Logan’s Run (1976)

I appear to be in a “late-70s” movie trend if you count today and yesterday’s review of Marathon Man.  In a way, Marathon Man and Logan’s Run are similar.  Both create worlds of violence hidden by disinterest, both analyze religion, and both force a man to confront everything he knows about life under extreme circumstances.  Where they diverge is in my personal enjoyment; I loved Marathon Man far more than I did Logan’s Run.  Logan’s Run has an interesting plot that’s been done to death with the current sci-fi trends (see The Island and In Time for example) but the film seems more interested in showing the pretty effects as opposed to telling a decent story.  The acting is shaky and that’s a kind way of saying it (although Michael York can’t disappoint me now matter how hard he tries).  I’d be interested in seeing this remade, and that’s the rumor according to IMDB (starring our current Leading Man nominee Ryan Gosling according to sources) if only to fix the story.

In a dystopian world of the future people live in harmony with the ability to do whatever they want.  When you reach the age of 30 your Life-Clock (a changing light in the palm your hand) alerts you to participate in a ceremony known as Carousel where you’ll be “Renewed” to a new life….or at least that’s the rumor.  There are those who run (of course called “runners”) and it’s up to a group known as Sandmen to take them down.  One Sandman named Logan (Michael York) is told to infiltrate the runners and find a hidden location called Sanctuary (and with his Life-Clock depleted he has no choice).  With the aid of Jessica-6 (Jenny Agutter), the two will discover the secrets beyond their home and realize that Carousel might not be all it appears.

It’s always hard for me to review sci-hi/horror films of the past decades because I know things like special effects and particular scares were considered revolutionary and cutting-edge so I’ll try my best not to be too brutal with Logan’s Run.  Let’s just say this film hasn’t aged very well.  The acting is wooden from all involved and the special effects (which were Oscar worthy according to Wikipedia) are weak relying solely on laser beams and pyrotechnics.  I will say that the opening use of miniatures is great, if only because miniatures aren’t used nearly as much as they used to.  There’s a sense of scale to the domed world established and it all cries “the future!”  In many ways the opening shows a world not too far removed from Disney’s Epcot Project (not what ended up as the theme park) and I’ve read reviews that say the opening trains looks like monorails (they totally do!).

Once the story enters the world, that’s when things become complicated.  Aside from Carousel and runners there’s nothing else discussed or looked at in this society.  We know that you’re able to get whatever you want and dating is now reduced to people entering themselves into a database and being teleported to someone’s house for sex (and it was super odd that Michael York propositioning someone in this movie was the most unsexy moment I’ve seen in a long time) and we know people can change their faces but that’s it.  I’m not asking for an hour of discussing the world but at least give me an overview.  With the opening showing how huge this dome is the social structure and the relationships seem insignificant and isolated.  The only joy seen in the world is during the electrocution of those engaging in Carousel and Sandmen Logan and Francis (Richard Jordan) killing runners.  The frenzied joy they get from taunting the runners they find only comes back to haunt them when Logan is the man on the run.  In fact the movie truly hits its stride when the story focuses on one person.  Logan is left to fight for his life which makes him both selfish and human as he bluntly tells Jessica he cares about finding the truth behind Carousel because “it’s my life.”

What intrigued me about this story is not necessarily the plot but the various elements that make up the story of Logan and Jessica.  The use of names like Carousel and Sandman evoke images of childhood and, in the case of carousel, the frenzied continuous circle you can’t escape unless it stops of its own free will or you jump.  The name Sandman also hearkens back not just to the man who pours sleep in your eyes, mimicking the blind belief and the sleepwalking through life the people of the city go through, but the Sandman story is also used as a cautionary tale; punishment for children who don’t go to sleep.

A crucial connection is that Carousel marks an afterlife.  One can make the argument that the events of Logan’s Run promote and attack religion.  The characters all hope that when a person is renewed through Carousel, yet they’ve never actually seen an example (although I do wonder if we’re meant to see the babies as proof of renewal considering they all have the same names, film doesn’t explore that).  Jessica tells Logan a story about a friend of hers that’s disappeared only to have Logan comfort her with “I’m sure he was renewed.”  Note the uncertainty in his voice, evidence that before his mission he was starting to doubt.  The above mentioned scene of Logan only being interested because he’s set to die.  These characters are running, literally, from Death but it’s a death controlled by society.  Once someone is of no use, thirty generally being the age of which you’re an adult, they’re eliminated.

