Saturday 30 August 2014

Mid-life crisis… Logan's Run (1976)

This is one of those films that my generation remembers very fondly from teenage viewing… solid sci-fi scenario, dystopian glamour, futuristic gadgetry, a space-age city and Jenny Agutter wild-swimming yet again. It’s part of the same strain of edgy speculative fiction as Planet of the Apes with traces of the more optimistic Star Trek and Space 1999. The future’s not what it used to be and does this film survive the tests of time as well as, say 2001 or Solaris (the first one)?

In the City
The story was based on the novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (who also wrote for Star Trek…) and it’s interesting to compare with how well the contemporaneous tales of Philip K Dick have endured as sources for modern films from Blade Runner onwards – the ideas don’t date but visual interpretations inevitably do. Nolan and Johnson’s contention was that the Earth would over-populate and run out of resources and in Logan’s world, the governing computer intelligence ensures that human life must be extinguished at 30 in order for the species to continue based on available resources. Birth and death are strictly controlled with humanity little more than deluded and over-indulged prisoners…. Plus ca change eh?

Richard Jordan and Michael York
Life crystals implanted on citizens’ hands from birth, indicate the proximity to the cut-off point at which everyone has to submit to the process of “Carrousel” a mass spectacle in which everyone has the chance to be “renewed” and to start life afresh… or do they (there has to be a dark secret… there’s always a dark secret…)?

Michael York plays Logan 5 who is a sandman, one of the policemen who help regulate life in the city. His job is to prevent “runners” escaping their death-date and it’s a role he relishes; toying with the desperate escapees along with his best mate Francis 7 (a high-intensity Richard Jordan). Their unquestioning slaughter reflects a society divorced from moral free will – everything is accepted and whilst no one grows old they seem to be stuck in childhood.

I have what he's having etc...
But, not everyone…  Logan finds an Ankh on the body of one runner and is finds another being worn by one Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) who gets teleported into his room as part of some kind of dial-a-date home shopping service with a difference… Before he can get to unwrap his present she has second thoughts – is it because he’s a sandman and is far too curious about the symbol?

He seeks answers from the central computer which identifies the symbol and its connection to an underground movement attempting to help 30-somethings escape the city to a place called Sanctuary. As Logan sits wide-eyed the system tells him he must find Sanctuary and pretend to be a runner. .. he has no choice especially once his life crystal is run down moving him from 26 to 30…

He seeks out Jessica and after convincing her that he’s serious about running gets put in touch with the group, who immediately plan to kill him. Escaping beyond the City to – oddly familiar - labyrinthine tunnels (multiple seventies sci-fi escape routes…) they are confronted by a group of feral children… the truth is indeed out there. Logan lets a runner continue her escape to Sanctuary but Francis has followed and kills her…

The kids are not alright
Logan and Jessica return to the city to meet with a plastic surgeon (Michael Anderson Jr.) who is helping runners by changing their faces with his rather dangerous looking automated surgery…  He has a rather striking assistant Holly 13 (Farrah Fawcett) who smiles reassuringly in a way that suggests that, yes, there really is something to worry about… The Doctor gets a message from the underground movement and sets his machine to slice Logan to death but the table – literally – is turned and Logan escapes with Jessica… Francis not far behind.

Farrah Fawcett
Finally convincing Jessica’s friends that he’s the real deal, Logan runs away from the city, Jessica in tow, as the sandmen arrive to slaughter those left behind… the chase for the truth is on.

As the couple run deeper the temperature changes and they arrive sodden after a close encounter with Francis in an icy cave where they meet a strange robot, Box (Roscoe Lee Browne) who seems very eager to help them. Box is a congenial robot but he hides a most disturbing secret as Logan and Jessica discover wandering down a corridor containing the frozen bodies of dozens of runners. Another example of technology gone bad: a zoo-keeping mechanoid who ends up putting his intended customers on ice…

Bad robot
Logan and Jessica destroy Box and escape through the tunnels finally running to a stop high up a cliff-face looking out on the sun-drenched ruins of Earth. Away from artificial light for the first time in their lives they explore this disorganised and threatening new environment.

After a quick dip to show off Jenny’s elegant front crawl (see Walkabout for further evidence…) they set off in search of Sanctuary and find Washington or at least what’s left of it. Like rather less angry versions of Charlton Heston, they finally work out their world through exposure to the remains of our past glory.

Jenny in the water, again
The American capital is in ruins; overgrown and inhabited by hundreds of cats and, startlingly, a single old man (Peter Ustinov). Jessica and Logan have never seen “old age” before and star with bewilderment at this relic as the truth is gradually revealed.

But, there’s not much time to dwell on the wonder of natural existence as wild-eyed Francis finally catches them up and, in the library of the former White House he faces off against Logan for the final time…

York, Agutter and Peter Ustinov
Will Logan prevail and will he be able to drag it back with him to the City to free everyone from the tyranny of computerised control?

Logan 5 Francis 7?
Dusty verdict: Logan’s Run remains an enjoyable watch and has some excellent sequences and a compelling central premise. Some of the parts are less than the sum of the whole with the strange Box episode undermined by unconvincing ice and robots and the Seventies curse of overly colourful future-scapes – we’re not all bright primary flashes but shades of grey… and we don’t all live in Texas shopping malls.

That said, director Michael Anderson moves things along at pace, there’s superb cinematography from Ernest Laszlo and the city models work well.

Michael York provides a grounded Logan upon whose character arc the whole narrative depends and Richard Jordan provides great intensity as well as a counter-balance in character:  he doesn’t move on and can’t adapt to reality.
Soul: Jenny Agutter
Jenny Agutter runs and swims very well and makes the most of the few moments when a genuine human connection is required; she’s under-used in what is essentially a masculine film and a solo battle between Michael York’s Logan and the city computer.  Farrah seems more at home in this world of short skirts and big hair but Jenny gives the film a key part of what soul it possesses.

Ultimately Logan’s Run is comfort viewing that is not quiet as haunting as it could be... submerging its key questions beneath the techno-flash of its visuals, reducing things down to the chase albeit a very entertaining one enlivened by Jerry Goldsmith’s super score.

Logan’s Run is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon and Movie Mail.

1 comment:

  1. I also took in this film at just the right age to uncritically enjoy it, and Jenny Agutter carbonated my hormones, but nowadays, seeing the film crew reflected behind her in Cathedral and mirrored on Box is somewhat puncturing. One of the keynotes of the book could have been carried over, that the City is _running down_, looking more like '70s New York, squalid - gangs - dirty &c. and getting out is necessary!