#39: Logan’s Run


1976

Director Michael Anderson

Cast:  Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Peter Ustinov

Academy Award for Special Achievement in Special Effects

Watch the trailer!

Introduction     Plot Summary     Impressions     The Novel     Wrap-Up

My rating:  Class K (6/7).  It’s not exactly a bad film, but it’s certainly not good.  There are some nice touches, but ultimately this film is really only of interest to hardcore science fiction fans or those with a degree of nostalgia for the ‘7os…

Introduction

This is yet another film based on a novel, and once again, to my considerable embarrassment, I’ve read the novel.  While I can’t claim I remember it fondly, I do remember it and I enjoyed it.  I also have fond memories of the television series—it aired after my bedtime, and so I didn’t see much of it.  The show lasted one season, but only 14 episodes instead of the standard 21.

This is an action film, as the title implies, but it’s in a setting which is going to promote some thought, and the film actually does a pretty good job of conveying some of the nasty implications of that setting.  It features fascinating visuals which made their way straight into the television series and so were not completely foreign to me, and maybe not to you, either.

Critical reception of the film was both positive, lukewarm, and incredibly negative.  Roger Ebert liked the film enough to give it three stars, while Gene Siskel stated that it was the worst film he’d reviewed in seven years.

At least some of those criticisms, particularly the motivation or lack thereof for Logan and his actions, is right on the money, and there are some significant plot holes.

Plot Summary

Short Version:  Boy, who works for a totalitarian state as a killer, meets girl.  Girl, who is a member of a secret revolutionary group, rejects boy.  Boy is given a mission to infiltrate girl’s group.  Boy meets girl again, and they share some violent times together as he pursues his job, only he tricks her by letting a person marked for death leave, so she trusts him, and they go to find the mythical Sanctuary her group is supposed to run.  They discover that there is no Sanctuary, boy kills his best friend, and they return to the city where they ruin the city’s computer systems and force everyone out of their perfect nirvana/dystopia.  Whew.  Oh yeah, along the way girl falls for boy, and they learn about marriage, and presumably live happily ever after in a natural world for which they are completely unsuited.  Along with thousands of people who might be a little mad about having Paradise taken away.

If you’re in the mood for a quick jump to my impressions, use the link below.  Otherwise you’ll get the detailed synopsis we saw for War of the Worlds.

Jump to Impressions

Like some of our other entries to date, this film begins with a spoken prologue to give us the basic setting.  We learn, as we see a futuristic city under gleaming pearly domes, that it is the 23rd century, and that the survivors of “war, overpopulation and pollution” have sealed themselves into a perfectly balanced city in which “servo-mechanisms” provide for all of the citizens’ wants and needs.  The descendants of these survivors live hedonistic lives of pure pleasure, at least until they turn thirty.  Then they attend Carrousel, and the fortunate attain “renewal.”

Next, we see Logan 5, who wears black with a silver bar across his chest, looking through glass into a nursery.  As he watches, an infant receives a clear crystalline flower in his palm.  Another man, similarly attired, approaches; this is Logan’s friend Francis 7.  When Logan is unable to get the child’s attention, Francis raps sharply on the glass with his gun, startling the children and making them cry.  A voice gives the alarm, at which point Logan states that his presence is authorized, that he is Logan 5 and his companion Francis 7, and that they are Sandmen.

