Logan’s Run

Logan's RunSynopsis: Live it up today, your time is up tomorrow. In the Year of the City 2274, humans forsake the ravaged outer environment by living in a vast, bubbled metropolis. There, computerized servo-mechanisms provide all needs and everyone can pursue endless hedonism. Endless, that is, until Lastday. That’s when anyone who’s 30 must submit to Carrousel, a soaring, spinning trip to eternity and supposed rebirth.

The screen’s first use of laser holography provides some of the sci-fi kicks in this post-apocalyptic saga honored with a Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects. Michael York plays Logan 5, a government Sandman authorized to terminate Runners fleeing Carrousel. Logan is almost 30. Catch him if you can.

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Logan’s Run 7.0

eyelights: the core concept. the lavish production.
eyesores: the non-sensical script. the dated production. the special effects. the music. the performances.

“Sometime in the 23rd century…the survivors of war, overpopulation and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside. Here, in an ecologically balanced world, mankind lives only for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms which provide everything. There’s just one catch: life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of the Carrousel.”

‘Logan’s Run’ is a 1976 science fiction motion picture based on the 1967 eponymous novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. It takes us to the year 2274, in a futuristic domed city where its population lives a life of pleasure – that is, until the age of 30, at which point they must die.

But they have one hope for survival: the Carrousel, a ceremony that regularly takes place and in which those whose life clocks have expired can attempt to be “renewed”. Some try to escape the domed city instead, and these Runners are hunted down by Sandmen, the enforcers of this civilization.

The plot follows Logan 5, a Sandman who is tasked by the central computer (which runs all of the city’s functions and manages all of humanity’s needs) to go underground and try to find the place that all the Runners seek, Sanctuary, and destroy it. To achieve this, he too must become a Runner.

Hence’s ‘Logan’s Run’.

Honestly, I think I like the concept more than the execution here. Although it was a picture that blew my mind when I was much younger, ‘Logan’s Run’ hasn’t aged particularly well: the production aches with a ’70s flavour, the special effects are crap, and the soundtrack is a mess of bleepity-bloops.

If anything, it feels and looks like a large-scale television production – a decent one, by seventies standards. In fact, there were a couple of sets that wouldn’t have been out of place on even the original ‘Star trek’ series. Except that this was made a decade later. And without styrofoam.

The picture isn’t helped by some fairly weak performances, including from its leads (Jenny Agutter and Peter Ustinov, excepted, of course). It’s also hampered by a partially non-sensical script that contrives a few set pieces into the story – for the sake of the film’s scope, not the plot.

Part of the problem is that it was loosely adapted from the book, changing the age limit from 21 to 30, the way that the population is culled, the role of Logan’s best friend, Francis, and the entire ending. I’m sure there are greater liberties taken, but I haven’t read the book.

These are plenty, leaving screenwriter David Zelag Goodman with far too much room to improvise with plot elements. And, based on the heavy-handed expository pieces that he wedged into the early parts of the film, this wasn’t exactly MGM’s sharpest pencil in the pencilcase.

The director wasn’t exactly stellar, either, with Michael Anderson loading up the picture with all sorts of continuity errors and providing the audience with rather anemic action sequences. Although he had a promising career in Great Britain, Anderson ended up mostly doing TV work after this.

Another issue is that MGM aimed for a PG-13 rating, which essentially meant a lot less hedonism and violence. So ‘Logan’s Run’ ended up being a carefully sanitized, but not quite antiseptic (as evidenced by the amount of PG-rated nakedness on hand), motion picture – much like its setting, in fact.

What the filmmakers crafted was basically a large-scale action-adventure picture with a threadbare plot tying together a string of set-pieces – most of which serve strictly as eye-candy and bring absolutely nothing to the story. The point was to stimulate the audience viscerally, not intellectually.

All of this worked, and ‘Logan’s Run’ was a monstrous hit at the box office, garnering a handful of special effects awards and spawning a television series. It also led one of the co-authors to write a few more books in the series. A remake has even been in the works for approximately two decades.

Somehow, for all its flaws, ‘Logan’s Run’ has endured. But I have a few reservations:

  • The opening sequence that situated the domed city and takes us inside looks veritably cheap; it couldn’t look more like an elaborate model train set if you tried. Did people actually think this looked real back in  the ’70s? Really? I just sat there incredulous.
  • The Carrousel sequences are both impressive and hokey at once. It made use of one of the most elaborate rigs ever conceived just to get people floating around each other in a circle, but it looks a bit lame now. And why are all the people being renewed wearing robes and hockey masks? Surely their identities wouldn’t be a mystery to anyone, given that everyone expires at a precise date?

It should be noted that, in the novel, there is no Carrousel. Instead, on their 21st birthday, citizens report to the Sleepshop, where they are euthanized with a pleasure-induced gas. For obvious reasons, the filmmakers decided that the age of 21 was too grim and that the Sleepshop wasn’t cinematic enough. It might also have reminded people of ‘Soylent Green‘. But it’s a better concept.

