Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cult Classic of the Week: Logan's Run (1976)

Based on the 1967 novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run was released in June of 1976. Less than one year later Star Wars hit theaters, and everything would change. The film, then, acts almost like a bridge between the darker, dystopian theatrical science-fiction films of the 1960s and early 70s, and the blockbuster science-fiction films of the late 1970s and after. Science fiction on TV, however, still looked the same into the early Eighties: shows such as Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica, for example, had sets with lots of glass, blinking lights and chrome panels.

I remember seeing the movie on TV once or twice, but most of my early memories of it were from the short-lived Marvel Comics series and articles in Starlog and other magazines. I clearly remember the vast majority of photos in those articles being 1) the futuristic cityscape miniature, 2) the still of Michael York firing the Sandman gun with its distinctive four-way muzzle flash, and 3) Farrah Fawcett. Of course, the nudity was edited out of the TV print.

In the 23rd century, a perfectly-balanced society run by a central computer system exists within a multi-domed city. Life exists only for the pursuit of pleasure, which grows more intense as each person approaches his or her thirtieth year and their Lastday: entering into the performance known as Carousel with the hope of "renewal". Some members of the population try to avoid this fate and run, escaping the city for a mythical Sanctuary. When Logan-5, a "Sandman" who's job it is to terminate runners, finds a symbol of Sanctuary on a runner's body, the computer assigns him the task to go outside the city and find Sanctuary and the missing runners, setting his own lifeclock forward to Lastday... 

Logan's Run was an impressive film for the time in which it was made, and it has that MGM "epic film" look to it. It was one of the last to develop from that massive 1960s-70s studio system. A budget of $9 million was quite a lot for a film in 1975, and the studio made a profit with it, earning around $50 million worldwide. Much of the action takes place in indoor locations and would have cost much more if shot entirely on soundstages. The crew took advantage of several "futuristic" looking buildings in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for many of the indoor locations. They also used older buildings such as a sewer plant for some of the undercity locations.  Even then, the sets that were constructed for the film are really well done. Logan's apartment, the "New You", and most impressively, the computer room at Sandman headquarters. The size and scope of that room are beyond what I imagine for most films made at the time. It reminded me of the extravagantly large sets from an earlier MGM classic, Forbidden Planet.

The film's visual effects certainly deserved the Academy Award that was won the following year. Three effects sequences stand out: the wire effects for Carousel, the cityscape miniatures, and holography. The scene of Logan's interrogation by the computer was the first use of holograms in a major motion picture. In the audio commentary director Michael Anderson mentions that although they looked flat in the film, they were much more three-dimensional in real life.

The miniature cityscape was an outstanding achievement for the time. Much of its effect was due to the size and detailing. I did not know that it was built at a scale where many of the buildings were four or five feet tall. Stock footage of the city continued to be used in science-fiction films and television shows for years, including (apparently) one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Logan's Run shares many similarities with another dystopian classic, George Lucas' THX-1138. In both films, we have future societies insulated from the outside world, a complacent population, a society run by and dependent on one or many ruling computer systems, and at least one character who fights to find a way out. The main difference being that in Logan's Run the population live for fun without care, while in THX-1138 the people of the city are drugged worker drones without any type of social life. I watched THX-1138 again fairly recently, and I'll have more to say about it in some future post. The thought crossed my mind while watching Logan's Run that they could exist in the same universe--the worker drones of THX-1138 could be living in the undercity of Logan's Run, doing all of the manual labor and manufacturing to keep the upper levels of the domed city functioning.

The film inspired a television series of the same name which lasted one season on CBS, and is probably most notable for the cars.

I watched the 1999 MGM DVD of the film, which has since gone out-of-print. Warner Home Video released it in 2000 in a cardboard snapper case with both widescreen and fullscreen versions (minus the 8-page insert), again in 2007 in a standard Amaray plastic case, and on Blu-ray in 2009.


Lowell Francis said...

Certainly my recollection of Logan's Run comes mostly out of the TV series- since I didn't see the movie until much later. I remember it being pretty cool. I loved the bad guys with the black shirts and single stripe. of a piece in my memories with Space 1999 and the Planet of the Apes TV show.

Dawg said...

Strangely enough, I haven't seen the film or TV series but did read the book as a youngster.

I'd like to watch this at some point. Nice post - thanks.