The two attend Carrousel together;  the attending are obviously happy and excited.  The ceremony is held in a steep-sided circular amphitheater with a large crystalline flower in the center.  The lights go down, and white-robed, hooded participants enter and form a circle around the flower.  They raise their palms, and we can see that the flowers in their hands have gone dark.  They remove their hoods, revealing white masks, and then their robes.  Underneath they wear white leotards with red flames.  As the ritual proceeds, the participants swim into the air, circling higher and higher while the crowd of spectators chants “Renew!  Renew!” in what can only be interpreted as glee.  As the participants rise, higher and higher, they begin to burst into flame.  The spectators are laughing, screaming, shouting, but happy even as the participants burn and vanish…

Logan suddenly gets a message, distracting him from the fiery spectacle:  a runner is attempting to escape, and he must attend to the issue.  Francis and Logan leave, tracking down the runner.  They chase him, and both of them have expressions of glee as they fire upon him with weapons which leave fiery splashes where they hit.  As they fire upon the red-clad “runner” they taunt him, asking him why he won’t attend Carrousel and renew.  Finally they corner the runner on a balcony, and Logan fires upon him again and again, missing narrowly each time and driving the runner first one way, then another.  Francis finally ends it by shooting him in the chest, and the runner falls from the balcony.  Logan reaches the body first, and takes its effects.  He mentions that this man has gotten his face changed, and that’s why the official records don’t look the same, and that he visited a particular New You just that day.  Then Logan calls for cleanup, and two men, each on a sort of hover disk, come in from above.  As the runner’s body dissolves like wax after being hit by the smoke from the cleanup crew’s disk, one of the Sandmen comments that it was a waste, that he could have gone to Carrousel and renewed.

Logan returns to his home, a flashy modern apartment (or at least it would appear modern to the eyes of the 70s).  Wearing a black and silver robe, he dials for a companion, rejecting the first one (male), and accepting the second, a beautiful young woman in a green diaphanous robe without sides, as well as a ornamental metal collar with an ankh hanging from it.  She gives her name as Jessica Six, but she’s reluctant and says no to sex.  Logan wonders if it’s because he’s a Sandman, and Jessica is drawn into a discussion about running.  Logan defends Sandmen and Carrousel, while Jessica remains mostly quiet; it appears Logan’s doubts are gone.  Then Francis arrives, two beautiful young women in tow, and Jessica makes her escape through the still-open door.  In the meantime, Francis throws something against the ceiling, the two young women embrace Logan, dragging him onto the couch, and red smoke, a drug of some kind, descends from the ceiling as the scene fades out.

Next we see Francis, in uniform, putting the previous day’s Runner’s effects into a glass tube where they are disintegrated.  Next, it’s Logan’s turn, and he puts the runner’s effects, including a silver ankh, into the tube.  However, the computer deviates from the normal procedure and directs Logan to sit and be further debriefed.  He watches the screen as the computer asks Logan if he knows what the ankh is and if he has ever heard of Sanctuary.  The computer initiates “procedure 033-03” and directs Logan to open the city seals and locate and destroy Sanctuary.  It further directs him to use the ankh as a key or pass of some kind to get there.  In order to further this deception, the computer tells Logan he will run, and alters his life clock from red to blinking red…the sign of Logan’s LastDay.  Logan asks if he will get his four years back, but the computer does not respond.  Logan asks, twice, if anyone has ever been renewed, but again, the computer does not answer his question.  It once again directs him to run…

The scene cuts to Logan, still in uniform, approaching Francis, who is relaxing in a hot tub.  They talk about the runner, and Logan asks Francis if he has ever seen anyone renew.  Francis says he hasn’t, but that he’s sure Sandmen renew.  Francis doesn’t understand why anyone would run, but it seems clear that Logan is suddenly beginning to doubt…

Logan leaves and summons Jessica 6 to the Sandmen’s headquarters.  They banter a bit, with Logan suggesting he wants her sexually, before he admits he’s on LastDay and that he’s going to run.  Jessica turns him down again, and then meets with some of her fellows.  They plot for her to meet him again, speaking obliquely, but it seems clear that they’re planning something bad for Logan, because he knows about Sanctuary and he’s a danger to them.

Jessica arrives at Logan’s apartment, and says he has to go with her to Arcade.  Two red-clad men (in their last years of life, though that might be as many as seven or eight years) follow them, but Logan gets an alert that there’s a runner.  Jessica elects to go with him, and they go to the Cathedral, a lawless part of the city inhabited by feral youths and children.  There, Logan spares the female runner and gives her his ankh (the one taken from the runner at the beginning of the film).  Francis has followed them, watches it happen, and when Logan and Jessica have moved on, kills the runner.

