A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 97 – Logan’s Run (1977)

Logan’s Run – June 5th, 2010

For some reason, after last night, I really wanted to watch this. It’s another from the 1970s, but where The Warriors had its vague future setting stripped out in the theatrical release, this is straight up dystopic science fiction. But they’re both chase movies with feathered hair. I don’t know. It just seemed like a good idea. They’re both based on books, but I haven’t read last night’s. I have read this one but it’s been a few years and I only read it once. I should go back and read it again because watching this now, I realize I’m not entirely certain what about the story’s been changed. I know things were, major things, but what I remember most is the differences in the world itself. The age at which people die is much younger (21 in the book, as opposed to 30 in the movie) and the world is more expansive. I distinctly recall references to people getting bored after doing all there is to do, including climbing Everest. It’s a strange book, and eventually involves going into space I think and there are sequels, but they get progressively weirder, involving alternate realities and space angels or something. Anyhow, the book sets the society up in a much deeper fashion. It makes it clear just how stagnant it is, and how decadent (in the original sense of the word – it has the same root as decay after all). And it sets up Logan and Francis, our hero and our villain, in an interesting way. I’d give away too much if I explained the specifics, but Francis is given a very different role to play near the end.

Anyhow, regardless of what was changed and omitted in order to make the book – which is rich in worldbuilding and backstory – into a movie which has to tell the story without the benefit of pages and pages upon which to set itself, it tells everything fairly well. Much like so many other sci-fi book adaptations, this one had to take a world that is removed from our own, one that has extensive information set forth in several chapters, and somehow communicate it on screen without getting plodding or boring. That, I think, is part of where the Star Wars prequels failed. Since the scrolling text had worked okay in the originals, Lucas put even more into the prequels, but he depended too much on it. In this movie you need to know that people die at 30, forced to try for “renewal” in a sort of arena called Carousel. You need to know that the people are sorted into age groups. You need to know that children are raised by machines. You need to know that sometimes people don’t accept the rules and must be terminated. You need to know all of this. You need to know that the ones who do the terminating are Sandmen and that they live their lives somewhat removed from everyone else. You need to know Sandmen are ruthless and thoroughly believe in the system of their society. You need to know just what the world the main character comes from is like. And given how fast it all happens? The movie does a decent job of setting up Logan, a Sandman, as a runner.

It’s early in the movie when Logan’s whole world is turned upside down and he learns that the forces governing the city and the lives of those in it are not what he’s always believed. Not only does he learn that Carousel and Renewal are all just for show, and that no one ever Renews, but four potential years of his life are stripped away from his lifeclock with no guarantee that they’ll be returned, all so he can track down how 1,056 people have managed to run successfully and find the mysterious Sanctuary they seem to have gone to. He begins as a selfish cad, aware only of his job and his pleasures. And less than half an hour in he’s met up with Jessica, a young woman who’s involved in the underground movement to help runners run and joined the ranks of those he used to look down on and chase. It’s a great mindfuck on him.

And then there’s Francis, who, without the benefit of being told that everything he believes is a lie, thinks Logan really has flipped out and turned runner (which, of course, he has by the middle of the movie but hadn’t when Francis started after him). His world’s gone mad too, with his partner and best friend going off to do exactly what they’ve been trained to stop. I love that the villain in this has motivation like that. He’s not so much mindless evil as brainwashed and feeling betrayed. Where when Logan found out the truth about Carousel he ran, Francis sees any questioning of how things work as a danger to life as they know it. They’re very different personality types. It’s established at the beginning that Logan thinks about things more than Francis, while Francis is more than content to simply accept life in the city as it is. And why shouldn’t he? He has everything he wants. And Logan ruins it. Logan and Jessica. It’s all their fault. It seems a bit short-sighted of the city’s master computer when you think about it. Why not let Logan’s partner in on it? Why not tell him Logan’s going to infiltrate the runners to find out about Sanctuary and destroy it and them? Francis would have been all over it. But that’s not how it goes. So Francis has some seriously interesting motivation.

What I like in this movie isn’t so much the costumes and lack of bras and retro-future vibe it’s got going on like so many other 1960s and 1970s science fiction movies. I mean, that’s fun to watch and all, but what makes the movie for me is that it does a more than halfway decent job presenting the problems of the controlled society that Logan, Francis and Jessica live in and the questions it would raise when the people in it learned the truth. When Logan and Jessica make it outside and learn that Sanctuary was all a lie, just like Carousel and Renewal, that it’s not as simple as finding a safe place hidden away from the city, when Francis follows and learns the same thing, it’s messy. When he gets to the ruins where Logan and Jessica have met up with the Old Man, who was raised outside the city and knows nothing about it and teaches them about growing old and the outside, it’s far too much for him. It would be easy to hate Francis for chasing them and for stubbornly clinging to the way of the city and the rules that control his life, but really, he’s a victim of it too. Logan and Jessica, who already want to be free, have a hard time accepting that Sanctuary isn’t what they thought. But they are free. Francis didn’t want freedom. He wanted his life to remain the same and knowing what he knew by the end made that impossible. It’s a horrible sort of situation.

