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Logan's Run Review

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by Chris McEneany Nov 16, 2009

    Logan's Run Review

    Almost exactly like that iconic Imperial Star Destroyer yawning over our heads at the start of George Lucas' SF monolith, Star Wars itself bore down upon Michael Anderson's well-intentioned sci-fi/action adaptation of William F. Nolan's classic novel about futuristic population control, Logan's Run, and almost utterly eclipsed it in everything from ideas, effects, execution and sheer “wow!” factor. At least, this is how a great many reviewers, critics and writers like to think. Yet, as epochal a year as 1977 turned out to be for the genre, Logan's Run, from only twelve months before, still went on to become a cult revered item of SF charm for its visual beauty - as witnessed in its cast, its sets and its eloquent location work - and its homogenized inventiveness - taking youth, health and hedonism to extreme new dimensions that seem more authentic now than ever before - and also its witty script - Capitol Hill went not to the dogs after the collapse of a decadent civilisation, but to the cats. I caught this on its original cinematic run, and saw it nearly every night for the two weeks that it played at our now long-gone local two-screener, The Phoenix (I used to get in for nothing - which helped considerably), and loved it more with each viewing.

    And whilst I am forced to concede that the film has, aptly enough, aged very noticeably and that it now feels surprisingly unsatisfying, it still retains plenty of enjoyable quirks - it is an extremely sexy film - and possesses a tremendous SF “mood” that was the hallmark of the genre in the 60's and 70's, but has since all but completely faded away from the typical offerings that we get today. Only the likes of the outstanding Moon, from Duncan Jones, has been able to capture that retro-futuristic ambiance that once signified both the visual and the cerebral components that had helped make the genre so richly appreciated. With this in mind, Logan's Run may even represent the last idealistic launch of imaginative innocence on the big screen before the hard edge of 70's nihilism draped it in shadows and cynicism.

    “Enter the Carrousel. This is the time of Renewal. Be strong and you will be Renewed.”

    It is the 23rd Century and Mankind now dwells in hedonistic luxury within massive geodesic domed complexes connected by overhead travel-ways, the population existing in a quasi-paradise in the plastic Eden that has been created around them, their every whim taken care of by automated servo systems that supply energy, food, warmth and, above all, everything they could possibly desire in the pursuit of physical happiness. It is a world of carefree harmony, illness and old age have been eradicated and the prevailing social order is only really one step removed from the blithely passive Eloi that the time traveller encounters in H.G. Wells' troubled future in The Time Machine. Indeed, the dangerous secret that maintains the peace and defends against over-population is the one fly in this colourful, yet superficial utopia - no-one lives beyond the age of 30. With their life-clocks embedded in their left palms, in the very fetching guise of an iridescent crystal, the people of Earth's blinkered future are summoned upon their Last Day, when this fateful bling begins to wink, ruby red, at them, to inform them that their time is up and that the ceremony of Carrousel awaits them. But the sheep-like denizens, almost as the peace-loving Eloi would do when the evil Morlocks usher them into their subterranean lair to be culled, respond to the calling with nothing short of elation - for this society has swapped religion for the patently absurd notion that, if they are lucky enough, they can win themselves a rebirth - or Renewal, as it is called - in the avant-garde, zero-g ballet that is Carrousel. This sacrificial event, watched by the jubilant, cheering masses who foolishly long for their turn, is a sort of circus-cum-execution that fits right on in with the likes of Rollerball as a way for keeping a wayward, aimless population in-check.

    But whilst the majority of this hoodwinked realm fall for this euthanasia-esque census-capper, a select few see through the sham and, when their time is up and Carrousel calls for them, seek to escape this sanctioned doom and go on the lam, as it were. These Runners, as they are labelled, are something that this charlatan society cannot tolerate. Thus, policemen, known as Sandmen, are tasked with not only finding them, but terminating them, as well. Fate, no matter how orchestrated it may be in the domed City, is not something you can outrun.

    But when a Sandman (Michael York, looking exactly like Steffie Graf) is given a dangerous, and secret, mission by his computerised and unknowable superiors to seek and locate the fabled Runner paradise of Sanctuary, that is reputed to lie somewhere Outside of the City. By infiltrating the secret society of rebels who intend to escape from the Dome, he is forced to confront his very beliefs and question the laws that have governed him and his people, to become a genuine Runner, himself, and to flee for his life from his own friends and colleagues. His name is Logan. Catch him if you can.

