Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Back to 1976: LOGAN'S RUN

by Heath Holland
In the future, everyone is dying to make it through Carousel.

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.
It’s fun to go back and check out what science fiction was like before 1977’s Star Wars pretty much single-handedly changed the way that the genre would look moving forward. Loosely adapted from a 1967 novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Logan’s Run takes place in a future (2274, to be specific) in which the world has been damaged due to war, pollution, and especially overpopulation. In response to these threats, society has devised a system in which citizens live beneath a dome, separating the wasteland outside from a posh, luxurious lifestyle within where their every need and desire are catered to by servants and technology. The only catch to this is that life ends at 30 when people are sent to “Carousel,” a process by which they will either be terminated or renewed. Funny thing is, no one has ever really seen anybody get renewed.

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.
One of the things that really appeals to me about Logan’s Run is the retro-future aesthetic. This is one of those movies that looks like a day in EPCOT, with white walls and seemingly not a squared corner in sight. The vision of the domed city itself (achieved in the film to great effect by the use of large models) looks uncannily like what Walt Disney had planned for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. This is the same retro-futurism seen in the 1979 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.
Underneath the special effects (most of which hold up really well) and the beautiful cast, there’s a sense of humanism and affirmation running underneath the movie that I don’t feel like would have existed had this film been made a little bit earlier in the seventies. Compare and contrast this to other sci-fi films from the late 1960s and early 1970s like 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 d├ęcor 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.
Despite its conscience, Logan’s Run is not a political movie by any stretch. It has an awareness of societal issues, but it isn’t interested in preaching to its audience. More than anything, the movie just wants to have a groovy good time and show off some trippy special effects. Because it doesn’t take itself all that seriously, it’s allowed to be fun, which is the big takeaway. A lot of things keep me coming back to Logan’s Run: the retro-futurism seems quaint, but comforting to me, like a dream we once had that never came to pass. The practical special effects never overtake the story, and the plot never takes a backseat to roller coaster visuals. There’s a fantastic score provided by Jerry Goldsmith, who is the guy that gave us the triumphant theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Most importantly, it’s easy to watch and root for Logan 5 and Jessica 6 because all they want is to live, which is all any of us want. Their only crime in the movie is survival. I know that we’ve got a lot of ground to cover over the coming weeks, but I started my “Back to 1976” series with this movie because, in my opinion, it’s one of the best from its class. I love this movie.

Read more of Heath's writing at his blog Cereal at Midnight!

2 comments:

  1. I have a real weakness for 70s sci-fi, and Logan's Run is way up on the list. I've written on this site before that it appears to be a response to the transition from the 60s to the 70s. In the 60s, promiscuity and unrestrained sexual behavior were linked to the counterculture's desire to break free from old, conservative ideas. In the 70s the hedonism remained, but no longer had the political impetus that gave it meaning beyond simple gratification. In the world of Logan's Run the children of the dome have no real sense of intimacy or love, embracing unrestrained sexual pleasure for pleasure's sake. The film reportedly had some scenes depicting how the citizens were in reality callous and lacking empathy for others, but sadly these scenes were either deleted or never shot. It is only when Logan and Jessica move out of the dome that they genuinely fall in love and begin to care for each other. It is also that newfound sense of caring that drives Logan to return to the dome to save the others.

    And yes, I can't freaking believe this got a PG rating. The "Love Shop" scene alone would get a guaranteed R today.

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