Logan's Run (1976), Dir. Michael Anderson
Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan and Peter Ustinov.
Why I Haven't Seen It Until Now:
Because I've always thought there was no way in hell this movie could live up to its reputation. Surely the countless parodies and satires have robbed the entire thing of any meaning it once had.
Remember when I wrote about Strange Days and talked about how it was a product of the 1990s? Logan's Run is also a product of a specific era and that era is the swinging '60s. While unfiltered 1995-ness kept Strange Days from completely achieving its goal of a realistic, frightening near future, the psychedelic sheen of Logan's Run, while entirely inappropriate for about 98.7% of all science fiction films, works well with the film's more fantastical and colorful vision of the future. It's also appropriate since the whole thing is pretty much a "Hippies VS The Man" story with jumpsuits and ray-guns instead of pot and police batons.
Everyone knows the story (or the basic gist of it): this is a perfect future where everyone has a lot of sex and parties 'til dawn and the guys and the babes are always smokin' hot. However, this is only possible because citizens are systematically murdered on their 30th birthday to control the population. And you know what? Michael York decides he wants to live, man. Screw the system. He's going to make a break for it, man.
After a slow first half, the film picks up when Logan bolts, with the law in close and deadly pursuit. Yeah, the movie has not aged brilliantly when it comes to fight scenes and shoot-outs, but the candy-colored production design, the retro-jumpsuits, the swingin' musical score and the overall "F*ck Fascism, man!" message are unique and strange enough to keep your attention. The tropes of the 1960s are so foreign by modern standards that they make the whole endeavor feel more futuristic than it really is. It's like Austin Powers with a straight face. In the future.
I'd like to open this with a quick conversation that happened between myself and Scott Weinberg of Cinematical and Horror Squad via Twitter:
Me: "Logan's Run may very well have the worst robot ever. No exaggeration."
Scott: "No way. Try Heartbeeps."
Me: "Okay, one of the worst robots ever. So shoddy that I literally gasped."
Scott: "It's weird how I'll get defensive about people knocking things in Logan's Run that I myself KNOW ARE LAME "
Me: "Yeah, but overall it's a charming kind of lame. The robot just pushed things into outright camp for a moment."
Scott: "Totally agree. Even as a kid that robot bugged me. The flick gets sillier right before it gets (ostensibly) brainier."
I copy and paste this exchange because it manages to sum up my feelings on Logan's Run with grace and efficiency (and it means less work for me and I'm lazy). "A charming kind of lame" may sound like a backhanded compliment but...well, it is. No getting around it. Logan's Run has not aged gracefully. The action is dull, the acting is stiff, the model of the city where the bulk of the film takes place looks like it it should have a model train circling it and when people are "renewed" (AKA, murdered in a ritualistic ceremony to control the population), the wires lifting them into the air are clearly visible.
Often shocking shoddiness aside (I'll get to the friggin' robot in a moment), Logan's Run is still an effective film, mainly because the ideas below the surface still feel relevant and the story is working to service an intriguing theme (double points for that one, since the theme of most modern science fiction films is "Pew pew! Laser robots!"). Also, the sexy-people-in-jumpsuits aesthetic of the film is charming, but I'm also a sucker for cornball sci-fi and take some degree of pleasure in watching sets that look like they have a fair amount of cardboard on the walls.
Except for that robot. Grrr.
One thing that completely took me by surprise is the tone of the film. You see, I was convinced Logan's Run was a '60s film, a wacky, zany Our Man Flint with laser guns. It was with some shame that I realized Logan's Run was produced in 1976, so my vision of hippy politics in a tye-dye future was about as far off as you can possibly get. Logan's Run is not a rebellious tirade against The Man, but a product of a decidedly different mindset, one common in '70s films of all kinds. It's all about paranoia, the idea that you're being watched, that you're safety is out of your hands and that you're being lied to. If the '60s were about optimistic rebellion and taking down those in power, the '70s were about watching your back and fearing those in power.
In 2010, I think the average human being can relate to that mindset. This is why Logan's Run is an important, if tremendously flawed and often irritating, science fiction film. If we were only allowed to live until we were 30 and then had to face mandatory extermination, what could we possibly learn? What could we possibly experience? Aside from the whole not wanting to die thing, what would it mean for the human race? There's a reason why teachers and leaders are older. It's because they've learned things. They have experience. They've been educated. People under 30 (and I'm saying this as someone who is under 30) are more interested in sex and partying and having fun than assisting in the growth and maturation of a civilization. The world in Logan's Run may be a "paradise," but it's a stagnant paradise. With no elders, there is no history, there is no real education. No one knows where they came from and where they should be going.
It's scary, deep stuff and it's floating beneath the skin of a cheesy adventure story. The film's final third, where Logan and his companion, having escaped the city and made it outdoors for the first time in their lives, is pretty great stuff and works as a gentle reminder just how awesome nature is, even if the presentation is slightly heavy-handed. Peter Ustinov steals the movie as a slightly bonkers old man they encounter, proving that old people aren't just fountains of knowledge. They're also capable of being crazy awesome.
In fact, it's this final act that almost completely redeems the film's flabby midsection, where, outside of a kind-of-amazing fight in a plastic surgeon's operating room, things take ages to actually get going. In fact, Logan doesn't really start his titular run until surprisingly late in the film. We do get to see Logan at work and play, but so much of what happens is just plain confusing. Despite the first ten minutes being a total exposition dump, the rules and laws of this world are never fully explained. Who, exactly, are the crazed children in the Cathedral? What is the exact meaning of all the colors? I jumped to conclusions and put two and two together a few times, but a little explanation for this complicated society would have been nice.
I know this is an older film, but it's not like proper world-building was beyond the filmmakers' abilities. Star Wars was only a year away. 2001: A Space Odyssey was a decade earlier!
So, now I come to this. I come to my biggest beef with the film. Perhaps it's a testament that my biggest problem is with a single scene that, in the grand scheme, has little effect on the overall plot. However, it's a scene so bad, so out of tune with the rest of the film, that I shifted between anger and incredulity several times in the course of a few minutes.
Yes. It's the robot.
Our heroes escape from the city and find themselves in an ice cave. Then they meet a heavily-accented robot who apparently spends his time making ice sculptures of polar animals and eating human flesh. Here's the a**hole now:
He even shows them an ice wall where he's preserved dozens of future meals. Then he pulls out a laser gun and a harpoon gun (!) and tries to kill them before being killed in a cave-in. Putting aside the fact that the robot design is terrible and the construction and performance leave something to be desired, the entire scene is just, well, stupid. If the rest of Logan's Run is silly, it's silly because it's aged poorly. This is silly because it's a scene with an ice-sculpting, harpoon wielding Eastern European robot who eats human flesh and isn't even that big of a threat to our heroes. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
But you know what, it's only one scene. Right, Scott?
Scott: "Clarification: As a whole I love and admire Logan's Run. Some components of it are really silly today. Like the costumes and goofball robot."
Yeah. I think that just about sums it up.
(Next week's entry will be Forbidden Planet. Then, voting will resume and this column will go wherever you will it to go! And a special thanks to Scott Weinberg. I hope he doesn't mind me stealing his tweets for my own greedy purposes. You can follow him on Twitter as @scotteweinberg.)