Sci-Fi Dystopia Theatre: Logan’s Run (1976)

I couldn’t let this stunning teaser poster go to waste, so to follow up on the previous CINEFANTASTIQUE post, and since our time is limited as evidenced by my blinking red lifeclock, it seems apropos to look back to the future of LOGAN’S RUN. This was MGM’s bid for their big event picture of the Bicentennial Year, 1976, based on the 1967 best-seller by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. The novel was written fast and furious as a high-concept response to the decade’s generational war being played out across the media nation. The well-regarded genre authors wrote the book specifically to be sold for film — they even had an iron-clad price of $100,000 that was eventually met by MGM (although they also signed away all other rights). The great George Pal was interested but couldn’t get the studio to back him and various scripts were written over the subsequent years to little avail. Saul David (IN LIKE FLINT; FANTASTIC VOYAGE; SKULLDUGGERY) took over producer chores and hired David Zelag Goodman (MONTE WALSH; STRAW DOGS) to adapt while Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS) was brought in to direct. For the most in-depth, honest coverage of the making — or breaking — of the film, refer to the previously mentioned issue of CINEFANTASTIQUE.

The story about a proto-perfect 23rd century domed city where the age limit is 30 (upped from the novel’s more apropos 21) deals with the society’s age policeman known as Sandmen, and Logan 5 (Michael York), who mercilessly tracks down any “Runner” who decides that he/she wants to collect their full Social Security benefits. Logan encounters Jessica (Jenny Agutter), a Runner on her way to the fabled “Sanctuary.” Assigned the task of faking his own final birthday to tag along with Jessica and thus destroy Sanctuary, Logan ends up on a wild chase through the city’s labyrinths, hotly pursued by best friend and fellow Sandman, Francis (Richard Jordan). Upon escape from the dome, the trio find the outside world is lush and pollution-free; more astounding they find the oldest man in the world (Peter Ustinov) among the cat-infested ruins of Washington D.C. Dystopic revelations ensue.

LOGAN’S RUN was released to huge publicity in the summer of ’76, and despite lackluster reviews, was a sizable hit though not what the studio hoped. Had the kinetic novel been truly adapted with a unique vision, the film could have been a critical and audience blockbuster. But under the stolid aegis of Saul David, MGM and uninspired production, LOGAN’S RUN does not fully engage nor reflect the passions of the original story, although it certainly has a fan base and is not without cultural interest. Mired in a low-key 70’s tone and style, the film is one of the last of its kind, a somber, science fiction epic with thematic aspirations. Yet the script jumps from scene to scene without poetry or reason, and the art direction (nominated for an Oscar) is redolent of the mirror-and-crystal design that too many films of the era (QUINTET; ROLLERBALL; CHOSEN SURVIVORS) prophecized with little imagination. LOGAN’S RUN central exploitative gimmick was the promise of actual 3-D holography used at the climax — without the producers figuring out that a 2-D medium would not be able to photographically capture the depth of a hologram. Worse, the special effects are quite subpar for a picture with such a vast budget; the domed city with its winding tubes and levels immediately betrays its miniature origins and never convinces otherwise. Matthew Yuricich’s matte paintings look great in still shots but are less integrated on the 70mm screen. Only the nifty Sandman guns with their four chambered flash has any pizazz, and the deadly robot Box is half a good design. The electronic score by Jerry Goldsmith is certainly one of the esthetic assets.

Overall, LOGAN’S RUN needed a more visionary director than Michael Anderson, a studio journeyman without any discernible style. The whole thing screams old-school MGM with its reliance on staid sets, a new-age FORBIDDEN PLANET, and the producers failed to pick the brains of any number of science fiction writers (including Nolan and Johnson, who wrote a faithful screenplay draft) to prevent the silliness of the New You and Love Shop along with the cliche of the green world outside the dystopic city. The interesting cast does not have as much empathy or interest to drive the narrative, although I would have prefered the underrated, always excellent Richard Jordan as Logan, who has the edge and desperation that the pleasant York lacks. Jenny Agutter is beautiful as ever, but the part is under developed (true of the novel as well) and Box (Roscoe Lee Brown) is dispatched too quick. Peter Ustinov is the most alive character, the film’s only source of humor and a bit too broad. In a small part, Farrah Fawcett Majors was an added promotional bonus for the producers when she became a poster icon during the shooting.