The two then go to New You, where Logan plans to get a new face for his run.  We meet Holly, the receptionist for New You, played by Farrah Fawcett (Farrah Fawcett-Majors in the credits).  The doctor shows off the surgical table, which immobilizes the patient and which uses lasers and some kind of instant healing beam to accomplish the surgery.  Holly urges Logan to get dark hair while the doctor and Jessica talk; Logan was correct, and the doctor is part of the Sanctuary group.  While the surgery is progressing, the doctor gets a call, probably from Jessica’s cohorts, and attempts to kill Logan by turning off the healing beams.  Jessica, who is convinced that Logan is really running thanks to the incident in Cathedral, tries to stop him, and during the fight Logan pushes the doctor onto his own surgery table, where the lasers kill him.

As Logan and Jessica escape, they encounter Francis, who tells Logan he was in Cathedral and saw what Logan did.  Logan shoves Francis aside, and the two flee to the Love Shop, which is apparently a drug-fueled orgy club of some kind (they weren’t kidding about living only for pleasure, it appears).  They are briefly separated but manage to reunite and leave through a secret exit.  Francis has been following but is stymied by the secret exit…

Logan and Jessica descend into the bowels of the city, and Logan sets off his distress signal.  It’s not clear if this is because he’s in danger, or because he intends that the rebels be destroyed.  Once inside the rebels’ hidden base, Logan manages to convince the rebels that he’s a real runner, in large part because Holly arrives and, with Jessica’s coaching, reveals that Logan attacked another Sandman.  Jessica also reveals that Logan let a runner escape.

Of course it is at this point, when the rebels have accepted Logan and Jessica and agreed to help, that the Sandmen respond to the distress signal and arrive en masse.  As they attack, Logan and Jessica flee.  Francis follows, intent on eliminating the runners.  He fires at a glass wall, releasing a flood which washes the two runners away.  They manage to escape the flooded tunnels using an elevator.

They’re not out of the woods yet.  They find a series of frozen chambers, one of which has furs lying on the ground as well as ice sculptures of birds (both on the ground, mostly penguins, and in the air).  They disrobe and then put on the furs—ostensibly the disrobing is to keep their clothes from freezing on them.  Box, a silver robot, enters the room, and explains that this is the (or perhaps a) food supply chamber for the city.  When Logan questions Box about a link to Sanctuary, Box agrees to take them to the others.  Logan and Jessica put their clothes back on, then put the furs on over the clothing—I suppose the film needed a tad more gratuitous nudity—and follow Box.  Box explains that the seas’ proteins eventually stopped coming, and that he had a convenient source of proteins in the people who kept coming along—people Box has frozen and stored, presumably to be used as a food supply for the city.  Box explains that his duty requires him to freeze Logan and Jessica.

Logan shoots Box, which doesn’t appear to do much harm, and they struggle.  During the struggle, Logan’s gun hits the ceiling, causing the hanging birds and the ceiling to fall in.  Logan and Jessica run, and wind up outside the city.

The two do not seem at home in the great outdoors, to say the least.  They don’t know what the sun is, for starters (“What is it?”  “I don’t know…whatever it is, it’s warm!”).

The film cuts back to the collapsing cavern, and who should be passing through it, discovering a dead robot, but Francis—still in pursuit, though Logan and Jessica don’t know it.

Our runners discover an old road, as well as a pond, where they swim.  Given the opportunity for additional gratuitous nudity, they remove their clothes and leave them on a rock to dry.  As they frolic in the water, they discover that their lifeclocks are clear.  Logan exclaims “we’re free!”  Jessican asks Logan what he wants, he says her, and they frolic some more, presumably engaging in recreational sex, as Jessica says “my choice” before the camera cuts away.

