Movie: Logan’s Run (1976)

It is often difficult for audiences who came of age after a period to be able to properly appreciate a work in its historical context.  The sci-fi movie genre was in a sad state in the period between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars (don’t even think of correcting me by saying its name is A New Hope, because I will go to the mat to defend its original name).  In the wake of the former picture, the movies became more cynical, and a message was obligatory.  But the later film hadn’t happened yet so, barring exceptions for dystopian works like Soylent Green, the worlds in the movies made between the two didn’t look lived-in and dirty.

Such is the case of 1976’s Logan’s Run, a typical feature of that era.  It is basically Brave New World cross-pollinated with ZPG and Soylent Green.  Following some sort of “great catastrophe” in the future, everybody lives in a dome-encased city where they have no knowledge of the outside world.  Everybody lives a life of complete leisure until the age of 30, when they must die.

Every person gets a crystal implanted in the palm of the left hand when they are infants.  This cheap-looking bit of plastic turns different colors over the course of each person’s lifetime, finally blinking red when their number is up.

Most people choose to have their lives terminated in a goofy spectacle called “carousel”.  I was actually scared to see this movie when I was a little kid (reeeally little) because the way it was described to me is these people are put in a giant centrifuge which spins them so hard that they are obliterated into little pieces.

It shouldn’t be a surprise this is not what happens in this PG-rated feature.  Instead, those about to die wear dance leotards and weird masks that are far creepier than the not-dissimilar hockey mask Jason Voorhees wears.  Some sort of energy shield engulfs the group and they start spinning slowly towards the ceiling like the world’s dullest circus act.  As the get near the ceiling, they get zapped out of existence like mosquitos in a bug zapper.  This never stopped being gut-bustingly hilarious.

Supposedly, those who go through the carousel are then reborn, but Michael York is starting to have his doubts.  He’s a Sandman, one of the policemen who hunt down runners, the people who try to flee when their time is up. 

Not that there’s anywhere for them to go.  The bulk of the world as presented in the film is one multi-story shopping mall.  I never got the impression that even this area extended much farther beyond a courtyard that seems to be hub of all activity. 

Early on, we see York and fellow Sandman Richard Jordan “retire” an attempted runner.  Having pre-dated Star Wars, we never see anything emitted from the laser blasters the police use.  Instead, there’s just a tiny fireworks explosion wherever their “shots” landed.  It isn’t a great effect.  I swear some of these explosions happened behind the guy they are shooting at, but without him appearing to be wounded.  No matter, he eventually throws himself off what appears to be the third or fourth floor balcony, despite us seeing him only climb up one story from the courtyard.

York goes through the dead man’s belongings, showing particular curiosity towards an ankh necklace.  Then the clean-up crew is called and those guys arrive on what look like flying Segways—which look about as silly as normal Segways.  They spray the corpse with something that makes it dissolve one disgusting layer at a time via a series of cross-dissolves.

When York delivers to the police computer the items retrieved from the runner’s body, the ankh triggers a warning.  Turns out this necklace is a sign of sanctuary, an underground movement providing refuge to runners.  York is made to work undercover to infiltrate and destroy the group.  The computer apparently decides he needs some incentive, so it changes his palm jewel to flashing red.  I wonder why that was necessary.  Doesn’t anybody whose time hasn’t expired ever seek sanctuary?

So now York is a runner, taking sanctuary member Jenny Agutter in tow.  Jordan pursues them through the industrial works that are behind the scenes of their world of leisure.  He has a small battle against his fellow Sandmen and also some of the people of sanctuary.  York and Agutter escape to a weird deep-freeze area where a psychotic robot has permanently put previous runners on ice.  Destroying the robot, they finally reach the outside world.

What a shock to the system this must have been.  I like how little time appears to pass before Agutter screams, “I HATE OUTSIDE!”  That’s me after an hour of any kind of outdoor activity.

They eventually find Washington D.C., which is a wasteland on a swamp, an abandoned place not fit for life.  So, D.C. hasn’t changed much from how it is today.  In the Capitol building, they find Peter Ustinov, who surprises them with his advanced age. There are cats all of the place and there’s a nice bit where he explains how cats have three names: their ordinary name, their fancy name and the name only the cat itself knows.  York decides they must take Ustinov back to the city, as he thinks showing the populace an old person will make them realize there’s no harm in growing old.

There’s some great matte painting work in the scenes in and around D.C.  It is a lot better than the miniatures of the domed city where shuttles go from building to another in clear tubes that look exactly like a Habitrail.  I kept waiting for a giant hamster to pursue one of the vehicles in the tubes.  The TV show Thunderbirds from a decade prior had better miniature work, yet there was still a certain charm to all this. That said, it was surprising something this bad was in a film from a major studio.

Perhaps the most shocking thing here is the nudity.  There isn’t a great deal of it, but it is about 100 times more than I expected for a PG film.  I’ve read about how a few scenes had to be cut down to achieve that rating.  One of those is a pursuit through the Sex Shop, which is apparently just an ongoing orgy.  I wonder if they have Black Friday sales and, if so, what those are like.  Also, “Sex Shop” can be effortlessly used in place of the title in the song “Love Shack”.

It may sound like I dislike Logan’s Run; however, I genuinely enjoyed it.  I tend to like dystopian sci-fi and this handles the topics typical of the fare with varying degrees of success.  The mostly poor effects work also amuses me, though in a smirking way.  Watching it, it is seriously jarring to think Star Wars was only a year away.

Dir: MIchael Anderson

Starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan

Watched on Warner Bros. blu-ray