Skip to main content

The crags on your face. Do they hurt?

Logan’s Run
(1976)

(SPOILERS) There’s a lot of nostalgia out there for Logan’s Run. Unfortunately, most of it that isn’t focussing on the pulchritudinous presence of Jenny Agutter is unjustified. Logan’s Run’s problems are two-fold. It isn’t escapist enough to be a true crowd pleaser, and it isn’t brainy enough to rank in the top end of more respected SF fare of that immediate period (Planet of the Apes, Silent Running). Plus, it’s directed by Michael Anderson. Nevertheless, Logan’s Run occupies an interesting place for science-fiction movies, as the last of an era grappling with dystopian themes before Star Wars spawned a new visual language and mythic envelope that made such pontificating seem old-hat and antiquated overnight.

What Logan's Run does have going for it, however, besides Jenny Agutter’s extraordinary costuming or lack thereof, is set up, courtesy of William F Nolan and George Clayton’s 1967 novel of the same name. There, the closed-system, post-apocalyptic remnants of humanity exist under rigidly regulated lifestyles in terms of belief and free thought but entirely liberal ones in terms of sexual freedom. Up until the age of twenty-one, that is, when they must die; this was extended to thirty for the movie, in order to accommodate an established lead actor. One wonders on the changes Bryan Singer’s thankfully aborted remake would have adopted. Perhaps he would have insisted on optimal ages reduced to fourteen.

Much of this scenario offers familiar elements in the form of second-hand Huxley-isms that complement the dystopian angle. The city is AI-controlled and the population are chipped (or its equivalent, via a life clock/palm flower crystal that signifies their age and thus remaining lifespan). There is no such thing as the family unit; the young are farmed in incubators. But the movie bears the scars of attempting a mix and match of ideas. The introductory text informs us that, by the twenty-third century, survivors of “war, overpopulation and pollution” (in that order?) are now living in a domed city, cut off from the outer world. Such vagueness is representative. In turn, the novel presents its own conceptual issues, positing youth run rampant, to the extent that by the 1990s, 82.4 percent are under twenty-one and by 2000, critical mass has been reached.

Where the picture capitalises on its inherent sketchiness is the idea of the reset of humanity. It’s something that has gained a degree of cachet of late with such theories as a “mudflood” occurring in the not so distant past (as in, hundreds of years, rather than millennia), or the adding of hundreds of years to the scoresheet such that, for example, the Dark Ages never existed. And under some accounts, neither did much of the medieval period (Pompeii’s destruction comes in around 1631). Such theories drill to a root paranoia that much of our learnt knowledge and unquestionable, established fact may simply be a script the powers that be – the victors, let us say – dictate to us, to be consumed by rote. Until the next reset (you know, the one that occurs through an unfortunate and unforeseen mass culling; just make sure the preponderance of survivors are the very young, ripe for indoctrination with a new legend).

But the problems with Logan’s Run begin with its failure to come up with a very good lie to sell its young, evidenced by the numbers of Runners and Sandmen needed to keep the place running. Clearly, the stupor-inducing drugs and wanton orgies aren’t enough to prevent a significant level of disenchantment. Perhaps it would have been better for the system to dispense with the obvious deaths of the Carrousel and its option for “renewal”, a hasty and somewhat messy alteration from the novel. There, those on their last day must visit a Sleepshop. Indeed, the moniker Sandman has much less resonance without the accompanying Sleepshop concept. The ceremony of the Carrousel brings with it the regalia of occult ritual, so might it have been more effective to promise a seamless transition to a higher plane, sending willing sheep into a booth or equivalent lightshow, such that anything messy occurring is out of sight, out of mind? As it is, the Carrousel visuals, cocaine disco by way of PT Barnum, with a sprinkling of Jason Voorhes, do little to convince that the fantasy of the renewal pill would really be that sweet.

The realisation of Logan’s world has that makeshift quality of much pre-Lucas SF of the period, a cheap-expensive lustre whereby, no matter how impressively vast the models are, they only ever look like models (partly down to the lighting, partly down to the flatness Anderson tended to inflict on his pictures). This was a relatively expensive movie, coming in only two or three million under Star Wars, but you’d be forgiven for assuming, with its reliance on shopping malls, sewers and other real locations, that it comes from the same opportunistic production ethos that gave us the barrel-scraping budgets of Dawn of the Dead or Blake’s 7. The knock-on of this patchwork effect is that it’s impossible to fully buy into the conceit, which means it’s no wonder that the first thing most fans go to is Agutter’s skimpies (even, in an example worthy of “100 Girls I’d like to Pork” from Danny De Vito’s Throw Momma from the Train, devoting a whole blog piece to its formative effect).

