Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia

I’m Getting Off This Merry-Go-Round: Logan’s Run (1976)

Identify, Tor.com! Are you still young enough to enjoy a Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia? I bet you are!

Today’s entry in the MRGN is that retro classic of 1976, Logan’s Run. It takes all the fun out of dying!

Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.

And now, the post!

So! Logan’s Run, boyeth and girleth, is a 1976 film starring Michael York as Logan 5, a law enforcement officer in a seemingly perfect futuristic city tasked with the duty to chase down and kill “Runners”, or those who try to escape the City, and doesn’t see anything wrong with that – until he becomes one himself.

I should mention at the outset that we’re cheating a little on this one, as Liz had not actually seen Logan’s Run before we watched it for the MRGN. Kate says she’s seen it, but remembered very little of it. We decided, though, to do the movie anyway, mostly because it had been requested so many times in the MRGN comments, and also because I, unlike my sisters, have vivid memories indeed of sitting down with my mother and watching it on TV, and being enthralled with what I would only later understand was the concept of post-apocalyptic dystopia.

Dystopian projections of the future were nothing new in science fiction cinema by the 1970s, of course. Not with predecessors like 1984 (both the Orwell novel from 1949 and its film adaptation in 1956), The Time Machine (the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel), and even all the way back to Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis in 1927. But the 60s and 70s in particular seemed to have a special fondness for the dystopian trope, what with the popularity of films like the Planet of the Apes series, The Omega Man, A Clockwork Orange, THX 1138, Soylent Green, etc. Imagining all the myriad ways in which humans could thoroughly fuck up the future was very popular in the Cold War/Vietnam era, let’s just say. I can’t imagine why!

Logan’s Run is actually part of a subgenre within that subgenre: a future which initially disguises itself as a utopia, and is only revealed as dystopian as certain key elements become clear, taking a page from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (as have many others, both before and since 1976).

Or rather, it would have been, if some genius hadn’t decided to blow the twist by putting an overly explanatory title card at the beginning, cluing us in to the “dys” prefix of this particular –topia before we even got to see it. Ugh.

But then, Hollywood has a long history of not trusting in the intelligence of its audience to get what’s going on, especially in the realm of SF. (And it’s not just a 70s thing, either – they did the same thing with the opening of Dark City in 1998.) Whether I think this is a wise prejudice to hold or not tends to vary with whatever my cynicism threshold level is on any given day, but today I’m veering toward being annoyed with the decision to not let the movie itself tell the audience that the seemingly perfect utopia of the movie’s domed city is actually a giant death cult in disguise.

KATE: A spinning giant death cult, whee!

LIZ: Worst merry-go-round EVER.

This scene is, naturally, the most vivid of my memories of Logan’s Run. (Also, apparently, one of the most elaborate high-wire stunts ever put on film.) But then, as a kid, it’s probably hard to forget watching a scene where people voluntarily submit to being spun up into the air and blown up like the world’s most grisly popcorn air popper.

It’s even more viscerally affecting though, I think, watching it as an adult who is definitely past the City’s horrifyingly arbitrary cutoff date of thirty years old. I mean, shit, that’s not even half a lifetime, for most of us. What an unbelievable waste.

In this, the film is definitely taking a cutting potshot at the youth-worshipping culture that sprung up in the 20th century (and particularly in Hollywood), with the premise that the City’s hedonistic paradise can only be achieved by keeping the population limited to the young and the beautiful.

Also, in the 70s, “hedonistic paradise” was apparently conveyed by what I imagine it would look like if Walt Disney dropped acid, built a giant mall in Vegas, and then mandated a 24/7 disco toga party dress code for everyone in it.

LIZ: Seems legit.

KATE: No bras! No black people!

Suffice it to say, a film in which apparently the only person of color to survive the vaguely-alluded-to apocalypse is actually the voice of a homicidal robot is not winning any prizes for racial awareness. It’s not really going to win any sexual freedom awards either: despite making a token acknowledgment that homosexuality exists (by having a man show up on the “Circuit” Logan accesses while looking for a sexual partner), the film quickly assures us that our protagonist is not like that, as Michael York is quick to be all “nope” and switch to the pointedly much more palatable option of Jessica 6, played by Jenny Agutter.

I love Jenny Agutter (she’s fabulous in Call the Midwife), but needless to say, Agutter’s character in this film is not exactly a triumph for feminism, either. But hey, the movie’s kind of trying to be open-minded even if it mostly fails, so okay, fine, whatever, 70s proto-liberalism yaaaaay.

