras.


        Old-school Lucas rocks! First on DVD there was American Graffiti. Then the Star Wars trilogy. Then the film that started it all, THX-1138. The earlier releases demonstrate his talent for creative and original stories, with the style and camera work to match. THX-1138 is no exception.

    Ratings (out of 5)


    © Aiden O'Brien (Here are the results from my biopsy.)
    Friday, January 14, 2005
    Review Equipment
    DVDSONY DVP-NS575P, using Component output
    DisplayPanasonic TX-76PW60. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
    Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
    AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR500E
    SpeakersJensen SPX-9 Front, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 Rear, Jensen SPX-17 Sub

    Other Reviews NONE
    Comments (Add)
    r1 is superior, only just - REPLY POSTED
    A mixed result, basically good -
    Re: r1 is superior, only just - capone (they're some fine antibiotics you got there..)
    Old vs new - Simon O'Connor (I wouldn't suggest reading my bio)
    Old version should be available - Pearce
    Widescreen original cut is available -