This is the kind of movie where the hero (Michael York’s Logan), despite being established as a “villain” while simultaneously as anodyne as Luke Skywalker, is asking questions from the start (“You know, Logan, you wonder a lot. Too much for a Sandman”). Meanwhile, the actual villain (Richard Jordan, enthusiastically sadistic as Logan’s best pal Francis), as headstrong and into self-gratification as he is, is surely more likely to object to having his life, and freedom, snatched away from him (the novel’s twist of Francis being a good guy and older than he seems is more inventive than anything done with the characters here).

Logan’s Run is also the kind of movie where the very careless AI drops clangers that feed the hero’s doubts (“You mean, nobody’s ever reached renewal?”). And to top it all, is defeated with a “Does not compute!” self-destructive climax, the last resort of an inspiration-free screenplay. Sure, you can argue entropy has entered the system, all systems, as evidenced by Box’s twisted angle on food storage (“It’s my job to freeze you”), but the last twenty minutes of the picture are pretty much a redundant slog. Logan returns to the city without any kind of plan and so gets very lucky when the computer doesn’t like what he has to tell. The interrogation is quite striking visually, with a then cutting-edge hologram effect, but that’s about the extent of it.

Indeed, the picture really begins to crumble after the encounter with Box and the exit of Logan and Jennifer into the outside world (whereby we see that the subtext of many a dystopian SF picture remains intact: humanity is a pox on the planet, and it would be a blessing in disguise to wipe out vast swathes in order to rehabilitate it).

Box (Roscoe Lee Browne) is the kind of half-baked concept design that appeared quite frequently before Lucas ushered in fully-devised and interconnected universes, and is thus the more interesting for its oddity. But the decision to dispense with an actual Sanctuary means the picture has no real lift in its last half; I’m not suggesting a Mars colony (per the book) would have been an answer, but Peter Ustinov in old age makeup doesn’t really cut it, not with his improv Southern accent and TS Eliot whimsy. I love Ustinov, but his performance here is the wrong side of indulgent. It adds nothing to picture’s mythic sense at the point where, for example, Planet of the Apes is unearthing human toys; he has no importance other than being old. And the guy from Topkapi.

I suppose one might argue that Ustinov’s presence allows the final scene to celebrate the elderly (rather than leaving them to rot in care homes), but any potential is squandered; the treatment tends to the mawkishly indulgent. Combined with the rather trite rediscovery of the concepts of husband and wife by Logan and Jessica, the movie rather collapses in upon itself. Of course, it doesn’t help that Anderson fails to inject much in the way of urgency and nothing in the way of style to the proceedings, either of which would have helped mask the screenplay’s inadequacies.

The various incarnations of the eternally in development hell remake promised to go back to the source material for inspiration, but the world of Logan’s Run really needs firm foundations from the first to give it legs. The themes of fabricated religion, indoctrination and pacification are the most interesting ones serviced by the picture – ones one might argue reflect current society in various respects, certainly as far as the putting down of “heretical” voices is concerned – but not enough time is spent establishing and realising them.

Doctor Who borrowed liberally from the concept in the first segment of 1986’s The Trial of a Time Lord, in which a hermetically sealed, post-apocalyptic underground society serviced by an AI/robot institutes regular culls to keep the young population stable. No orgies there, however. Indeed, like many 70s pictures, it’s a wonder Logan’s Run managed to merit a PG rating (even the 12 raises eyebrows, not so much for what is shown as implied). Ultimately, the movie never feels sufficiently thought out to reach past the derivative and become comfortably its own thing. Probably its most serviceable aspect is its name. Yes, that must be why they want to remake it.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

Sir, I’m the Leonardo of Montana.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013) (SPOILERS) The title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second English language film and second adaptation announces a fundamentally quirky beast. It is, therefore, right up its director’s oeuvre. His films – even Alien Resurrection , though not so much A Very Long Engagement – are infused with quirk. He has a style and sensibility that is either far too much – all tics and affectations and asides – or delightfully offbeat and distinctive, depending on one’s inclinations. I tend to the latter, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the trailers for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ; if there’s one thing I would bank on bringing out the worst in Jeunet, it’s a story focussing on an ultra-precocious child. Yet for the most part the film won me over. Spivet is definitely a minor distraction, but one that marries an eccentric bearing with a sense of heart that veers to the affecting rather than the chokingly sentimental. Appreciation for