    Thus runs the idea-stuffed, but surprisingly starched and linear pitch from Michael Anderson that stems from the original three-part novel and adapted into a screenplay by David Zelag Goodman. Logan 5 meets Jessica 6 (another flesh-baring, but alarmingly wooden turn from ex-Railway Child, Jenny Agutter), who is his rebellious ticket into the dangerous underworld of the Runners and, throughout the course of their exciting, helter-skelter plummet from one world to another, from the Inside to the Out, encountering dastardly face-reconstructions, rage-filled delinquents, violent sub-station floods and Sandman shoot-outs and, most memorably of all, a cyborg sentinel with a worrying penchant for food preservation, the pair find proper, full-on love as opposed to the recycled, off-the-peg relationships fostered back in the Dome. The story is famous, of course, and the film inspired a fondly recalled (by some), though short-lived TV series of the same name. But, after crafting a wonderfully realised environment of primary-coded castes, teleportational sexual liaisons on-demand, mega-plazas of squeaky-clean futuristic sterility, hallucinogenic breeding chambers, the trippy escape of recreational drugs and the orgasmic death-throes of Carrousel, the film is all concept with little actually cohesive background. Absolutely nothing is explained to us as to how or why any of this bizarre civilisation came about, other than the usual wars, pollution and over-population. Or, more importantly, just who exactly is governing it. Arguably, this is not strictly necessary in a tale that is given over to the fable-like reawakening of human emotions - no-one knows their birth mother in this world and long-term relationships simply don't fit the format - though in a genre that has become much more sophisticated, the lip-service paid to such fundamental aspects is a bit galling.

    However, Anderson's vision is drawn with big comic-book strokes that simply, and unashamedly, want to transport you into his mind-warping world of “what if?” The foundations may be basic, but the visuals are the key to unlocking the story's strengths and the potency of its ideas. That it is also very sentimental is not quite the detriment that many critics have often cited it as being. To be honest, we need the sentimentality during the third act as an antidote to the harsh and hard-line attitudes of the City. I would argue that the finale, as I'll mention a little later on, is poorly executed, but this does not mean that, thematically, it is misguided. Yet, despite the many audacious themes and asides that Logan's Run scatters about its two-hour odyssey, the film remains SF-light in the end-run.

    We don't exactly find out what has befallen the world Outside the Dome. The City and its inhabitants live in blissful, indoctrinated ignorance of nature and the true freedom it offers - which makes them unquestioning idiots, of course, but also makes for a second-act reveal that is genuinely spellbinding. Logan, battered and bruised, his distinctive Sandman uniform torn and bloodied, and Jessica have their world turned upon its head, or rather the world, as it really is, presented to them in one of Hollywood's ecological last-ditch splendour-moments. It's a message that can't have been missed by many of the predominantly youthful audience who flocked to see the film after its June 23rd premier in 1976. For the movie, despite its theme of mortal redemption and the long-lasting union of husband and wife, is more concerned with the unlocked pleasures associated with youth. Whatever twists arise, and however important and justified they are, it is the joy of uncomplicated sex and zero-responsibility that appeals most of all. Or is that just me?

    But so much of the film works, if only on a visually stimulating level, that a lot of this almost juvenile “imagine that” conceptualising can be easily swept under the carpet or, more fittingly, if you like, dissolved just as quickly as the slain bodies of Runners once the City's jet-pack-wearing cleaners apply that chemical spray to them. The shiny surfaces of the pollution-free environment, the surreal pace of life, the dangers of the wonderfully titled Cathedral zone in which the renegade kids and teens hold sway, and the majestically warm intonations from the feminine-voiced computer that controls the Sandmen are all eerily splendid elements that give Logan's Run a pure and distinctive personality in an admittedly sanitised script.

    “What's the matter with you?”

    “Last night.”

    “Yeah, he had a “kicker”. She must have got him in the head!”

    The taunting glee that the Sandmen have when toying with their unarmed prey - “Run, Runner!” - is a scarily dubious quality of predatory glee that even Logan and his best friend, Francis, seem to enjoy, but the early sequence that sees them exhausting their suspect before finally terminating him also reveals their innate camaraderie and affection for one another. And although Francis (played with exuberance by Richard Jordan after the original choice of William Devane had to bow out due to a conflicting schedule) heartily indulges in the joys of this pleasure-ruled pseudo-paradise, sporting an eager nymph on either arm during a typical night off-duty, there is an undeniable homoerotic jealously raging in his eyes once Logan does a runner with Jessica. Francis has bought into society's sanctioned doctrine, lock, stock and barrel. To see his best buddy flaunt the rules is an immensely personal affront to his own machismo. Together, he and Logan were the Young Turks of the City, inseparable and cocky practitioners of the new faith. When Logan gets his mission and begins to question the rules and his place within the society, falling more and more for Jessica at the same time, it causes precisely the unavoidable rift that occurs between many long-standing friends when a romantic partner suddenly begins to stake a claim on the emotions and attention of one of them. In this respect, Francis' dogged pursuit of Logan is perfectly understandable, because the grudge he feels is that bit more personal.