LOGAN’S RUN is infamous among its fans for many scenes deleted after a Sneak Preview screening (some of which can be seen in this rare preview for theater owners). One fan site included the actual soundtrack as recorded by a true geek from this preview, confirming the various lost scenes, including a far more powerful opening with Logan and Francis hunting down a Runner. It would be nice if MGM could restore this version for video, and despite my antipathy towards the film, I too would love to see the original cut. LOGAN’S RUN was successful enough to spawn a short-lived 1978 CBS series, and again, as one of the final bleak, big-budget sci-fi films with typically strange scenes (Logan’s holographic lament and the floating denizens of the “Carousel”), you have to honor its place one year before a less-publicized genre release would forever alter SF cinema and bring light to the dark future — STAR WARS.

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20 Responses to “Sci-Fi Dystopia Theatre: Logan’s Run (1976)”

  1. When it first came out I remember thinking how dated it already looked. But any of its scenes with Jenny Agutter are alone worth the price of admission (or Blu-ray). Legs, legs everywhere. I had the same reaction to Persis what’s-er-name in the first STAR TREK.

    • Yeah, I would second Flickhead’s endorsement of Agutter’s legs. Wow… I think her appearance in this film is pivotal to a lot of young guys who grew up with this film. I dunno. Not the greatest film in the world but it sure has its moments. Definitely good call on Richard Jordan, though. He was so good in this film, esp. when he chases down York – the near-psychotic gleam in his eye is pretty amazing.

    • christian Says:

      Yes, Agutter is a stunning creature. Much of her nude scenes were whittled away in the final cut to retain a PG rating. Alas.

  2. You’d think this movie’s cool concept and mediocre execution would make it a perfect remake choice… But the studios just can’t seem to make it happen. Instead, we get ANOTHER Spiderman, ANOTHER Superman, etc… Then again, I suppose that’s better than giving us a crappier version – a la Burton’s Planet of the Apes.

    • christian Says:

      I think they are remaking it right now – one I wouldn’t mind if you stuck to the novel’s breakneck fantastic speed and IDEA.

      Well, there is a new Apes film being shot now with James Franco…

      • mo-capping for ‘apes’ is in post p animation along w/tintin, still a long way to go, clock’s ticking. panic yet to reach stage 5 level meltdown but getting there, give it a month or two

  3. I’m one of the folks who love love love this movie, down to the Epcot Center world they created. Dated? Maybe. But we live in Ikea now, so why not in the future? It’s one of the movies that I can’t turn away from if it’s on TV. Also, I’m not sure I didn’t see all the scenes from the screener on my DVD. Perhaps they did restore them…? I know for sure that what I saw on DVD wasn’t what I saw on TV back in the pre-cable days.

    • christian Says:

      If you saw an opening scene with Logan and Francis tracking down a Runner, you’ve seen the preview version. I understand it played on Canadian TV in the 80’s?

      • indeed! It’s fairly intense, with Logan and Francis really playing with their target, almost sadistically. That’s the version on the DVD I own, which was actually the first DVD I bought. I wondered why there was so much more skin than I ever remembered…

        • christian Says:

          The DVD/Blu-Ray is not the preview version at all so you have to tell me where you got your version…

  4. Really? Well, I just popped it in, and my memory must have been off. Mine opens with the sweep in, followed by Logan and Francis in the nursery, then going to Carousel. From there they chase down the runner, so…

    Mine runs 1 hour, 59 minutes. What’s the usual runtime? The same, I take it?

    • christian Says:

      The preview is about 10-15 minutes longer. And it did play in CBC in the mid-2000’s. Here’s an edited version of the opening:

  5. Nice. Another grail to hunt for now, I guess.

  6. on another note, there was an imaginary sequel of logan’s run, called LOGAN’S SANCTUARY. all we have is the soundtrack, a great sexy thing

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logan%27s_Sanctuary

    the tv show was actually pretty interesting for a lot of reasons. they even re-shot the film for the pilot…. i can of remember fondly some episodes, one of them co-written by harlan ellison (which he hated)…. well… what i remember mostly is the effect the tv show had on me…. not really the content… similar to buck rogers memorabilia…. i guess as children, in both movie and tv show, we were treated to a lot of sci-fi sensuality, and for me that was the most important i guess.

    • christian Says:

      You gave me a copy of that disc last time you were in town…

      I don’t think I saw one episode of the show, even though I knew Harlan wrote for it but he already expressed his displeasure in some interviews.

      But that Donald Moffatt has had some career arc…

      • aaah that’s where my record is !!! lol

        if you re interested i can get you the tv show, i have a complete set !

  7. […] “honorable termination” or whatever it’s called. I guess humans will just be humans even in Science Fiction… Rate this:Tell others by:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Posted in: Action, Genres, […]

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