Monday, February 22, 2016

Logan’s Run Television Show Episode 1 Review and *SPOILERS* - Just For the Hell Of It Mondays

Respect the Elderly and Their Cruel Conspiracy

Directed By: Robert Day
Screenplay By: Saul David, Leonard Katzman, William F. Nolan
Starring: Gregory Harrison, Heather Menzies, Donald Moffat, Randy Powell
Air Date: September 16, 1977

*Non-Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*

What a wild ride through various incarnations of Logan’s Run we’ve had so far! We’ve looked at the novel, the movie based off the novel, and the comic book based off the movie. So what else is there? Well, in 1977, there was a television show based off the movie! And by “based off” I mean it had the same title, visual look, and general premise, but changed virtually every specific germane to the film that made it unique. Logan’s Run the television show takes place, for some reason, forty-five years later than Logan’s Run, the movie, despite having the same cast of characters and primary setting. So let’s head on to the far-off year of 2319, and unveil what is sure to be a journey through surreal mediocrity! Read on, my Runners!

Explain It!:

The theatrical release of Logan’s Run was not a smash blockbuster hit, earning twenty-five million dollars on a nine-million dollar budget. But it did make enough of a profit to interest MGM Television in producing an hour-long sci-fi/action series for TV. On Friday, September 16, 1977, the pilot episode of Logan’s Run aired during prime time on CBS. Other shows debuting that year included Three’s Company and Soap, which may help explain why this program failed to find a core audience, ending after fourteen episodes (only eleven of which were initially aired in the United States.) It’s also helpful to remember that Star Wars had been in theaters that very summer, so this reminder of how lame sci-fi TV could be may have been unwelcome—the grittier, lite space opera of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century debuted two years later to a more receptive audience (and even then, squeaked out only two seasons before being cancelled.)
Every episode aired in the UK.
This small screen adaptation of the film Logan’s Run distances itself from the source material in some significant ways: for one thing, it takes place in the year 2319, not 2274, though it maintains much of the same cast and the exact same setting. For another thing, people have not congregated in computer-run, domed cities due to overcrowding and scarcity of resources, but because of an annihilating nuclear war that took place two-hundred years prior. This casts the whole thing in a different light: instead of the world of Logan’s Run being the natural outgrowth of an exponentially compounding problem, the television show reduces the domed city to little more than a very fancy fallout shelter, one which people inhabited against their wills (but which they probably liked once they saw all the free sex and drugs being bandied about.) The stipulation that people must elect to die at thirty remains, as does the Carrousel ritual—indeed, this scene in the film is directly lifted for the pilot episode. I almost wish I wasn’t reviewing the pilot episode, because it was a special ninety-minute event that was somewhat unlike the rest of the series. But it does illustrate most exactingly the differences between the show and the movie, so it is the best episode for this series of reviews.

Another thing I regret about reviewing the pilot episode is that it doesn’t have the regular and completely surreal opening theme from the regular series. It’s so good, folks…I think I should just let you take a look and have a listen anyway:

The pilot episode opens not unlike the motion picture—in fact, virtually all of the shots used during the opening credits are from the movie, over a weak orchestral movement while a narrator lays the story’s cards out on the table. We see the fabulous but obvious model of the city (now named The City of Domes) and an edited version of the Carrousel scene from the film—except instead of evaporating into a shower of sparks, the applicants sort of dissolve into a haze of purple lights, presumably to comply with television’s more strict attitudes towards on-screen killing. Since the outcome of those ascending in Carrousel is dubious either way, I don’t see why the change was necessary. While Carrousel goes on, we see a Runner—that is, someone on their Lastday that is playing hooky from the event—talking with some conspirators about getting to quadrant four where he will meet Jessica (he will know her by her amulet) and she will get him to Sanctuary. This will all make sense to those who have seen the movie, but what doesn’t make sense is we can now detect the absence of the Lifegem embedded into everyone’s right palm, an embedded Lite-Brite pin whose color indicates one’s age and how close they are to Lastday. So I guess they just keep really good records in the computer-run future? Makes sense, but since much of Carrousel’s ritual uses iconic representations of this gem, it’s a bit incongruous. We also see some familiar characters in unfamiliar faces: Sandmen Francis-7 and Logan-5, watching the death/rebirth ritual that has everyone wild with excitement, despite it not changing one iota day after day.  Francis is cheering on the participants, but Logan is sitting back all sulky. He questions the ritual and whether or not Renewal exists, much like he eventually does in the film, but obviously way earlier. “It’s the natural order of things,” explains Francis, “one for one.” Logan considers this for a moment, then asks if Francis has ever seen anyone Renew into another body, and Francis exasperatedly replies, “We’ve gone over this before: we don’t question the order.” I think this is a big character change in the Logan we know from the movie, who is totally compliant with the “natural order of things” until his Lifegem is artificially accelerated to Lastday and he becomes a candidate for Carrousel (what the hell did I just type?) Here he's someone with dissenting thoughts about society and Renewal, not the potential sleeper agent for a Tandy 500 home computer.

Much like in the movie, Logan gets a message on his Sandman phone about a Runnerbut here we see it dispatched from Sandman HQ, which appears better-staffed than it was in the movie. Logan and Francis take off from Carrousel to track the Runner, which they do using a beeping locator while traversing hallways that look suspiciously like maintenance tunnels for a sports stadium. They eventually track him to a room randomly stuffed with machines that are pulsating with colored lights, where he’s met up with the aforementioned Jessica who will take the Runner to Sanctuary. Logan yells out “Runner!” and aims his silly-looking gun, but Jessica implores him to stop by calling out “Logan, don’t shoot!” Logan asks how she knows his name, and she says they’ve been watching him, and know him as the Sandman that questions the system. She offers him passage to Sanctuary, which he mulls over for a moment. Just then, Francis shows up and blasts the Runner in the back, so Logan knocks him over the head with the butt of his gun which, as is the routine for all television and movies, renders him unconscious. Then Jessica and Logan take off for Sanctuary!

Francis comes to and calls in to headquarters to tell them Logan has turned traitor. Jessica and Logan run through several bland maintenance tunnels and stainless steel lobbies until they get to a door in the middle of a hallway marked “DANGER RADIATION,” in a very stylized typeface that is honestly pretty awesome. Jessica holds her amulet (an ankh, naturally) up to a cool-looking letter G and the door slides open, revealing a passage to the outside! Meanwhile, Francis and a bunch of other Sandmen converge just by the door where they find the prone figure of a colleague that had been shot by Logan. Francis knows they must have gone through the only door in the area, but he can’t figure out how to open it. He’s about to shoot it with his blaster when a voice comes over a loudspeaker: “Francis-7, go no further. Report at once to white quadrant one.” When Francis says that no one is permitted in white quadrant one, the disembodied voice repeats the order tonelessly, as if so say, “don’t sass me, you go where the fuck I tell you to go. Now get to stepping.” To stepping Francis gets, and that’s when this whole thing flips a huge middle finger to the movie and takes off like a modern-day bindlestiff for parts yet to be charted.

So Francis heads to what we must assume is white quadrant one, where the same disembodied female voice tells him to step between two columns that would probably look nice at a mid-tier, Greek-themed strip club. He dissolves into the same purple mash that claimed the participants of Carrousel earlier on, but then congeals elsewhere, and there finds a room of phony computer equipment and seven old dudes sitting around a large, shiny table! Francis can’t believe what he is seeing—he checks his own face to see if it has become lined and droopy like these Joe Biden-looking fellows. One of them explains that everything Francis believes, every basic fact of reality to which he adheres his entire existence, is a lie perpetrated by a bunch of old farts. Furthermore, they were wondering if he wanted a position on the council. All he needs to do is get a really comfortable robe and let his hair go white, and also go get Logan and Jessica and bring them back to the City of Domes for re-education. Francis takes them up on their offer because, let’s face it, he’s not the sharpest hyper tool in the futuristic laser shack. The next thing we see is Francis blasting open the DANGER RADIATION door with his toy gun, when the conference room of elderly folk probably could have done it remotely.

We need to take a break here to address how off-the-rails this story has gotten. In the original novel, society developed into a computer-controlled life of luxury that included elective death at age twenty-one—indeed, the reason they had a life of luxury, presumably, was because everyone's lifespan was so short. In the movie, people have congregated under domes, but we assume it was voluntary since a gradual decrease in resources precipitated their need for mandatory suicide (though the age was changed to thirty.) In Logan’s Run, the television show, the City of Domes was created to shield its inhabitants from the irradiated outdoors—fine, I can believe that in 2119 they had super robots or whatever that could build Epcot Center in a day. But to learn the whole thing was masterminded by a council of old people—to what end? Why allow seven people to live out their lives in total solitude but condemn everyone else to an early death? Is this some sacrifice on their part, or a nefarious long con running for the last two-hundred years? It’s worth noting that these old coots are all fellows; there are no frisky old ladies in sight. So what, these guys spy on the citizenry of the City of Domes and quietly masturbate all day?

Meanwhile, on the surface, things aren’t so great for Logan and Jessica. Turns out that, while there is no obvious nuclear pollution, it is wicked hot outside, and plus it looks awfully dry and dusty. There’s a short sequence of their trials and travails across the landscape, and eventually they make it to Washington, D.C. during a very dark and stormy night. Just like in the movie, they make their way to the Capitol Building, but instead of an old, bearded guy with like a billion cats meowing around, they find the place deserted of life. Poking around a bit, they find a map on the wall that depicts the Washington D.C. Defense Plan of 2119—the very day the world-destroying bombs fell! The map also shows a bomb shelter over in what looks like Northern Virginia, and Logan surmises there might be people there. For the evening, they’ll hunker down, so Logan starts a fire using bundles of money and top secret documents for kindling, a social statement for the ages. Logan and Jessica cuddle up and trade the shivering vagabond’s version of pillow talk, learning to trust one another and love and laugh through some quick exposition because it’s just a ninety-minute television show, for crying out loud. They talk about the breeding facilities in which they were reared—which were right down the hall from each other!—and Jessica pines for the mother she never knew. This is a running theme throughout the series, she routinely wonders wistfully about her mother, because she is a woman and therefore her only life’s goal is family.

The next morning, Logan awakes to find Jessica is already up and totally not making him breakfast. Instead, she found a very stupid-looking hovercraft in the basement of the building, and using Logan’s spark gun as well as deus ex machina, they get it working. At just that moment, Francis and two attending Sandmen have entered the Capitol Building, hot on Logan and Jessica’s trail! Now just hold on a second—not only did Francis learn the horrifying truth of who is really running the City of Domes and that the out-of-doors being polluted with nuclear radiation is a lie, but he’s allowed to bring two more people in on the act? Indeed, in subsequent episodes you’ll find that he brings small crews of Sandmen out in the open sometimes, and later in the series people from the wasteland interact with the City of Domes like it’s just a trading post in Hangman’s Gulch or something. It’s like, “Well, we kept this diabolical secret for two-hundred years and fairly well built an ordered society on it—but screw that, we gotta go get Logan and Jessica! We’re open for business!” Francis and co. confront Logan and Jessica in the garage, but the two of them hustle off awkwardly in the hovercraft through a hole Logan blew out of the wall. He even confronts Francis; points out that the world outside is not lethal, that they’d been lied to. But Francis and his cohorts don’t give a shit and begin firing. Talk about living in denial!

From here, we more or less get a taste of what the show will be: a situation-of-the-week serial patterned after shows like Lost in Space and Star Trek—Logan’s Run even employed several of the writers from Star Trek. Because this is a longer pilot episode, we get two situations: the first is when Logan and Jessica drive to the fallout shelter seen on the map they found in the Capitol Building, and discover a couple dozen people living in fear of a roving gang of dudes, wearing Judge Dredd helmets and riding on horseback, who keep kidnapping their people and generally being bullies. After a lot of baloney and contrived peril, Logan faces off against these assholes, and he’s on the ropes!  but the whole fallout shelter community shows up at the end to prove that no one is brave enough to stand up to an unwashed mob. As Logan and Jessica depart, Francis and his buddies show up and ask a little girl from the shelter if they’ve seen Logan and Jessica…wait, wait, wait—Francis made it here, on foot, in a couple of days? Logan has a vehicle and drove for quite a while before making it to the fallout shelter, then confronts the horse-riding fellas like a day or two later...Francis and his team don’t even look disheveled! A little dusty, maybe, but they are apparently just walking around, pistols in hand, wearing black sweaters in the blazing hot sun…I mean, Francis may be a trained Sandman but that wouldn’t have included outdoor survival training!

The second situation involves Logan and Jessica happening upon a beautiful city in the mountains run by androids that cater to the every whim of humans. The trick is, they don’t ever let the humans leave or else they get super lonely. But uh, why would you want to escape a city where your every wish is fulfilled anyway? Jessica and Logan attempt to skedaddle, but they are stopped and ultimately subdued by androids. Later, they escape anyway, but on the way come across a handyman android named Rem who asks to come along—he can keep their hovercraft ship-shape, after all. Reading up on the show, it seems Rem was added for comic relief, which is pretty sad because he’s like the least funny motherfucker in the universe. There’s a whole rigamarole at the end where Rem proves himself by screwing over the Sandmen in pursuit with some technical wizardry, but the point is Logan, Jessica and Rem get away and move on to new low-budget adventures!

The series progresses this way for thirteen more episodes, only ten more of which were seen in the U.S. at the time. They meet aliens, they meet a time-traveler, Logan has his mind erased, Jessica is split into twin selves with divergent personalities—the normal stuff you’d expect from a show of this caliber. Unlike the movie, which came out at the very end of a sci-fi cycle that would be usurped by Star Wars and a new, younger Hollywood, Logan’s Run the television show was a matter of too little, too late, as it debuted in a post-Wookie world. It really must have seemed a throwback, even at the time, as it depicted a lily-white world of shiny gadgetry and a relentlessly hopeful pursuit; meanwhile outside American living rooms, the gas crisis lingered on and urban centers continued to decay, sometimes bursting in spastic throes of violence in a semblance of city life. Logan’s Run was a stupid TV show of a breed that was no longer welcome among the stupid TV shows broadcasting to most family television sets, on which were preferred the well-heeled comic stylings of a show about a man who must pretend he is gay in order to live with two young women. Bravo, late-seventies television. Bravo.

Bits and Pieces:

The Logan’s Run television show turns out to be more a reimagining of the whole dystopian world rather than an extension of the characters and concepts introduced in the film. This episode gives us the backstory and shows us where it deviates from the movie, before settling into familiar “post-apocalyptic threat of the week” territory as practiced by programs like Star Trek and Lost in Space. It’s not a terribly-produced show for its time, but it’s no Bionic Woman.

Next week: Logan’s Run, the Adventure Comics comic book!


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