Monday, February 8, 2016
Logan’s Run Film Review and *SPOILERS* - Just For the Hell Of It Mondays
There Is No Sanctuary
Directed By: Michael Anderson
Screenplay By: David Zelag Goodman
Starring: Michael York, Richard Jordan, Jenny Agutter
Release Date: June 23, 1976
*Non-Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*
Last week, I reviewed the novel Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Of course, I was just wasting your damned time because everyone knows that film adaptations of novels render the original works irrelevant. Besides, could you have imagined Logan with the sweet, feathered hair of Michael York simply from reading a novel? No, it takes a visionary filmmaker to adequately tell the story of Logan’s actual and metaphysical Run, and unfortunately we got a merely capable one. So let’s head on back to the dystopian world of Logan’s Run, and then fast-forward a hundred and fifty years or so for some reason, to the year 2274 when things are prone to get…sexy. Read on, my holographic concubines!
Continuing my month of reviewing Logan’s Run adaptations (and one original work) for Just For the Hell Of It Mondays, we come to the big enchilada: the major motion picture released by Metro-Goldwin-Mayer in 1976. Critically reviled but financially successful, it was nominated for two Academy Awards and won a Special Academy Award for visual effects in 1976. Odd, since a movie called Star Wars would come out a year later that would completely obliterate every visual effect in Logan’s Run on every conceivable level. Yet for a brief sliver of time, Logan’s Run held the imaginations of those too jaded to appreciate the American Bicentennial or a new prime time show featuring puppets called The Muppet Show. Let’s appreciate it in the context of that time, and see what Me Generational treats this film has to offer.
The movie separates itself from the novel instantly, firstly by taking place in the twenty-third century instead of the twenty-second. More importantly, this future dystopia was not caused by a youthful revolution at the dawn of the twenty-first century, but developed over years of overcrowding and pollution. Now, the remnants of humanity live beneath giant domes maintained by a computer intelligence, their destinies predetermined at birth by the same. You see, to keep the population from exceeding its resources, this society maintains a strict one-to-one ratio: when someone dies, they are replaced by a state-raised baby to fill that same assigned role. The governing computer is able to keep the wheels churning at a predictable pace by exterminating people in a bizarre ritual called Carrousel—I’ll go into more detail about it later. The gist of it is that when you turn thirty, a white crystal embedded in your palm since birth blinks red and black and you must go to Carrousel, where you have the slight chance to renew—that is, your palm crystal turns back to white. No one can remember ever seeing a renewal, or having it happen to someone they knew, but everyone believes it is a distinct possibility. If you don’t renew, you dissolve in a shower of sparks that is a real crowd-pleaser for obvious reasons.
Those that don’t feel like going to Carrousel are called Runners, and when they don’t respond to their name being called at homeroom, a police officer known as a Sandman is dispatched. Sandmen are dudes in black and silver uniforms equipped with guns that flare at the muzzle, like those old sparking toy guns that were sold before the world got to be lame. Runners seem to live a little better than the average citizen of, uh, Futurtopia, though everyone appears to be fucking off and succumbing to hedonistic pleasures at all times.
The way that the film diverges from the source book drastically is the appointed age of death: instead of twenty-one, it is thirty. Besides the most probable reason, being that the filmmakers wanted to cast actors in their mid-twenties and maybe early thirties instead of a bunch of teenagers (or have actors in their mid-twenties pretend to be teenagers), they probably altered the age of Lastday to avoid alienating young adults, and it changes the tenor of the story quite a lot. Though age thirty is surely too young for anyone to die, at least there are some solid years of adulthood in there, while someone expired at twenty-one has barely crept out of puberty long enough to see what an asshole they’ve been. It’s that sort of reflection that makes total compliance to a computer-run nanny state less believable. But then, if you go into watching Logan’s Run looking for inconsistencies in the plot, well then you’re going find plenty of ‘em.
The movie begins with some nice sweeping shots of this awesome model representing the world of the twenty-third century, which looks exactly like a very ambitious and likely cash-hemorrhaging amusement park. There are even moving vehicles in little transparent tubes stretched around this city of the future, each oddly-shaped building wrapped in a different type of novelty wrapping paper to look as futuristic as possible. These truly are some great models, but they don’t look real at all; more like something out of Forbidden Planet than a bird’s-eye view of an actual urban space. When we cut to the interior shots of this city, we wish we were back with the models because on the ground, the entire place looks like a shopping mall. And not just one kind of shopping mall, but various types of brown-cobbled or stucco-walled bland representations of architecture, all tiled posts and escalators and an endless world of level surfaces and intermittent benches punctuated by the occasional cubist sculpture. The second I saw it, I wanted to bring this whole disgusting society down. Not one bit of Beaux-Arts architecture, not one!
I have to say a word about the clothing of the future, which is stupid and misogynistic in unequal parts. Men seem to have the choice of wearing a snappy turtleneck and pair of slacks, or a tunic and tights—all in a color based on what stage of their life they are in—while women get to wear a gauzy scarf that ranges in size from carpet sample to handkerchief. It’s absolutely ludicrous, and to overthink it: this sort of inequality makes no sense in a world dictated by computer. Sandman duty is arguably the only strenuous job there is, being that it involves running, but every other evidence of work that we see in Logan’s Run is done by machine, sometimes operated by a human. Beyond that, there isn’t even any such thing as marriage or family in this utopian society: humans are bred and raised by robots, never to know their own mother or father, trained primarily in whatever rote task will be assigned to them. So wouldn’t everyone just wear the same thing, when sex is free (more on that later) and manual labor doesn’t exist and no one in their right minds would opt to walk around in a pair of panties and a cheesecloth poncho if things like pants and turtlenecks existed???
So Sandmen Logan-5 (his number changed from 3 in the book, for some reason) and his pal Francis-7 are on their way to Carrousel, that daily ritual where people are killed on their birthday. Everyone files into a large, circular stadium, marked by a gigantic sculpture of the crystals embedded in everyone’s palms erected outside. The center of the stadium is a large circular turntable—a carousel, one might say—onto which file around three dozen people in white robes. To the cheers of the crowd, they disrobe and reveal that they are wearing creepy hockey goalie masks and—I am not making this up—full-body spandex suits that are white with red flames reaching up from the bottom. This has got to be the best outfit I have ever seen for someone preparing to die, it almost makes the whole crazy ritual worth it. In fact, I’m calling it now: when I die, I want to be laid to rest in the same uniform as those that go to Carrousel. I don’t need the robe, that’s ostentatious. Just the spandex and the hockey mask. There’s a little light show and the giant turntable revolves, and for reasons not entirely clear the folks on their Last Day lift off, one by one, and ascend towards the top of the stadium, where a tremendous white crystal throbs with light. The crowd cheers and cries, “Renew!” and watches each person float idly to a point where they dissolve into a shower of sparks. The whole thing takes about ten minutes, then everyone files out and returns back to strolling around their endless indoor mall.
While at Carrousel, Logan gets a call on his Sand-o-phone (my name) that there’s a runner, stupidly hanging around just outside the stadium. Now, since it’s unknown whether someone’s a Runner until they don’t show up for Carrousel, wouldn’t this be the only time such an alert would be broadcast? And therefore, does it make sense for Sandmen to attend Carrousel? It’s not just Francis and Logan, but several people in the audience are wearing the unique black and silver suit—did they also get a call on their Sand-mobiles (alternate name, mine)? Logan takes off and Francis follows, and they both taunt and screw with the Runner until he falls off of a third-floor balcony and dies in a plaza where a food court would normally be. Logan makes it to the body first and calls it in to Sandman HQ, then takes the Runner’s personal items—which include a silver ankh. Francis and Logan wrap things up just as people begin leaving Carrousel, and some guy on a hovering Segway zaps the Runner’s body with a blue ray, and it melts into goop before disintegrating entirely.
