70’s Memories: Logan’s Run (1976)

Written by David Zelag Goodman
Directed by Michael Anderson
Starring Michael York, Richard Jordan, Jenny Agutter
US Release June 23, 1976
RT 119
Home Video Warner Home Video
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

Logan's Run

Warning: review contains plot spoilers.

I distinctly remember the first time I did not see Logan’s Run.  My best friend had gone to Oklahoma City with my parents (I don’t remember why) and they saw it without me.  They knew I would be upset, so they didn’t tell me right away.  Not that I’d hold a grudge at such an early age, but I had revenge on my best friend by going to Oklahoma City a year later to see Star Wars without him.  Someone got a better deal and, after watching Logan’s Run for the first time in probably 30 years, I have no doubt it was me.

It’s not that I don’t love Logan’s Run; it was the last epic adventure before all the science fiction stories launched into space following the runaway success of Star Wars.  Granted, there were slim pickings in 1976, the year with the fewest sci-fi films of the entire decade.  The other “big” titles in ’76 were At the Earth’s Core, The Food of the Gods, Futureworld and The Man Who Fell to Earth, B-movie and cult fare at best (except maybe for Futureworld).

There’s another reason I liked it then and I like it now, and her name is Farrah Fawcett-Majors.  I was a huge Farrah fan!  The summer before Charlie’s Angels made her a superstar, I met Farrah in person at the Grand National Quail Hunt in Enid, Oklahoma.  (She was attending with her husband, Lee Majors, and playing tennis with Richard Anderson from The Six Million Dollar Man.)  This must have been about the same time Logan’s Run was released and my interest would have been at a fever pitch.

Enough name dropping.  How does the movie hold up?  First of all, the most significant thing I did not remember about Logan’s Run is that it doesn’t end when Logan (Michael York) and Jessica (Jenny Agutter) make it all the way through the domed city to discover a beautiful world outside.  That’s perhaps where it should have ended.  Instead there are still 40 minutes to go and those minutes are neither as effective nor as entertaining as the first 80.  I had completely excised them from my mind.

Perhaps that’s because the set-up for Logan and Jessica’s escape and their actual… well, run… through the city are simply more memorable:

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.

Though just one catch: Life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of carrousel.

Citizens of the domed city are born with crystals in the palm of their hands which change colors as they grow older.  Sometime in their 20’s, they turn red.  As they approach 30-years old, they start blinking.  At this time, they enter “carrousel.”  Wearing white robes and eerie masks, they rotate in a giant arena, and then float into the air one by one until they explode.  It’s hard to imagine anyone being “reborn” as part of this ghastly process.  Indeed, the truth about it is a discovery that helps convince Logan to run.

A “Runner” is someone who decides not to accept his or her fate in carrousel.  We soon learn there’s an underground network of both Runners and sympathizers trying to find their way to “Sanctuary.”  But it’s not so easy to get out of town.  “Sandmen” chase Runners and speed their fates by blasting them.  The entire “gotcha” of Logan’s Run is that Logan is a Sandman.  After spending most of his adulthood hunting runners, he now becomes one of them.

There’s a plot point here that gets a bit murky, another element of the movie that I had forgotten.  Logan’s “life clock” is actually advanced to 30 so that he can infiltrate the underground, find Sanctuary and destroy it.  Upon this viewing, I determined it would have been more intriguing if we were uncertain about his motives for running.  As it is, it’s not clear when he decided to run for real.  There’s potential for a twist or an emotional moment, but it never comes to fruition.

This is also murky because Logan’s best friend Francis (Richard Jordan), who is also a Sandman, isn’t privy to the plan.  If the “servo-mechanisms” for which they work plant Logan in the underground, don’t you think they would let the other Sandmen know so their plan might not be foiled?  I guess you don’t tell other policemen when one of their own is going undercover, but the same policemen also don’t chase each other with deadly laser blasters as a matter of routine.

I’m definitely thinking about it too hard, and I wish I remembered how the novel upon which the movie is based treated the situation.  However, it takes only a cursory glance at the three-paragraph Wikipedia plot summary to realize there’s a lot more going on in the book, written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson in 1967.  The book spawned two officially-published sequels, whereas the movie spawned only a 14-episode television series a year later.  (On the west coast, only 11 of them aired.)

Ah, what could have been… What about what we actually have?  I love the soundtrack (by the great Jerry Goldsmith).  Inside the dome, it’s not so much music as it is a series of melodic bleeps and bloops strung together.  At times, it sounds like a hint of what’s to come in 80’s heavily-synthesized film scores.  However, once outside, it changes to a lush orchestral score that reflects the sunny, green life outside.  In both cases, the music is wondrous, scary or exciting when it needs to be.

I like the sets and matte paintings… most of the time.  As the camera slowly approaches the domes, then sweeps through the interior, the pre-CG miniatures are great, including “bubble tubes” through which “cars” travel.  The only flaw is that water in the canal doesn’t look real.  While the wide shots are impressive, individual sets aren’t always.  They look like they were filmed in a multi-level hotel with interior lobby atriums.  In these scenes, hand railings are brown wood in a world of metal and lights.

The different “stops” Logan and Jessica make on the way are episodic in nature.  First, in a “personal risk” quadrant, they encounter a gang of “Cubs,” wild children and adolescents growing up outside the system.  Then they go to Doc (Michael Anderson Jr.) so Logan can surgically get a new face.  It’s here that my lovely Farrah appears for her two or three minutes of screen time as Doc’s assistant, Holly.  Then, they move slow-motion through some type of pink orgy palace.  Etc.  Each one is a big set piece where not much time is spent.

That’s another reason the first 2/3 of Logan’s Run is more entertaining than the last 1/3.  It seems the movie strives for a big Planet of the Apes reveal near the end.  But an overgrown Washington D.C. is not the same as a sand-buried Statue of Liberty.  Had writer David Zelag Goodman (Straw Dogs) or director Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days) gone with the novel’s plot twist, I might not be saying that.  As it is, the movie changes tone when the runners encounter “Old Man” (Peter Ustinov).

Their long discussions reflect how things are different inside the dome and out, but I’m not sure of the significance since Logan and Jessica never knew a different life.  It might be different if they had once had freedom and then lost it.  However, if I were to choose, I’d probably prefer the luxury of the dome over the primitive survival of the outside.  Ah, but there’s that pesky point about not being able to enjoy the luxury of the dome once you reach the age of 30.

In that light, maybe the fact that Logan, Jessica and Old Man return to the dome to liberate the people isn’t so much an afterthought.  However, the cataclysmic destruction caused during Logan’s debriefing/interrogation must be.  Here, the pyrotechnics expose any good will the special effects have accumulated by this point.  I don’t often like endings where everything blows up.  There’s no more luxury for the people, but at least they’re free in the wild.

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