The pair journeys onward, finding the ruins of a city.  They don’t know what it is, but you would immediately recognize the ruins of Washington, D.C.  Traveling through the ruins, they discover the Lincoln Memorial, among other top tourist sites, before finding the Senate Chamber.  There they find an old man (Peter Ustinov) who keeps a LOT of cats.  Logan and Jessica have never seen a cat, or anyone older than thirty, so this is a lot for them to take in…in further discussions, they learn about husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons…all the good stuff worth fighting for!

Francis shows up during the discussions and manages to drag Jessica away without alerting the Old Man or Logan, and for some reason he takes her up into the viewing gallery.  There he taunts Logan and asks him why he’s run.  Francis says he’s let Logan go when he did wrong, covered for him, tried to protect him…and Logan plays his trump card, directing Francis to look at his palm.  Francis drops his gun, then rejects the evidence of his senses (presumably his crystal is clear, though we don’t see it).  In the meantime Jessica grabs the gun and throws it away, whereupon Francis jumps down to the floor and Logan and Francis engage in a fairly serious brawl.  In one of the films’ strangest images, Francis grabs a flagpole which still has the American flag hanging from it to use as a weapon…

Jessica and the Old Man watch this fight without intervening, and Logan achieves victory by taking the flagpole and beating Francis to death with it.  Yes, folks, that’s right:  Logan kills his best friend, who is in service to a dystopic government which kills its citizens, with an American flag.  I suspect that the symbolism is supposed to be obvious.  As he lays dying, Francis sees Logan’s palm again and says “Logan…you’ve renewed!”

They bury Francis with the Old Man’s help, and Logan argues that they must return to the city and tell everyone what they’ve learned.  Jessica, who wants only to live and be happy, ultimately agrees to return with Logan.  They also convince the Old Man to return with them, though he’s initially angry that Logan and Jessica are not going to stay and bury him.

Accompanied by a running stream of chatter by the Old Man, Logan and Jessica return to the city.  There, they are forced to enter through a water intake, and have to leave the Old Man outside to wait for their return.

Logan and Jessica enter as the people are gathering for Carrousel.  They shout that no one has to die, but the Sandmen arrive and drag them off for interrogation.  Logan is put into a chair attached to the city’s computer, which asks him if he has found Sanctuary.  Logan repeatedly states that there is no Sanctuary.  The computer refuses to accept this, and though it doesn’t actually say “does not compute,” the contradiction in its programmed belief in Sanctuary and Logan’s equally adamant assertion that Sanctuary does not exist causes the computer to explode.  Logan escapes the chair and begins to kill Sandmen as he and Jessica flee into the city proper.

Logan, Jessica and for that matter all the other inhabitants of the city flee the explosions.  Exiting the city, they find the Old Man, who has built a fire for warmth and light.  The city dwellers are as amazed as Jessica and Logan had been when they first encountered the Old Man.  A beautiful young blond woman touches his wrinkled face.  The music swells, and the old man rejoices to meet all these new people.  Logan and Jessica embrace as the city explodes.

Impressions

Um…wow.  This film is definitely seventylicious (and that’s a neologism I’m willing to claim!).  The architecture, the clothing, the hairstyles, the decadence…they all scream 1970s in a way that few films achieve.

The cast’s performances are honestly a bit…well…terrible.  Peter Ustinov definitely steals the show, seeming amiable and a bit crazy.  His facial tics and rambling speech patterns are a lot of fun!

In the particularly dramatic portions of the film, most of the characters display extreme emotional states—not so much fear, for example, as desperate insanity, to take the case of the female runner in the Cathedral scene.  Francis, too, shows amazing extremes of emotion, while Logan (Michael York) manages to come in a distant second.  Jenny Agutter isn’t quite so wildly emotional, and for this film may actually qualify as having given a nuanced and realistic performance!

