Welcome to “Back to 1976!” Hollywood Heath Holland here, and I’ll be your humble host as we wander through the cinematic past, back to the days of disco, bell bottoms, and Mr. Kotter. I believe 1976 to be a unique year in filmmaking. The movies from that year occupy a weird bubble, a state of flux after 1975’s mega-hit Jaws, but before the massive success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977. The movie theaters were soon to be dominated by the blockbuster mentality, forever changed by the likes of Skywalkers, Supermen, treasure-hunting archaeologists, but the blockbuster model, aside from Jaws, was still largely a thing still on the horizon. 1976 was the year that brought us bona fide dramatic classics in Rocky and Taxi Driver, but there are a lot of other movies from that year that don’t seem to get the same level of discussion. It’s primarily those “other movies” that I’m interested in exploring over the coming weeks as we delve into the hazy, crazy, and downright weird offerings of 1976. First up is the science fiction extravaganza, Logan’s Run.
Our protagonist is Logan 5, played by Michael York (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery). He’s a Sandman, someone akin to a police officer who tracks down “runners” who refuse to face Carousel, who he then eliminates. When Logan is tasked with finding a group of runners who have escaped the dome, he discovers that all is not as simple as he had believed and—even though he’s not yet nearing thirty—his own life is in danger. Together with another young runner named Jessica 6 (a fresh-faced Jenny Agutter, An American Werewolf in London), Logan finds himself being hunted by the very organization he once served as he races toward a mythical refuge called “Sanctuary.”
Our supporting cast is populated by some notable actors. In the role of Francis 7, a Sandman that was Logan’s friend and now must pursue him, is Richard Jordan (The Hunt For Red October, Dune). Jordan plays his part with a believable sense of betrayal and anger, and he doesn’t understand why his friend would turn his back on the law and order that he helped to create. In a brief-but-memorable role, we get Farrah Fawcett (billed here as Farrah Fawcett-Majors because she was married to Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man), coming just three months after the debut of the hit TV series Charlie’s Angels. Character actor Roscoe Lee Browne embodies a robot named Box, and Peter Ustinov (Spartacus, Disney’s Robin Hood) is an old man that our runners encounter in their search for Sanctuary.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture that was quickly scrapped in favor of a more militaristic vibe for Wrath of Khan. In fact, the only other movie I can think of that takes retro-futurism this far is Disney’s Tomorrowland. In reality, the look of Logan’s Run was largely achieved by filming inside of the Dallas Market Center, which is a 5-million-square-foot trade center in Texas that was built to architecturally resemble a place of commerce in the future.
Essentially, the interiors of the dome habitats look like they’re shot inside of the biggest mall you’ve ever seen in your life. There are mirrors everywhere, including on the ceiling, and the multi-level location gives the living environments beneath the dome a kind of realism that I doubt could have been realized with sets on a soundstage. This movie is just oozing with retro-future style. Check out the incredible poster art for further appreciation.
Another thing that Logan’s Run has going for it is that it’s simply really sexy. You’d be hard-pressed (snicker) to find two better looking people in the mid-seventies than Michael York and Jenny Agutter. York was in his early thirties (old enough for Carousel!), while Agutter was in her early twenties, and the camera just loves them. Also, for a PG-rated film, there’s a surprising amount of nudity. When Jessica-6 is introduced, she’s wearing nothing more than a thin, transparent-green sheet that hides nothing. You’ll find both male and female nudity here, though it’s not ostentatious and certainly isn’t exploited. My point in bringing this up is that it’s always interesting when you go back and watch movies from a few decades ago and realize how what we deem to be appropriate has changed over the years. This is not the first time we’ll have a conversation about the permissive attitudes of movies from 1976.
Planet of the Apes or Soylent Green, I’ll even throw in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you’ll discover that there’s an innocence not present in those earlier works. It’s worth pointing out that the mid-seventies was a pretty progressive and eventful time. The Vietnam War had finally ended, the sexual revolution was in full swing, and society was starting to look forward with optimism instead of dread. I believe 1976 is a transitional year that paved the way for all the blockbusters and popcorn movies that would soon become a way of life, and Logan’s Run is evidence of this. Underneath the cool story about Runners and Sandmen, there’s an awareness and concern for the environment, nature co-existing with technology, and over-population, but it’s wrapped in a crowd-pleasing package.
Clearly something about this movie resonated with audiences, because it was successful enough to be spun-off into a television show the following year. Unfortunately, it was not a success, and it’s been suggested that this was because the show came out after Star Wars, when shiny disco décor took a backseat to the used future and Sergio Leone landscapes that George Lucas displayed in his space opera. Still, something about Logan’s Run makes it really memorable and unique, so it’s not surprising that Hollywood has been trying to find a way to remake this for at least twenty years, going back to the mid-nineties when Leonardo DiCaprio was rumored to be the new Logan. Bryan Singer talked about wanting to remake this for modern audiences, but nothing ever materialized. I’d actually be curious to see a new take on this movie, but I suspect that one of the reasons it hasn’t yet been done is because the themes of the movie are at odds with the current cynical movie trends. I’m okay with the remake residing in development hell.
Read more of Heath's writing at his blog Cereal at Midnight!