    For his part, Michael York exemplifies the bland, ambition-less semi-androgynous condition of the city-state pretty well. He is not, and never has been, a great actor. Apart from his wildly comedic turns in the great Three Musketeers films and, of course, Austin Powers, he is one of Hollywood's most nondescript performers. Always likeable, just not very commanding, he moves through Anderson's film as though his character-investment stops purely at the one-emotion-fits-all status of his City resident but does not compute with regards to Logan's soul-enriching experiences. This lack of charm and humanity is not entirely his fault, of course. Once he is tasked with his destiny-confronting mission, the script is just a relentless succession of episodic dilemmas and dramas that offer him only reactions to what is happening, rather than an actual emotional catharsis that we can buy into. We watch him, but we don't, at any point, empathise with him.

    Although the model-work was lacking in comparison to the standard of bold new world evocation that would swiftly follow - those immense table-top city-miniatures would be a great attic-room alternative to a train-set, though - Logan's Run had simply the best futuristic guns in the genre. Period. Sleek, sexy and boasting a fantastic flare-out muzzle-flash, these babies were exactly what futuristic hand-weaponry was all about. Not saddled with lopsided sighting mechanisms like Han Solo's blaster. Nor as clunky and as un-ergonomic as a Stormtrooper's Imperial version. These didn't have that toy-shop fragility of Star Trek's phasers or the strange super-stapler-style of Space 1999's awkward side-arms. These looked comfortable, smooth and full of status, and they quite clearly packed a punch with big flaming belches of torso-imploding gusto that literally hurl their targets through the air. Against the tide of a primary hued populace, the Sandmen cut quite a dash, too, in their snug black uniforms with that distinctive grey chest panel. Logan even seems to bedeck himself in these chic tones at home, with a natty, swishing dressing-gown in the requisite assassin black and grey.

    “No! Don't go in there! You don't have to die ... you can live. LIVE!”

    You could also say that two of the movies' greatest composers went head-to-head over the same twelve-month period with their equally outstanding scores for both this - from Jerry Goldsmith - and Star Wars - from John Williams. Both proved to be grand, fresh and critically momentous achievements, although Williams created the most popular work, by far. But this is not to say that Goldsmith's score lacked in any way. Typically for Jerry G., the production represented a wonderful opportunity for him to push his own boundaries further than he had ever gone before and, true to form, he created another bona fide classic score that has been studied, emulated and revered ever since. Going hand-in-hand with the lucid visuals of a domed city, elegant monorails and organic bubble-cars, vast gleaming plazas and science-busting technology, he brought in a scintillating array of synthesisers to craft the eerily beautiful symphony of a world far removed from our own. But his coup de grace was in his ability to convey the revelatory transcendence of Logan and Jessica's first awakening into the sunshine of the real world that had been hidden from them. Previously, the City had been dominated by electronica, but once our heroes discover the real world Outside, Goldsmith allows the full orchestra to warm the film as much as the great orb of the sun that greets them for the first time in their lives. Plus, there was his customary pounding action cues to supply adrenaline to the numerous chases and shoot-outs.

    Although the matte-shots stand out a mile, the unavoidable province of vintage effects-films (and made all the more apparent by a hi-def presentation), I love the make-believe quality of these scenic paintings. It is true that the curtain behind the Dome metropolis can clearly be seen, as well as those wires hoisting up all those unfortunates taking part in Carrousel, but the vision of a city overgrown with nature and now done with Man - so eloquently captured in the much more recent I Am Legend - is always evocative. The ice caves stretching out into the distance and adorned with the robot Box's collection of frozen runners, all frosted and nude, contrasted with the beautiful ice sculptures he has created of penguins, birds and an enormous walrus are, indeed, a wonder. The seedy, gunked-up walls of the huge fish-tanks that once housed the City's food sources are a rather rank and festering reminder that the population are probably now consuming nothing but highly processed and synthetic foodstuffs that would surely kill them off swiftly even without the intervention of Carrousel. But it is the terrific circular arena of Renewal, itself, that provides the most jolting image of all. Draped in neo-gothic robes and semi-satanic masks, those engaged in the ritual of Carrousel form a spinning circle of colourfully mesmerising slaughter that is only partially undone by the 70's disco leotards that they sport as they whirl around the zero-g chamber, welcoming the searing laser-blasts from above.

    “Fish, and plankton. And sea greens, and protein from the sea. It's all here, ready. Fresh as harvest day. Fish and sea greens, plankton and protein from the sea. And then it stopped coming ... and they came instead. So I store them here. I'm ready. And you're ready. It's my job. To freeze you. Protein, plankton ...”

    With Roscoe Lee Brown's rich and sonorous voice bringing the lord of the ice-cave, the sinister Box, to life, it is easy to forgive the creation's rather clumsy, Mr. Maker (on Cbeebies, folks!) style construction of waggly concertina-tube arms and jerky, top-heavy motion. Certainly the creepiest aspect of the film, his actual reason for being is definitely a little shaky. Who created him? Is he the only one of his kind? We never really find out. Yet, his malevolent presence is hugely memorable, nonetheless. His long-defunct command now a gleefully macabre mantra - “Fish, and sea-greens, etc” - and his bellicose laughter the stuff that nightmares are made of, it really comes as a shame that we don't get to see a bit more of him. Indeed, as originally envisaged, we would have seen more. Box, in his dubious, frost-loving dementia, has Logan and Jessica strip off and entwine in a lover's embrace, which he then moulds into another ice sculpture. But the resulting sequence was cut due to its length and, of course, the nudity - although considering just much flashing does take place in the film, this second reason seems a little confusing - but a glimpse of it can still be seen on the film's awesome original poster artwork. Mind you, it is not surprising to discover that the censor-goading sequence in the Love Shop, when Logan and Jessica run in dreamy slow-motion through a sweaty, hazily-lensed mass orgy, the cavorting participants all attempting to drag them into their skilfully choreographed, opiate-fuelled writhing, was considerably abbreviated to only a third of its original running time, sadly shearing away one of Goldsmith's most sinuous and undulating cues in the process.

    “Is ... this ... Sanctuary?”

    Even the iconic 70's babe, the now-late Farrah Fawcett-Majors, replete with her trademark BIG flouncy hair, doesn't disrupt the flow with her suddenly wacky memory-loss at a pivotal juncture - we are asked to believe that she has forgotten most of the events that led up to her boss at the New You Clinic (actually the director's own son, Michael Anderson Jnr) getting sliced-to-death with his own cosmetic laser, even though they only actually happened a few moments before. Nor does the rather ridiculous and considerably un-intimidating mob of Cubs, as the Cathedral-drop-outs are known, that surround Logan and Jessica during what could certainly, on-script at any rate, have been quite a terrifying set-piece. Because, once on the run, Logan's adventure is a continuous barrelling of incidents that belie some critics' opinions that the film is stale and that Anderson's direction is leaden and pedestrian. There is action aplenty in Logan's Run.

    “Why did you want to see my hand? You'd better show me yours ...”

    But the film drops the ball with Peter Ustinov's ripe and idiosyncratic performance as the Old Man they find residing in post-apocalyptic loneliness in the vine-encrusted Senate Chamber of Washington DC. The great raconteur was obviously supposed to lend gravitas to the film, poignancy and an old world, rustic charm. But his spouting of T.S. Eliot's Practical Cats litany (even before Andrew Lloyd Webber got his claws into it), and his indecisively mumbling and frail commentary on his existence is ham-on-the-turn. I agree that his frustratingly sketchy answers to Logan's questions are all part of the sad and incomplete revelation that he and Jessica must accept, but the spirit of awe and wonder that we have experienced at their break-through to the real world is largely eradicated by his bumbling, twitchy lack of knowledge. That Ustinov ad-libs most of his lines is no surprise - the enigmatic star was always prone to do that. But this obvious allowance for him to completely steal such important scenes distracts from what should have been a more powerful statement. Obviously, the film would also have come unstuck if they had happened upon someone who knew everything and was quite happy to impart their expositional wisdom in a last-chapter lecture. But, regardless of the quiet dignity that Ustinov's rascally hermit delivers, the film is, thus, allowed to falter and descend into something approaching a Biblical parody. However, at the time of the film's release, those audience members still clinging to their hippy days found much to rejoice in with the big communal-hug type of finale that Anderson's film delivers though, to modern eyes, this can be seen as little more than patronising ... and the film belly-flops at the final hurdle with a rushed denouement that would have worked better as the last page wrap-up of a children's fairytale.

    Logan's Run is still eminently fertile ground and one of those films that actually does deserve a remake, a re-imagining, or a re-think. However you label it, the story is valid, strong and atmospherically pertinent enough to enjoy in another interpretation ... coming, supposedly, in 2012. Maybe then we will get to see the famous flying-bike chase from the book! Anderson's take marks the last great stab of flamboyant, though whimsical SF before Star Wars rewrote the guidebook for the genre. It is funky, sexy and gleaming with polished visual imagination and, as dry as it may ultimately come to seem, pretty exciting in places, too. One thing that we should remember is that disaster movie and TV SF uber-producer Irwin Allen was once slated to preside over it along with George (The War of The Worlds) Pal, and the resulting production may well have been more explosive, but possibly wouldn't have had quite the same suggestive resonance. There is more up Logan's sleeve that a simple space-age shoot 'em up and even if it hasn't aged all that well, it remains a glorious reminder of a time when Sci-Fi still thrived on the simple idea of escapism rather than the nuts 'n' bolts, “lived-in” authenticity of it.