  • The guns that the Sandmen use don’t look practical at all: they have a range of maybe 30 feet, and the projectiles that they use land with a small burst of fire, like failed missiles. Surely the future would have better weaponry than could be found even in 1976? The pistols look cool, though, with four small jets of fire expelling from the sides of the barrel when they shoot.
  • Logan 5 and Francis 7 are creepily playful when they hunt the Runners, toying with them much like a cat does with a mouse. They relish the hunt and purposely miss to terrorize the Runners, in one case leading their intended victim to fall from a banister. It’s cruel and it feels like abuse of power to me. And it’s hard to root for such a morally flawed hero, even if his cruelty comes from naiveté.
  • The women are frequently dressed in sheer material that leaves little to the imagination. The filmmakers find all sorts of reasons to show our leading lady, Jenny Agutter, either naked or nearly so. Don’t get me wrong: I love the sight of Agutter, but if only they counterbalanced it by making the men equally naked, then it would be more acceptable.

In all fairness there are a few pecs and abs to be seen. But not nearly as much, and what little there is is mostly found in the sex club and in the frozen palace, where there is ample nudity of both genders (so ample in fact, that this made my pre-pubescent mouth water when I first saw bits of the picture on television back in the day). The rest of the time, the men aren’t sexualized.

  • The New You segment was so poorly contrived that it rang false. Oh, sure, Logan finds his lead immediately. Oh sure, the Doc is asked to murder Logan right there in the clinic (um… thereby drawing even more attention to themselves). And, oh, sure, he uses the most random means possible: his laser surgical machine, which just shoots its beams in random directions, allowing Logan to escape (in a scene that’s not unfamiliar… see ‘Die Another Day‘).
  • The frozen palace isn’t great but it’s an okay idea. Too bad that it was marred by the clunkiest-looking robot since the Daleks. Heck, Box may even be worse: similar clunky base, but with a dude in crappy make-up protruding from it. It is said that it was so precarious that the actor sometimes fell and couldn’t right himself back up. Anyway, it doesn’t look like much of a threat to Logan and Jessica.

(oh, as a side-note, I love that Logan and Jessica find themselves forced to remove all their clothes once there – only to put them back on mere moments later. Riiight.).

  • As mentioned beforehand, ‘Logan’s Run’ becomes just a series of stringed-together set-pieces. But my question is: who build these different levels behind the domed city? And for what purpose? Because, if the omnipotent and omniscient computer didn’t know about them, then who did? It’s the greatest mystery of the picture, aside for why the computer can run the whole city, but can be thwarted by human willpower (see below).
  • After Logan and Jessica leave the domed city, they wander about and find only one old man. The world is apparently barren, and yet they managed to home in on the one person left. How is that possible?
  • Francis tracks Logan and Jessica to the old man’s home and gets into a lame fight with Logan. Logan kills him with just a few hits of a pole. Strangely enough, before those 2-3 hits, Francis was in tip-top fighting condition. But I guess he has one fatal weakness: poles. They’re his Kryptonite.
  • When Logan and Jessica return, they go through a completely different place than when they left. Why make it so hard for themselves? Logic would dictate that, since they didn’t know how to get into the domed city, they should go through the only opening that they know of. But, no, they didn’t, forcing them to leave the old man behind – and to swim underwater for a length of time only an Olympic swimmer could handle.
  • Logan is captured and questioned by the central computer, in a sequence that was meant to awe but seems a bit sterile. Logan’s responses to the computer’s questions sent it in a tizzy and his willpower short-circuits it, thereby destroying the whole system, causing explosions and quakes in the great city, forcing everyone out. Wow… the system didn’t have any fail-safes? And a simple malfunction could destroy everything? How did this society survive for so long?
  • Naturally, the whole population of this domed city come out at the same exact aperture, and it so happens to take them exactly where the old man is. And they’re not freaked out by him, they aren’t stampeding. They just passively look at him. And all is well. Um… what?
  • The cast. Could they possible get a more pedestrian cast than this? Our lead, an impossibly thin Michael York, over-emotes and over-articulates the whole time, and most of the others are television movie calibre actors. Speaking of which, I was stunned to see Farah Fawcett stink up the screen the way she does here. No wonder her career crashed and burned so quickly. She was the ’70s Megan Fox: spitfire hot, and then… not.

And yet I still enjoy ‘Logan’s Run’ to some degree. Technically, I should rate it a 6.0 but it deserves more points just for the many concepts in it; it’s a fascinating world that stirs the imagination. But I suspect the novel is much more cohesive and better at articulating its ideas.

If ever there’s a remake, I hope that they will return to the source, not just redo this version. ‘Logan’s Run’ has far too much potential to squander it yet again. And in this day of dystopic teen movie franchises, there is a market for it that didn’t exist back in the ’70s.

The ‘Logan’s Run’ series could finally find its legs.

Date of viewing: February 6, 2015

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