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Logan's Run

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Logan's Run

Starring: Michael York, Jenny Agutter
Director: Michael Anderson Sr.
Rated: NR
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: June 1976
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Richard Jordan, Peter Ustinov, Farrah Fawcett, Roscoe Lee Browne

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

In Spring of 1982 the biggest television event in former Yugoslavia was the series of five science fiction films being premiered on Belgrade state television. Among them four were MGM classics made in late 1960s and 1970s - 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, LOGAN'S RUN, WESTWORLD, DEMON SEED (fifth was relatively obscure Croatian 1976 period horror IZBAVITELJ). Those four films left strong and lasting impression on the author of this review, reaffirming his love of science fiction and helping him to shape his taste in the movies, and also learning him to distinguish good from bad examples of the genre. The impact was even stronger, thanks to the fact that many of those films were re-aired shortly afterwards, as part of daytime educational program (and uncut, which should give you rather insightful look into the censorship standards of former Yugoslavia). On the other hand, although all those four films happened to be great, there was only one that found special place in my heart. It was LOGAN'S RUN, 1976 science fiction spectacle by Michael Anderson.

The plot of the film is based on the 1967 novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. It begins in the year 2274, in a world depopulated by industrial pollution where the survivors live in the huge city under the dome. This last remaining piece of civilisation is actually a nice place to live - advanced machines, controlled by omni-potent Computer, fulfil all existential needs, leaving inhabitants to spend all their lives enjoying technological luxury, free sex, hallucinogenic drugs and other exotic forms of entertainment. However, due to the population limit, all citizens must end their life at the age of thirty, being subjected to spectacular quasi- religious ritual of Carousel that offers vague hope of "renewal". Those who try to escape Carousel and live past their thirtieth birthday are known as Runners, and their capture and immediate execution is a job for the police force known as Sandmen. Logan 5 (played by Michael York) is a Sandman who is given a special task by Computer - he must locate mythical place that shelters Runners, known as Sanctuary, and destroy it. Logan, in order to achieve that task, must pretend to be a Runner and thus infiltrate the underground network of people who help Runners in their escape. Logan gets in touch with beautiful Jessica 6 (played by Jenny Agutter), one of the members of that group, and slowly builds her trust. She leads him to Sanctuary and Logan along the way falls in love with her, begins questioning his own life as a Sandman and decides to become Runner for real. But, Computer has sent another Sandman, his former best friend and colleague Francis 7 (played by Richard Jordan) who would hunt two of them even if it means going outside allegedly impenetrable city limits.

LOGAN'S RUN is often referred as the best example of a science fiction movie that didn't age very well. This is most evident in the area of special effects. In 1976 MGM spent huge sums of money for the special effects that were state-of-the-art for its time and actually won an "Oscar". But, only a year later, STAR WARS would set much higher standards and make LOGAN'S RUN look cheap and laughable. We become aware of film's age in the beginning, when the audience, which is introduced to the futuristic city by spectacular panoramas, actually sees rather pathetic miniature models. Such impression is somewhat improved later in the film, especially in the scenes featuring Washington D.C. of the distant future.

But the problems for LOGAN'S RUN aren't limited to the obsolete visual effects. Characters are sometimes given lines that seem unrealistic, directed more towards the audience than to each other. Music by usually reliable Jerry Goldsmith is of variable quality -after the effective opening theme that combines classical orchestration and electronic instruments, he goes to more standard territory. And Anderson as director uses that music on the wrong scenes. The acting is, to put it mildly, bellow standards you might expect in science fiction classics. Michael York is not the best casting choice for the protagonist, looking somewhat too intellectual for tough, macho hero of futuristic action drama. His partner Jenny Agutter has rather thankless role of classic damsel in distress, and she is better remembered for her good looks and skimpy clothes (and lack of in couple of moments, brief but well- remembered by male science fiction fans in their early teens). However, even her thankless role is well played, at least compared with terrible acting by Farrah Fawcett in episodic role that became legend of its own. Late Richard Jordan, on the other hand, is excellent as Logan's friend-turned-nemesis, bringing raw, masculine humanity to his character, including some homoerotic overtones. His total opposite is equally superb Peter Ustinov who gives dignified portrayal of half-senile, almost childlike Old Man.

But all that flaws, that turned LOGAN'S RUN into "that film that didn't age well", "that 1970s schlock" and MST fodder, are not so important for the overall impression of the film. At least when we consider how different this film is from science fiction cinema of today. Now we expect science fiction films to feature CGI graphics, cool soundtracks and spectacular action, which makes plot and characters less important. But in 1976, before Lucas and Spielberg began their infantilisation of American cinema industry, Hollywood science fiction was built on different principles. Interesting ideas, plots and characters were more important than cool special effects. LOGAN'S RUN was made on those principles, as a film that allowed viewers to use their heads, as well as their senses, making them think long after the end credits.

LOGAN'S RUN, like any good, thought-provoking vision of the future, is actually built on some trends in the present. The authors of original novel, written in 1967 (mediocre according to most on-line critics, and, the author of this review, after reading the sequel, tends to believe them), were inspired by social turmoil of late 1960s and counter-culture of younger generations, violently opposed towards establishment of the older generations. They saw this revolt as a consequence of unprecedented economic prosperity and technological advances, making younger generations, now unaffected by hardships of the past, less motivated to take responsibility for their lives as their parents had done. In the future, role of parents (and welfare state) is taken by omnipotent technology and the tables are turned - the younger generations now belong to establishment; hedonism and instant self- gratification is supreme social value and those who preach family, work and responsibility are considered dangerous subversives. A decade later, young rebels of 1960s grew older, world economy was hit by fuel crisis, but hedonism was still reigning supreme and the vision of the future in LOGAN'S RUN was still very believable. And the idea of mandatory age limits was not so alien to the generations that grew on slogans like "Don't trust anyone over thirty".

This vision of future is, of course, hardly utopian. Script by David Zelag Goodman, same as the novel, sees the brave new world of LOGAN'S RUN as dehumanised, totalitarian and sterile. Material wealth of this new world is by definition limited, and so are the boundaries of space, as well of creativity. Despite filmmakers' efforts to make the world as exotic as 1970s America, we could still see monochromatic fashion, so typical for typical totalitarian, oppressive dystopias of classical science fiction. And the humanity in this world, same as in classical story THE MACHINE STOPS by E.M. Forster, is so accustomed to supertechnology that it becomes doomed when this supertechnology begins failing (as it happens in this film). What is more disturbing is the fact that we might see seeds of this dystopia in our lives - recently Y2K phenomenon was supposed to cause effects similar to the ones seen in the last scenes of the film.

Perhaps some viewers wouldn't like the alternative to this dystopia, which offer conservative worldview. Hedonism and instant self-gratification ultimately lead to moral and physical decay, as well as life without obligations, which in the end becomes empty and pointless. Instead, people should return to the ideals of glorious past (symbolised in Washington D.C.) and re-embrace family, work and responsibility. Those who follow such path, like the hero of this film, would be rewarded with valuable experience of past generations and thus get ability to beat corrupt, decadent system. Taking this into account, the ending of the film, often referred, as unbelievable embodiment of bad SF stereotypes, actually becomes quite effective. The film ends on positive note - although the powerful finale still leaves one important question unanswered. Would society as a whole be as successful as Logan and manage to survive its transformation from bunch of decadent pleasure- seekers into responsible human beings?

Whether LOGAN'S RUN happens to be conservative reaction on the excesses of 1960s and 1970s or not, might be debatable. But it still remains very interesting and entertaining piece of classic science fiction cinema.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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