Again, there’s an intriguing psychological story here that’s pushed aside in favor of “whizz-bang” effects and pretty actors.  I had more questions than the plot answered, the biggest being if the runners are marked, why isn’t Logan discovered?  I vaguely heard Francis saying he went out to get Logan himself but obviously if Francis didn’t return why weren’t others sent?  You’re telling me Francis and Logan were the only Sandmen to work in pairs?

The acting itself left me scratching my head as it borders on okay to painful.  I love Michael York and I give him the benefit of the doubt in this role.  Logan is the only character given a modicum of characterization and he handles the material well.  Not to mention there are gunshots and explosions and his hair looks perfect!  Peter Ustinov is bizarre as the Old Man in the third act of the film.  The worst has to be Jenny Agutter (sorry Monty, I know she’s one of your All Good Things childhood crushes).  There’s a moment where she’s talking to Holly (Farrah Fawcett in a minute cameo) and it’s a bizarre dialogue exchange.  Either Jessica has used the Jedi Mind trick on Holly to make her remember events a certain way, or Agutter is helping Fawcett remember a line, or both females acting is just that terrible.  When a character has to recite what just happened, and they say it like they’re reading a script page…that’s bad.  Also, this is another film to add to the “Jenny Agutter gets naked” filmography.  I’ve seen Walkabout which made Agutter’s nudity part of the story, here it feels like an exploitative shot to get young boys in.  The scene is where Jessica and Logan are in an ice world, and Logan has the great idea to take their clothes off and wrap some fur pelts around them (really…that’s your idea?).  Logan only takes off his shirt whereas Jessica takes off all her clothes!  Not two seconds later, the characters decide to put their clothes back on!  I’ve heard of gratuitous nudity but this is gratuitous!

There’s a few funny jokes meant to make the modern audiences chuckle like when the duo discover humans used to breed animals to be eaten.  Jessica blandly calls the past “a savage world.”  Yes, we know these are supposed to be funny because their in the future but the humor is just thrown on your head making it unfunny.  I’m not expecting this film to be funny so why force jokes?

For modern audiences especially, Logan’s Run has been done so many times now it’s no longer enjoyable.  I’ve seen The Island, which is far too close to this film for comfort, and I knew everything that was going to happen.  In terms of seeing it as a standalone film, it’s a cheese-fest to be sure.  It’s not a complete waste of two hours, and Michael York is so damn adorable!  I just wished it had delved further into the world as opposed to flashy SFX and Jenny Agutter naked.

Grade: C-

5 thoughts on “Logan’s Run (1976)

  1. That was great how you mentioned the usage of names that evoke images of childhood. I agree that there are quite a few flaws with this movie, but it is one that I am proud to own. The vibrant costumes and cheesy acting make for a great late night movie with friends. With such a fun concept, I too have always wondered why this and West World haven’t been remade by now. I’ve never seen The Island, but haven’t heard anything redeemable about it either.
    There was another odd sci-fi move made around this time called Zardoz, I would love to read your take on that one.

    • It’s definitely a “late night” movie for sure. Oh I’ve heard about the infamous Zardoz, oddly enough I thought of it while reading this review. It’s on the suggestion list!

  2. Logan’s Run is a movie firmly planted in the 1970s. The casual sex and nudity (which didn’t bother me) were where people thought society was going back then. In addition, there had been a famous phrase – “Never trust anyone over 30” – that ended up being put to the ultimate extreme by having people done away with at 30 in this film. The ankh was also a trendy symbol at the time the film was made. Oh, and the special effects weren’t really that great even at that time, especially the robot.

    By the way, Zardoz is even more firmly rooted in the 70s, with encounter groups, beads, and meditation being things society has to teach a savage.

    • It’s VERY dated, I didn’t think of the nudity in those terms although it’s not surprising now that you mention it (with all the sexual experimentation films that came out around that time backing it up). I didn’t know about the “never trust anyone over 30” and the ankhs which makes more sense now! Zardoz just looks insane and I’m all for a crazy campy good time!

  3. Pingback: The Month in Film: July 2012 | Journeys in Classic Film

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