George Lucas’s distinctive first feature, a reboot of his 1967 prize-winning University of Southern California student film, represents the filmmaker’s abiding passions—technical verve, visual design, and minimalist characters and plotting—in their purest form. Developed as the first movie of Francis Coppola’s independent American Zoetrope studio, THX 1138 was financed by Warner Brothers during a brief period when the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Easy Rider suggested a market for youth-oriented, science fiction mind trips. It’s a highly stylized parable that bracingly borrows avant-garde techniques to evoke a totalitarian, drug-fueled dystopia from which a young man (Robert Duvall) attempts to escape by evading robot police through visually striking set pieces that culminate in a turbo-charged car chase. Shot mostly on location in San Francisco (including a nuclear power plant and the BART subway then under construction) using available lighting, the film’s exaggerated compositions and fragmented editing suggest a kind of formalist documentary from the future. The brilliant sound design by co-writer Walter Murch (The Conversation) mixes electronic noise, radio chatter, and the techno-philosophical babble of the dialogue with Lalo Schifrin’s haunting score to create an audioscape as oppressive as Lucas’s precise visuals. After the success of Star Wars, the film was re-released in a slightly longer cut, and a director’s cut with digital enhancements appeared in 2004.
Bing Theater | $10 general admission; $7 LACMA members, seniors (62+), and students with valid ID; $5 LACMA Film Club and Academy members | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.