The end of the movie’s always felt a little anti-climactic to me. Sure, there’s the city computer imploding because Logan’s pulled the old Nomad trick on it, trapping it in a loop of its own failed logic. And there are all sorts of explosions after that and the city breaks open and people all rush out to meet the Old Man whom Logan and Jessica met in the ruins of Washington D.C. but it just feels like the movie’s built up to more. I’m not sure what more, but I wanted something a little different. Maybe it’s that Francis, the villain for most of the movie, is gone by then. Maybe it’s that the city’s destruction doesn’t come across very well. I don’t know. I think I’d have been happier if somehow they’d managed to destroy the city and free everyone without the interrogation and how much it slows everything down because up until then, it’s a fantastic – if a bit dated – movie that deals with some great dystopian concepts.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Logan’s Run (1977)

June 5, 2010

Logan’s Run

Yesterday we reviewed a seventies movie with a lot of running in it. Today we continue the theme. Two years before Star Wars came out the pinnacle of big budget sci-fi films was this: Logan’s Run. I talked a lot in my review for Zardoz about how I felt that the genre of sci-fi had lost some of its edge with the advent of the family friendly blockbuster. This movie is another prime example of that. I feel like for this genre there is a turning point in 1978. There’s a gritty quality to these pre Star Wars films that’s just not to be found any more. It’s not just the gratuitous nudity (though there is plenty of that here) it’s that Star Wars provided a viable economic model for a successful sci-fi film, and the studios started to get greedy. The sci-fi of the eighties and nineties was expected to make money – it was expected to provide a big rousing space battle. It stopped being about examining interesting concepts and asking questions about ourselves and society. Sci Fi became a subset of the big budget action genre, and got somewhat lobotomized in the process. (Ironically there’s a lot in this movie that reminds me of the 1979 Disney movie Black Hole – but I’ve always felt that Black Hole was a desperate attempt to cash in on Star Wars’ success but used some moldy old 1950s script that was lying around the studio, so it’s a strange kind of anachronism.)

I’ve never read the book that this movie is based on, so I can’t speak to the quality of the adaptation in this movie. I’ll leave that to Amanda. The story of the movie is pretty simple. Logan 5 lives in an idyllic perfect world. It’s an engineered society where every luxury is provided to all the citizens of his city, but on one condition: nobody may live beyond the age of thirty. Thirty year old citizens are executed in a complicated public ceremony called “carousel.” Most citizens believe that at this point some people have the chance to “renew,” although the movie is unclear on just what renewal is. It might be some kind of rejuvenation that makes people young again. Or it might be just a stay of execution that resets the life-clocks embedded in the palms of their left hands. But there are some who reject the notion of renewal and choose instead to try to escape from the city before their life clock turns black. These people are branded “runners” and must be hunted down. Of course they were anticipated by those who created the city, so there are people raised and trained to kill them before they escape. These hunters are called “Sandmen” and Logan is one.

One day after Logan terminates a runner he finds an ankh clutched desperately in the runner’s hand. When he presents this artifact to the city computer it assigns him a mission – use the ankh to locate “sanctuary” and discover the fate of the runners who have actually escaped. Logan is shocked to find out from the computer that not only have more than a thousand runners gone unaccounted for but that nobody has ever been renewed, and that there’s an outside – beyond the dome of the city – where the runners might have escaped to. Then the computer plays a dirty trick on him and sets his life clock ahead four years. Logan has no choice but to run himself. And the rest of the movie is, as is implied by the title, about that run. He has to decide weather he’s trying to help the city stop the runners or escape himself. He attempts to enlist the help of Jessica, a girl he met by chance who wears an ankh around her neck. She’s not sure to believe that he’s honestly running or not – because no sandman has ever run. Many adventures ensue.

A comment on Peter Ustinov’s character “Old Man.” I felt somewhat cheated when, years after first seeing this movie, I realized that all his clever dialog about cats wad cribbed from T.S. Elliott. Not only did it make me feel slightly foolish for not getting the reference, but it made me think somewhat less of the scriptwriter. I don’t quite understand that choice. Still – his scenes are some of the best parts of the movie. He’s got such charm and innocence. And here again it’s evident that this movie comes from an earlier era of movie making. What modern movie would have a twenty minute lull in the action to introduce this eccentric madman. It’s a great way to contrast the outside world with the frenetic pace of the city.

Another cool device, which I never noticed until tonight’s viewing, is that the music changes when Logan and Jessica escape from the city. Inside the city the music is all synthesized and artificial. Once they escape the score becomes big and orchestral. I don’t know how I missed that all the other times I’ve watched this.

I really do like this movie. It clearly had a pretty significant budget. There are huge complex sets (like carousel) and lots of quite intricate miniatures, and some cool matte shots and hundreds of extras. Sadly some parts of it haven’t aged too well. In particular the tech of the city and the malevolent “Box” who Logan and Jessica encounter on their way out of the city look almost Doctor Who-ish. Some of it is an art direction thing. The plastic and reflective look of the city and the blinking lights of the central computer would have looked futuristic back in 1977, but nowadays they look pretty dated. As for Box, well, I can see what they were trying to go for with him, you just have to learn to suspend your disbelief a little as he trundles awkwardly around the stage. Like I said, it’s like older Doctor Who. No less fun for looking a little kitchy. And oh, wow, I had forgotten the extremely strange interrogation scene at the end of the movie! It uses actual holograms of Michael York delivering his dialog – animated by rotating them and all recorded practically on the set. It’s a nifty trick, but it is also so surreal – very much a product of the times. Surreality was to be expected in old sci-fi films of the sixties and seventies. Maybe that’s part of what I miss so much. I want my sci-fi to be more mind-bending.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment