Logan’s Run (1976), or Is 30 Really So Old?!

4 05 2009

The future is always bad. Whether it’s nuclear fallout, zombie holocaust situations, or robot armies of our own design, we always expect the worst from ourselves. Our perceived soon-to-be follies are not new concepts by any means; 2000 years ago, when flocks of religious nuts were roaming the Roman countryside, the earth was on the brink of apocalypse even then. But now that we actually have the capability to destroy every man and woman on the planet, it seems that the doom-criers have come out in droves. It’s not an invalid point of view, and I can certainly sympathize with the idea that we’re so dumb we’re bound to kill ourselves. But I don’t like the sentiment that optimism is equal or greater than ignorance and naivete. I believe that we have the ability to maintain our world without exploding everything, and I say it not through the doe-eyed glance of a Pollyanna, but someone who has studied history’s follies enough to think that we have at least a chance of stabilizing ourselves before it becomes too late. According to today’s picture, Logan’s Run, we are already on the road to apocalypse, but I wouldn’t put my money on the scenario they imagine, either.

It is the 23rd century. Guess what? Man has virtually destroyed itself, and the descendents of the survivors live in a gigantic domed paradise. Their self-sufficient society has everything, and everybody lives in an ignorant Utopian Shangri-La. THERE’S JUST ONE CATCH!!! Nobody in the society is allowed to reach the age of thirty. At birth, a device called a Lifeclock is implanted into each child’s hand. It starts out clear, but the closer to thirty one ages, the darker it becomes, going to red, then blinking red, then finally black, the end of everyone’s allotted life period. There are two options for thirty year-olds; begging for renewal at the mysterious Carousel ceremony, where people are killed while praying for the far-off hope of being blessed with a cleared Lifeclock, or running away and trying to escape the dome (these people are called Runners). Our main character, Logan 5, is a “Sandman”, a young man who hunts and kills Runners. He is a rough and cold individual with no remorse for his actions, but he is found to merely be a product of a disturbing system, and not genuinely without feelings. Something begins to stir in him when one of the Runners he kills is found with a strange Ankh on his person, and it is revealed that the symbol is being used by a group that assists Runners reach a place outside of the dome called “Sanctuary”. Things get even more complicated when the computerized consciousness of the domed city gives him a mission to go undercover as a Runner to locate the secret location of Sanctuary. During this life-changing mission, Logan 5 learns a lot about himself, the society that bred him, and the nature of the fear of death. Oh, and Lifeclocks and Carousels and Ankhs and all that jazz.

This is a movie with a very strong concept that gets lost in all of its technobabble and special effects. Logan’s Run could have been a stronger movie with a more powerful message if it hadn’t taken so much time setting up THE FUTURE. All that setup I gave the damn story in the last paragraph is more justice than the film gave its own plot or its central players, including Michael York as Logan 5! From the Carousel chamber, to the Lifeclock buttons, to the crappy 23rd century computers, to the giant guardian robots, this movie has an overwhelming aesthetic sense, which is good in most cases, but the characters have no depth to anchor the movie’s more fantastic elements. I could even forgive a lack of depth if the movie itself were driven by other motives, like Stanley Kubrick’s relentless 2001: A Space Odyssey, but when the name of your movie is Logan’s Run, you kind of expect the movie to be driven by the eponymous character.

I’ll say that there is definitely a lot of adventure to be had. For a movie with “something to say”, its fairly fast-paced. I guess “Run” is the operative word in Logan’s Run; what was I thinking, looking for serious questions to life’s riddles? Action springs up often out of nowhere, and there is always something to be somewhat concerned with. There are a number of shootout scenes, grappling scenes, chasing scenes, sneaking scenes, and robot fighting sequences for your enjoyment, if you’re not already poisoned by your own testosterone in this post-Rambo era of hypermasculinity and over-stimulation.

The special effects are really impressive, though. A full year before Star Wars and the subsequent sci-fi bum-rush, this was certainly a visionary film. The sheer ambition on display here is staggering. Quite often, though everything is incredibly dated by today’s jaded standards, the meticulous detail given to the futurescape is impressive enough to propel me from scene to scene without bitching about philosophical ramifications too much. My favorite special effect, and perhaps my favorite character is Box. He is a funky looking robot assigned to guard the outside world from Runners, among other things. He has some of the best lines in the film, and he looks like a Muppet wrapped in tin foil invading my nightmares. I love him, and for 1976 I can see the craftsmanship and detail put into him was pretty top notch.

This is the kind of film I would watch back to back with Soylent Green or Planet of The Apes; dark 70s sci-fi with something to say. And while Logan’s Run could have had the most to say, it remained surprisingly silent, muted behind a frame of metallic gadgets and gizmos. It isn’t without merit, to be sure, though, as the action is actually quite engaging and the special effects are wonderful at their best and merely laughably bad at their worst. Watch it with some friends and get a laugh or two, or perhaps linger over a deeper conversation involving the love-hate relationship we maintain with technology and our willingness to discard the elderly. Or not. Either way, Logan’s Run gets 7 1/2 tin foil Muppets out of 1o from me. Here’s to hoping society has no intention of destroying the aged!

Tomorrow I take a trip back to 1928 to enjoy a slice of history, when I will watch The Passion of Joan of Arc!