Later, at Logan’s well-appointed living space, he calls up a hooker on his, uh, hooker teleportation device, which I guess comes standard with every apartment. This is when he meets Jessica-6, a prostitute who changes her mind when she realizes that she’s expected to fuck a Sandman. This scene is largely fluff except for the introduction of Jessica, and also because Logan is wearing the most awesome black dashiki-cape with silver trim, which I have just decided all of the attendees at my funeral have to wear. Hell, I may start wearing one now, it looks comfortable as all get-out. Though Jessica won’t put out, Francis barges in with two fine honeys, so the four of them do some powderized, airborne drug and screw the night away, and Jessica vanishes to parts unknown.
The next day, Francis and Logan must check in at Sandman HQ, which looks like the set to the Star Trek television show might have if they had doubled the budget. All blinking lights and giant screens; slick, featureless corridors that look like hospital bathrooms. Francis checks in by putting his gun and whatever items he’s taken from Runners since his last shift into a glass-enclosed light box on a pedestal. The items are scanned by a spinning tail fin from a Cadillac El Dorado and then disappear, and Francis removes his gun. Logan then steps up to the light box and repeats the procedure, but the scanner takes an inordinately long amount of time. A screen beyond the pedestal displays type in that super 1970s computer font as a female voice reads what is on screen: it asks Logan if he’s ever heard of an ankh, or knows about Sanctuary. Logan confesses that he does not, so the machine bids him to step closer and take a seat, and identify—that is, put your palm crystal into a receptacle on the arm of the chair. The computer then explains that Runners all seek a place called Sanctuary, and the ankh is the key to getting there. Logan is tasked with posing as a Runner, gaining access to Sanctuary, then destroying it because that’s totally a normal assignment: to go find a place that may or may not exist and then blow it up without knowing its scope or defense. Despite being only twenty-six years old, the machine accelerates his palm crystal’s life so that it blinks and looks like he’s on Last Day. Logan pleads with the machine to let him know if he can come back and finish his actual time if he destroys Sanctuary, and the computer is annoyingly silent on the matter.
As you might imagine, Logan feels pretty fucked up about this. For one thing, he had four more years before being slated for death, or Potential Renewal to be politically correct. For another thing, he didn’t know dick about Runners or Sanctuary or any of that bullshit before he just happened to palm the ankh from that one guy. If Francis has showed up before Logan, he’d be the one tasked with this suicide mission. There’s no time for Logan to dwell on that now, though: he quickly gets back in touch with Jessica, who wears an ankh very inconspicuously right on a metal collar around her neck, and asks her to hook him up with her peoples. Thus begins this movie’s madcap race through various weird environments for no real reason, Francis following them all the way because he misses his bro and the awesome bro-hangs they used to have. What’s interesting here is that the environments traversed by Jessica and Logan in the movie are very similar to those in the novel: in the film, they go through a leaky, underwater section that gets flooded by Francis’ errant gunshot; in the book, Logan and Jess are sent to an old underwater research station manned by a weirdo that tries to kill Logan. In the book, Logan and Jess wind up at an arctic outpost where a human/robot hybrid named Box makes ornate ice sculptures of animals and then tortures them to death; in the film, Jess and Logan encounter a cyborg named Box, who looks like something out of Grace Jones’ stage show, and find he has been capturing Runners and freezing them per a food collection and storage protocol. It’s like the movie is someone retelling the story of the sci-fi novel, but years after having read it when they can barely remember the details. And in either case, none of these scenes really amount to anything, aside from the revelation that no Runner has actually escaped the clutches of Box before. Also Farrah Fawcett-Majors works at an automatic plastic surgery store, and since she wears the same gossamer bib that most women in the future wear, it’s pretty hot. Ultimately, Jessica and Logan make their way into the world outside the dome—possibly the first Runners to do so—with Francis still stalking them like some jilted lover.
When they reach open air, the crystals in Jessica’s and Logan’s palms turn white—they have renewed! Or broken their crystals. The world outside is surprisingly pleasant and there seems to be no trace of the pollution that drove people into domed cities to begin with. The pair stumble along for a while, swimming in fresh water and being stung by fresh bugs, when they finally make it to the overgrown ruins of Washington, DC—nothing in the budget for the jungle animals that populated the city in the novel. They take in the sights, marvel at the aged face of Abraham Lincoln at his memorial, and make their way into the Capitol Building where an old dude with white hair and beard lives with about a million cats. He talks in riddles and poems, then Francis shows up all wild-eyed and murderous, so Logan has to beat him down with a flagpole. This scene is pretty cool because 1) there are seriously a million cats in it, all meowing the entire time, and 2) Michael York (Logan) and Richard Jordan (Francis) do their own choreographed fighting and stunts—with Jordan going so far as to leap from the observation gallery in the House of Congress! They do a pretty good job of it, for two guys that aren’t stuntmen. Upon expiring, Francis sees that his crystal has also turned white, and says some pithy shit before choking on his own bloody bile.
From here, the movie is nothing at all like the novel. Logan decides they have to go back to their city and tell people the truth: that they don’t need to die at age thirty. They decide to take the batty old dude as proof, though when they get to the city they realize that the only way in is to dive into a whirlpool that Logan “thinks” empties into the city somewhere. They leave the old guy to sit in what is essentially a roaring waterfall, and dive into the whirlpool—I can’t stress how ballsy this really is. They make it into the city, just in time for Carrousel! Logan attempts to warn the gathering attendees that they are living a lie, but they ignore him and he’s captured by two Sandmen. He’s placed before the same computer screen that gave him his deep cover investigation and is interrogated. When Logan won’t answer to the computer’s satisfaction, his “surrogates” are elicited, in the form of six clear cylinders that descend from the ceiling and contain rotating, holographic heads of Logan—they answer the artificial intelligence’s questions succinctly. Upon learning that there is no Sanctuary, the computer malfunctions, because it is the worst computer of all time apparently, and Logan and Jessica escape by shooting a bunch of people to death. The whole shopping mall society is crumbling, and the citizens evacuate to find the old dude hanging out and going deaf by the city’s water intake pool. They all crowd around him and touch his funny-looking wrinkles and unusual white hair, then he and Logan give each other a thumbs-up in mutual agreement that the old guy is totally getting laid tonight.
The most memorable thing about this movie is the aesthetic, a perfect blend of 1950s sci-fi scenery with a 1970s sensibility about convenience and sexuality. While characters in the novel spend their teen years traveling the globe and absorbing different culture, in the film they live their entire lives in an indoor mall with orgies and plastic surgery dispensed like customer tickets at a popular delicatessen. What the theatrical release fails to acknowledge, however, is that for a hollow life spent purely in pursuit of sex and drugs, thirty years is a little too long, and people would likely be killing themselves en masse before Lastday. It is the pursuit of achievement and the existence of family that makes life worth living, not being able to fuck hookers that teleport right to your living room. The sets in Logan’s Run are impressive but outdated, and look positively ancient when compared to movies like Star Wars and Alien that came out a year or so later. This is a pretty enjoyable, if silly, movie. It drags at points, and sometimes the acting goes a little ham, but it’s a more concise story than what’s presented in the book that inspired it and even the pointless moments have their charm.
Bits and Pieces:
One of the things I find so interesting about this movie is that it differs in many fundamental ways from the novel that inspired it, yet the film maintains the same overall weirdness and disconnected, surreal scenes that are the original work’s hallmarks. It’s difficult to believe that Star Wars came out just a year later than Logan’s Run, because the latter looks more like a souped-up 1950s drive-in movie than the worn, realistic aesthetic borne by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and even the Planet of the Apes series. If you’re looking for a cerebral science fiction movie, well you can keep on looking, but if you want to see some retro futuristic claptrap spun with a 1970s disco vibe, then here’s your movie!
Next week: Logan’s Run, the Marvel comic book!