[THX 1138] is a classic instance of what is right and wrong with many US film-school graduates. Lucas has good eyes, if no original vision, and he knows a lot about film technique; but what he does with it all is thin. He has acquired a lot of skills but not much self.
Would you believe one more story about the dehumanized future, where people have numbers instead of names, where Big Electronic Brother watches all, where everyone wears the same white uniform and all heads are shaved, where the unseen State disposes as it will, and where the great sin is—hold on, now—love? The script by Lucas and Walter Murch almost has an arrogance toward the need to have a fresh idea.
Lucas has clearly made his bet on his cinematic display, and to his credit, he sustains interest on that score for about fifteen minutes. Disregard the collegiate jape of beginning with a Buck Rogers clip and then having the credits roll downward—as if this departure from rolling them upward made a particle of difference—and then we get a pretty good initial display of splintery quick editing, with blue filters, white-on-white figures, computer printouts, wall-size TV, capsule meals, robot policemen, and so on. All this is somewhat entertaining for a while, despite the derivations from 2001, despite the mimicking of Alphaville by using modern structures (garages, vehicular tunnels) as buildings of the future.
But Lucas would have to be one of the great geniuses of film history to hold us this way for 90 minutes, to keep us from discovering that he really doesn't have a clue as to why he made this picture, other than that he wanted to crack the whip at this cinema circus, and that he's patched together this old story as an arena. (pp. 24, 31-2)
"Shut your mind and open your eyes," films of this type suggest. "Nuts," is what I suggest in return. A great many good films ask us to keep our minds and eyes open; so why should we put up with this latter-day fiddle? (p. 32)
Stanley Kauffmann, "Films: 'THX 1138'" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1971 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 164, No. 15, April 10, 1971, pp. 24, 31-2.