Monday, July 7, 2014

Commentary On The 'THX - 1138' 1971 Movie For Your Old School Post Apocalyptic Campaigns

There are films that stay with you and crawl into your subconscious rooting around to find a place at the back brain of your subconscious and they sort of bother you for years. George Lucas's 'THX -1138' was made way back in 1971 and is disturbing in its own right. The film is a depiction of a post apocalytic society and is dystopian future in the extreme. Before there was Indiana Jones and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. This was the film that marked the debut of George Lucas.

Way before Star Wars, THX- 1138 burst onto the scene and made a post apocaltytic impression on those of us who saw it.
Wiki describes the film thus: 
THX 1138 is a 1971 science fiction film directed by George Lucas in his feature directorial debut. The film was written by Lucas and Walter Murch. It stars Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence and depicts a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through android police officers and mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotion, including sexual desire.

Friends have described it as the Anti 'Logan's Run' actually. Its a film that echoes many of the themes of science fiction from the 1970's. Stark, shocking, and dangerous in its vision of a possible future. 

What possible use is this film when doing OSR style post apocalyptic adventures and the answers might surprise you. The film presents a very interesting way of getting PC's together quickly, concisely, and in a way using a Seventies sci fi cult classic to motivate your adventures very easily.
Deeper Down The Rabbit Hole 

THX -1138 could be thought of as a quick motivator for jump starting a PA game. Given it's plot and its stark visuals. This film really stays with the audience. Wiki has a pretty solid point by point reduction of the basic plot:

'In a city of the future, use of mind-altering drugs is mandatory and sexual intercourse is prohibited. Drugs are critical both in maintaining compliance among the city's residents and also for ensuring their ability to conduct dangerous and demanding tasks for long periods of time. Everyone is clothed in the same white work clothes all the time, except the chrome-faced police androids who wear black, and robe-wearing monks. At their jobs in central video CCTV control centers, SEN 5241 (a man) and LUH 3417 (a woman) keep surveillance on the city. On LUH's face there can be seen clear signs of some emotional distress.
LUH has a male roommate, THX 1138. The two share "nothing but space". He works in a factory producing androids that function as police officers. The work is hazardous as it requires handling explosive and radioactive material. He leaves the job after his shift has ended, while the loudspeakers urge the workers to "increase safety", and congratulate them on their record of "only losing 195 workers" in the last period, to the competing factory's 242.
Returning from work he stops at a telephone booth–like personal Unichapel, one in a row of many, and mumbles prayers about "party" and "masses" while sitting there under the gaze of a wall portrait of a man's face, a being known as "OMM0910". A soothing voice greets THX and offers to share his problems. OMM ends every confession with a parting salutation: "You are a true believer, blessings of the State, blessings of the masses. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy."
Back at home, it's an empty space almost without any fixtures except the in-wall drug cabinet with inbuilt lens, which greets him with "what's wrong?" when he opens the cabinet's door, and offers him medicine to "improve calmness". He takes his drugs, watches a holo-broadcast of a naked dancing African woman in an empty room while engaging with a masturbatory device, then switches to scenes of brutal beating of a person by police officers, afterwards.
LUH alters her drugs intake, ignoring warnings of dangerous "drugs interaction" coming from the lens in the cabinet. She secretly substitutes her pills for THX's medications. THX finds himself experiencing emotions and personal affection for the first time. They engage in love-making. Knowing that their physical relationship is illegal, THX must decide whether to return to using the prescribed drugs, or escape with LUH. He knows that he will not be able to function without his drugs while at his demanding job, but he does not want to lose what he has created with LUH. She suggests an escape out into a "superstructure," but he is indecisive.
THX is confronted by SEN, who uses his position as LUH's superior to change her shift, admitting he wants THX as his new roommate. THX files a complaint against SEN for the illegal shift change. Without drugs in his system, THX falters during critical and hazardous phases of his job, while being monitored by his increasingly concerned supervisor. A control center is alerted to the situation and executes "overriding mindlock" on THX to immobilize him for further arrest for drugs evasion. This occurs at a critical juncture of android construction, which almost leads to a minor nuclear disaster. The control center disavows responsibility for the incident.
THX and LUH are arrested. THX is imprisoned in an area that resembles a white limbo world. He enjoys a brief reunion with LUH—one disrupted by the enforcer robots, not before she reveals to him she is expecting a child. At THX's trial the prosecution demands he be destroyed but the defense argues there still must be some "use" in him. Defense wins. THX is consigned to another region of limbo, this one populated by a collection of other prisoners, including SEN. Knowing that THX filed the complaint against him, SEN nevertheless rallies him to join his undescribed cause.
Most of the prisoners seem uninterested in escape, but eventually THX and SEN decide to find an exit. They encounter SRT 5752, who starred in the holo-broadcasts. SRT says he has tired of "being a hologram" and wants "to be a real person" now. Exiting their unguarded prison, THX and SRT are separated from SEN. Controllers in the city learn of the escape. A budget of 14,000 credits is allotted for their recapture. Chased by the robots, THX and SRT are trapped in a control center, from which THX learns that LUH has been "consumed", possibly for organ reclamation (since bodies discovered earlier had, as SRT put it, their "insides...gone") and her name reassigned to fetus 66691 in a growth chamber. This suggests that she has been declared "incurable", and "used".
Alone and hunted, SEN makes a tentative exploration of the limits of the city's underground network. Cowed by what he sees, he finds his way to an area reserved for the monks of OMM. Alone, SEN prays directly to OMM - which is a wall–sized portrait in an abandoned TV studio - before being confronted by a lone monk who notices that SEN has no identification badge. SEN attacks him before the monk can report him. Returning to the "central web", SEN wanders into a child-rearing area, strikes up a conversation with children and then sits aimlessly there until police androids apprehend him without a fight.
THX and SRT escape and steal two cars, but SRT crashes his into a concrete pillar. Pursued by two police androids on motorcycles, THX in his car flees to the limits of the city. Abandoning his car, THX eventually locates a ventilation shaft leading to the surface. The police pursue him up an escape ladder, but are ordered by central command to cease pursuit, even though close to capturing him, as the expense of his capture exceeds their pre-determined budget by 6%. It is then revealed that the city is entirely underground, as he stands before a giant red setting Sun in the evening sky, seeing this view for the very first time in his life.'

Using THX -1138 As Fodder For 
Your Old School Post Apocalyptic  Campaign 

THX -1138 presents several areas that may allow PC's to suddenly meet within the confines of the white limbo asylum section of the massive underground city of the film. I've used the environs of the film at various times as fodder for decks of the Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha first edition. I've used the  whole film as an adventure location in Gamma World and Mutant Future. Various security and police bots are humanoid and have chromed heads in my post apocalyptic campaigns. I've used the various city dwellers and characters as part of cryptic alliances and as backdrops for interaction in PA games over the years.

Way back in college I first encountered this film as a book by Ben Bova.  I picked the novel in  up at a used book sale and then while working in the video store in Boston sought out the film.

After reading the book, one thing that struck me was the possibility of the aftermath of the events of the book. Its possible that the entire underground world of the novel is part of a grand series of  post apocalyptic mega dungeons waiting to be explored by PC's with various android policemen just waiting to beat the hell out of PC's and all kinds of high 1970's style weirdness just waiting for the PC's.
For a game like Mutant Epoch, THX -1138 offers a rather unique opportunity. The film's elements are perfect fodder for a dark,gritty, middle level challenge to adventurers within the wasteland and many of the types of PC races in the game as well as the various elements within are right in the main rule book of the game.
 It seems to me after recently reviewing the film again for this blog entry. The novel is actually one of the best sources for designing adventures based around the film. Wiki actually has the reasons broken down nicely : 
 The novel  follows the plot of the movie closely, with four notable additions:
  • There is an additional character, Control, who is the accountant-like ultimate administrator of the City. Several passages depict the events from his point of view.
  • After having sex with LUH 3417, THX 1138 consults a psychologists and admits everything. This psychologists transfers the confession to Control, leading to the overriding mindlock and arrest in the factory.
  • LUH 3417's trial and death are depicted first-hand from her point of view, and from that of Control.
  • Instead of climbing outside to witness a sunset, THX 1138 climbs up and spends the night in the superstructure, and exits in the morning to find other humans living outside.
    The addition of 'Control' enabled a few of my PC's in various incarnations of Gamma World 1st edition to find 'Control's' computer journals and the addition of other cities which the novel talks about. This offers the PC's brand new sources of artifacts, weird encounter opportunities, and more chances to dive into the world of 'THX -1138'. 
    In the end THX - 1138 is not the perfect source material for a post apocalyptic but it makes a great mid level filler for PC's who need a whole other challenge from their treks into the wastelands.
    And remember the state-sanctioned deity OMM 0910  ends every confession with a parting salutation: "You are a true believer, blessings of the State, blessings of the masses. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy."

    More Information on THX 1138
    Right Over

    This blog post is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant as a challenge to the trade marks, copyrights or properties of the film or any of the rpgs named within. This post is merely pointing to a potential resource and is used for educational and entertainment purposes only.  


  1. I actually have this DVD from Netflix waiting to be watched, along with Zardoz.

  2. I hope you enjoy it Heath, its something of a cult classic these days. I've got more post apocalyptic goodness coming up. Thanks for the comment and remember 'The Gun Is Good'!
    Zardoz is an old favorite of mine as well.


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