Two interesting casting points:  this was Farrah Fawcett’s second film appearance, and the film probably came out at about the same time as the red bathing suit poster which made her such a household word.  This was a big year for Farrah, as it’s also the year that the Charlie’s Angels TV movie aired (March) and the year in which the show debuted (September).  Interestingly enough, Farrah was a shrewd business woman who retained ownership of the poster image and made more money from poster sales than from her salary as one of the Angels.  Of course she went on to demonstrate that she was more than just a pretty face or a dumb blond, taking on demanding dramatic roles to showcase her range.

The other odd point is the “timid girl” at the end of the film, one Ashley Cox.  Strangely enough, I recognized her face.  Embarrassingly enough, she is most widely known as a Playmate of the Month, but I’m going to argue that I recognize her from guest appearances on “The Dukes of Hazzard” as well as roles in “Looker,” “Night Shift,” and “Drive-in.”  Seriously.

Ahem.

One of the things that comes through loud and clear, and which Mark and I both noticed and talked about, is the arrested development of the city’s inhabitants.  Logan and Francis, in particular, come off as savage boys bullying another boy as they chase down the first runner.  Their faces are gleeful as they brutally toy with, then kill, a fellow human being.  In a way, this is a shocking point, because the Sandmen at least have jobs and responsibilities.  If the inhabitants were going to act like adults, I would have expected the Sandmen to be some of the few who did so.

The film does suffer from some issues with the script. though I think the film tries to finesse at least some of the issues, particularly Logan’s motivations.  The viewer is probably supposed to wonder if Logan is merely faking it, or if he’s serious about running.  For me, this aspect of the film wasn’t very successful:  the computer gives him an assignment to infiltrate Sanctuary, takes away four years of his life, and by omission seems to state that no one has ever renewed.  Pardon me for saying this, but if you don’t run for real at that point, you’re an idiot.

The alternative interpretation is that Logan interpreted the computer’s non-response as merely non-information, that he was mollified by Francis, and that his actions up to and including the moment he activates his distress signal, were all designed to help him infiltrate.  This interpretation would be that he runs only because he hasn’t completed his mission and found Sanctuary yet.

That makes his actions toward Jessica almost spiteful and certainly manipulative.  He has sex with her, all but declares he loves her, and all the while he’s using her to get to Sanctuary.  When he concludes, in the Senate building, that Sanctuary is not real, that may be the turning point at which he stops acting and starts feeling.  He doesn’t express his need to free the city dwellers until after he’s killed Francis, but if he hadn’t changed his mind there would be no need for the fight—he could have simply explained to Francis that he was on a secret mission, and together they could have terminated Jessica.

I’m not sure I credit the film with that much subtlety.  Perhaps it’s supposed to be there, and Michael York’s performance was a little weak.  I suspect that the scriptwriter just didn’t think the motivations of his protagonist through very carefully, and that the ambiguity was supposed to lead to tension.

I also think that the fundamental premise of the film is flawed.  Why is it necessary to kill people at thirty?  Presumably it’s because the resources necessary to support the population are limited…but it’s not as if the city needs a workforce or any particular population level.  It would be just as easy to simply not have as many people and allow them to live longer.  The full origins of the city are shrouded in mystery, so we don’t know the answers to that question.

Some critics have claimed that the film is an indictment of a youth-oriented culture as a result of the “dead at thirty” thing.  I’m not sure that the film was going for that, and if it was, it definitely failed.  The only old person in the film is a crazy man who lives alone with a bunch of cats.  He rambles, he’s somewhat childlike, and he’s certainly not the counter-argument to the youth culture.  If he’d been a fount of wisdom and strategy, I might have accepted this view.  But he wasn’t.