Anyway, the film’s plot gets underway when the computer/artificial intelligence (I guess? that is controlling the city? presumably?) decides it wants to know what the hell this “Sanctuary” place is that all these Runners think they’re going to, and make it go away, and commissions Michael York to infiltrate and destroy Sanctuary. It does this by taking away his remaining four years before his Lastday killin’ date, and making him a Runner himself.

LIZ: Guess not!

KATE: HAH-ha!

ME: Man, that is cold.

The use of the ancient Egyptian ankh as an emblem of the Runners is apropos considering it literally means “life”, which is pretty good as an antithesis to the whole kill-us-when-we’re-thirty mindset, because what the hell, future people. For further cultural flavoring, the law enforcement officers of the City are called “Sandmen”, which puts a nice ominous spin on “entity that puts you to sleep.” …Permanently. Hah.

And then blah blah blah Logan and Jessica almost die of cosmetic surgery (holy crap Farrah Fawcett was in this) and random orgy and feral rugrats and fishfarming murderbots, like you do, and finally escape the City to find that the fabled “Sanctuary” is, uh, this:

KATE: They were assholes.

ME: HTH!

We thought the DC ruins set work looked very impressive, actually. Especially in comparison to the stiff fakeness of the City. I suppose it’s much easier to realistically impose a look on a place that already exists than to realistically create a place out of whole cloth. In any case, the whole Washington, D.C. sequence was very Planet of the Apes, in a good way, and we enjoyed it in that particular way that acknowledges that teeny tiny part of you that just wants to see the world burn.

And then of course the big revelation was that OMG people can get old, encapsulated in the person of Peter Ustinov, who I suspect was much better stunt casting in 1976 than he is now, because sadly while he was much decorated and esteemed an actor while he was alive, his legacy has rather faded since then. I feel obscurely guilty that I don’t really know him outside of Googling him for the purposes of this article, even though I know I’ve seen several of the productions he was in.

LIZ: Ugh, why is he quoting such a terrible Broadway musical?

ME: Ah, jeez.

Then I had to explain that the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of “Cats” (a) didn’t come out until 1981, and (b) was based on a much older collection of poems by T.S. Eliot, so Ustinov was definitely quoting Eliot here and not the musical. And now I wonder if there’s a term for the phenomenon of later obnoxious interpretations of a thing retroactively killing any appreciation for other homages to the original thing.

And then, like so many SF film adaptations that don’t feel the need to be as holistically coherent as the novels they are frequently based upon, the ending of the film raises more questions than it answers:

First of all, that’s a very Asimovian approach to killing an AI with a simple paradox, so well done there, I guess, but then we were all like, okay, but, does that mean this AI has been controlling the city all this time? And if so, who built it and how did it get to this point? Was it in collusion with murderbot Box and its determination to replace “protein from the sea” with frozen Runners? Have the occupants of the City been Soylent Green-ing it up all this time? And, generally, just what the hell is the deal here?

We don’t know, because the film never tells us. Liz comments that this is a common (and frustrating) sin of movies of this era, in that they never seem to really explore the implications of the setting and premise they are using. Leaving some things to the imagination is fine up a point, of course, but come on. I wanna know more!

This led to a discussion in which we all concluded that this would be a great film to remake, in fact, not only for the chance at improved special effects, but also (hopefully) for a treatment of the story which would more fully address the whys and wherefores of the world the basic premise implies. And in fact there have been ongoing reports of attempts at a remake, though I will view them with appropriate skepticism until something more than vague rumors is acknowledged.

That said, we all agreed that there was a lovely old school classic SF feel to Logan’s Run which we think rather disappeared from science fiction and fantasy movies and TV from the 80s on. The way I think of it, the 1920s through the 1950s invented the most fundamental SF tropes, the 60s and 70s expanded them as far as they would go, and everything since then has been either a deconstruction, subversion, or simple continuation of same.

But this is very much a personal impression based on my own particular explorations of the speculative fiction world, so I do very sincerely invite people to come and fight me on that assertion in the comments, because I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that I don’t know everything about this and would love to learn more.

So tell me, tell me, tell me! What do you think of Logan’s Run? Or SF in the 70s? Or dystopian futures? Or Michael York’s inexplicably bothersome face? Or how a bunch of hedonists who never work for anything are all thin and beautiful instead of being in fat babychairs like in Wall-E? Whatever it is, I want to hear your thoughts!

In the meantime, please enjoy our Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness!

For Logan’s Run:

Nostalgia: 5, since I was the only one who really remembered it

Reality: 7.5, for a maddeningly incomplete and period-cheesy but still intriguing story that we wanna know more about.


And thus ends the MRGN for today, my chickies! Now go on and don’t subscribe to any giant whirligig death cults, and come back in two weeks for our next installment, yay!

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