Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB

Monitored and pursued, a man races to escape through a futuristic labyrinth. George Lucas's amazing student short, ahead of the game on so many SF tropes.

Genre: Science Fiction

Length: 15.13

Free To View

5 out of 5 stars

Producer/s : George Lucas,

Director/s : George Lucas, 

Writer/s : George Lucas, 

Actor/s : Dan Nachtsheim, 


Our friends electric

A California film student made this in 1967, and it won him first prize in America’s student film awards that year. A certain Francis Ford Coppola saw it, and backed a feature version, to be called THX 1138. It flopped (and would have bankrupted Coppola but for The Godfather), but it was well-received. It got the young director American Graffiti, the success of which allowed him to start his pet project, a series he called Star Wars

It was George Lucas. Incidentally, at the student film awards, Lucas met a young Steven Spielberg. Later, they would collaborate on another behemoth franchise, Indiana Jones.

The film makes the kind of start it could only get away with when audiences were trapped in dark cinemas. A whole minute of blank black screen, noise of radio static, and slow deep notes on a cello. (Did Speilberg later say to John Williams “OK John, when we have the shark’s point of view, give me something like this”?)

THX 1138 is an Erosbod, manufactured as a mate. It’s unclear if his prospective partner is human, or another android. Or is this whole world is entirely populated by androids? Or have humans been reduced to android status? THX has escaped, and he runs through empty white corridors, tracked by cctv as if he’s a new asteroid. It’s impressionistic. Disjointed voices monitor his progress like an astronaut’s indecipherable radio messages from space.

What is utterly remarkable about this film is how it foreshadows so many science fiction movie tropes, not to mention the found footage device.

The Erosbod is a male version of Pris, the “basic pleasure model” from Blade Runner.

Perfectbod, sent to despatch him, is Roy Batty, Robocop, The Terminator.

Human/android ambiguity: Spielberg’s AI, Ex Machina, and more.

Future technology now looks dated, inevitably, but the architectural DNA is that of Star Trek, Moon, and of course Star Wars.

Is the electronic labyrinth real, or virtual, like The Matrix, Tron or (Spielberg again) Ready Player One?

Some of the imagery is like 2001’s Stargate sequence. And the sense of alienation, dread, and powerlessness is as haunting as 2001’s HAL invokes.

As milestones in film history go, this short is a big, black monolith. It could even be seen as the start of the New Testament.