One thing I haven’t mentioned to date was the soundtrack.  There are two distinct musical styles depending on where the scenes take place.  For events occurring inside the city, we get a “futuristic” soundtrack with heavy use of synthesizers and the kinds of bleeps and whatnot that sound vaguely computerish.  For events outside the city, we get a more traditional orchestral sound.  Now, I’ve got to be honest:  the city music is terrible.  It’s like someone saw The Forbidden Planet, which had a groundbreaking, if irritating, electronic music soundtrack, and completely missed the point, as well as lacked the skill to bring off something similar.  I found it intrusive and irritating.

So, overall, I think this was an ambitious film that meant to present us with stunning visuals, social commentary and dramatic tension from Logan’s ambiguous role.  It simply failed on all counts.  That said, it’s a fun romp in its way, and if you’re feeling particularly nostalgic and you don’t have to pay for it this film might be worth watching.

The Novel

Logan’s Run was also a novel.  Published in 1967, it was co-written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.  The former is a very prolific genre writer (science fiction and horror) who wrote the screenplay to “Burnt Offerings,” one of the first haunted house movies, and which starred Bette Davis.  The latter is primarily remembered for Logan’s Run as well as numerous scripts, including the first season Star Trek episode “The Man Trap” (that’s the one with the salt vampire), as well as a number of Twilight Zone episodes.

I’ll be honest:  I don’t remember the novel all that well.  I do remember that Logan’s motivations are far less ambiguous, since he’s playing Jessica from the beginning and only slowly comes around to the view that people have a right to live beyond thirty.  In the novel, Francis turns out to be a member of the underground railroad himself, and more than thirty years of age himself:  he’s living a double life and has access to the central computer.

In the novel, Sanctuary exists: it’s a colony either on or near Mars (I can’t remember if it’s a space station or if it’s on Mars), and Logan and Jessica escape with Francis’ help via rocket launch.

In the novel, LastDay comes at age 21 instead of 30, and the city’s inhabitants report to SleepShops for their executions.

The desolate North American continent is inhabited by saves who dwell amongst the ruins.  In a particularly chilling sequence, Logan is required to cut a pound of flesh from Jessica in order to buy safe passage for the two through an area controlled by one of the savage gangs.  As ugly as this would have been on film, it would have created a contrast between the lives of the city dwellers and the “less fortunate” ones outside.

I was surprised to discover that Nolan wrote two additional novels, giving us a Logan trilogy.

Wrap Up

Well, that pretty much wraps it up.  It’s a bad film with all the hallmarks of the time in which it was made, with a poor script and mostly bad performances.

And they’re talking remake.

They’ve been talking remake since the 1990s, so we might be safe.  One version of the project, intended to be closer to the novel, was to be directed by Skip Woods (Swordfish and X-Men Origins: Wolverine).  That version apparently stalled out, and in 2004 Warner Brothers talked Brian Singer (Superman Returns, X-Men) into directing.  Speed Racer apparently put an end to that, but in 2010 a new screenwriter and director were hired.

Between that level of interest and the fact that the film both grossed $25 million AND managed to spawn a television series, maybe there’s something here I’m missing.  Make of it what you will!

Advertisements

One Response to “#39: Logan’s Run”

  1. Mark of the Wretched Excess crew here. I think I liked Logan’s Run better than Our Host did. The ambiguity of Logan’s motivations worked for me; the question of when his run really begins is the central question of the film for me. Ultimately, I think it’s a gradual shift. I assumed initially that he started running when he found out that Renewal was a lie, so I was genuinely shocked when he sent the distress call. Now I think that, while his panic up to that point was very real (“Our entire culture is a lie!”), he wasn’t capable of processing it all. He was, as we noted, an overgrown child. So he continued with his mission, even through his panic and disillusionment, because he had to cling onto something, and very very slowly… grew up. The real turning point, I think, was when his palm crystal turned clear. That’s when it all clicked into place in his head, and that’s when his run really began.

    But as I said, it’s the ambiguity of it that I like. They let the audience put it together, and that raises this film above its (many) weaknesses.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: