Sunday, November 22, 2020

Logan's Run 1976 - Movie Review with Spoilers- Retro Nerd Girl

From the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, It's Retro Nerd Girl with a film review for you.

Today I'll be reviewing the movie Logan’s Run released in 1976.

Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan

Directed by:
Michael Anderson

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Rating:

$9,000,000 (estimated)

Current IMDb Rating When Reviewed:

The Synopsis is:
Because of overpopulation and pollution, mankind is contained in a computer controlled bubble city where their every whim is fulfilled as long as they follow the rule to live only to the age of 30.

This movie was based on the novel of the same name by Wiliam Frnacis Nolan at age 39 and George Clayton Johnson at age 38 in 1967.  The original concept of the novel was that the world has been taken over by the youth and all citizens are terminated at the age of 21.  The main character is an exterminator by the name of Logan 3 who decides to go against the rules and runs from his fate.

For the time it was a very unique concept.

MGM got whiff of the fascinating science fiction premise after the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes in 1968, putting producer George Pal on working making it into a film as early as 1969.  Pal wanted Robert Redford to play Logan, but Robert wasn’t interested.  The project ultimately fell through because of George’s conflicts with the budget and ideas presented by the screenwriter Richard Maibaum to incorporate contemporary social issues.  

After the financial success and popularity of Soylent Green (1973) and Westworld (1973) MGM put producer Saul David to the task of making a science fiction film for the studio.  He remembered Logan's Run and the studio gave him the green light to make it into a film.

Coincidently 1973 was the same year Zardoz was released where the story also follows an exterminator in a youth centric world.

Michael Anderson was hired to direct, who was famous for directing Around the World in 80 Days in 1956 and David Zelag Goodman was brought in to write the screenplay.  They made significant changes to the story to the point that you could say that the film is not really an adaptation but it is very loosely based on ideas presented in the novel.

Having read the book and seen the film, we’ll talk about the differences in great detail during the review.  However, the rhythm of the story on screen of being an action driven adventure held true to the book’s flavor and pacing quite nicely.  I thought that all of the changes made sense theatrically and brought more visual excitement for the medium of film.

One huge change was the age of death was changed from 21 to 30. This made so much sense to me.

It seemed to be that 21 was an age when things would just start to get good for a person and maybe your prime was at 25 or 30.  And it seems a person can be in their prime at any age, but that is not the moral of the story, but I can’t help but think that it should.  However, I understand that the book used the  age of 21 to shock it’s readers and to imagine the concept of, “what if the youth took over the world and turned it into a horrifying dystopia”.

There was a strong mention of many of the characters carrying on grown up activities that would be considered minors in the book.  It’s actually quite cringey when you think of it.  I was not comfortable with that.  Whereas in the film, by having the age adjusted, much of the adult references felt more organic.  

As well, the twenties is the decade for most people to explore and discover themselves.  There was even a saying back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, “Never trust anyone over the age of 30” mostly because they had been willing to do nefarious things to protect their standard of living past that point.  So I really enjoyed the fact that the age was adjusted.  However, it doesn’t make the shock any less.  

The concept of having an age limit or even knowing exactly when your point of death is to occur is a truly horrible thing to know.  The mystery of that, keeps us hopeful and growing.  The visceral shock of age-gating life is truly a disturbing factor and it has been used in many films since Logan’s Run.

One other change is that the age-gate is a world wide acceptance in the book, which is highly unrealistic, I might add.  It’s much harder to regulate something like this globally.  However, in the movie, it is only regulated in the domed city where there is a containment and more control.

No explanation is given why the titular character  Logan 3 became Logan 5 in the film, except for maybe it sounds cooler.  However, it could indicate that Logan 5 is a part of an alternative dimension or far off into the future of the happenings in the Logan Run books.  I rather like that idea actually, of it being a tale from a distant future because humanity failed to learn it’s lessons the first time, history keeps repeating itself, therefore we can preserve both timelines in tact.

The script for the film was maybe just a tad too on the nose at times and written with a 1970’s sensibility.  Dialogue is one of the key cornerstones of a movie becoming a time capsule, which this is, both fortunately and unfortunately.  However, during moments of improvisation between the actors the dialogue had massive intrigue and deeper purpose.

At 1h 59min, I loved every minute of it, but I must admit, it’s too long.  There are so many adventures and story twists packed in the film that it needed the time to tell the tale.  The longest feeling segment of time was in the beginning where the film needed to set up the world and what normal life is for the inhabitants.

The challenge in the film is the proposed world of Logan’s Run where we have a beautiful futuristic city but a horrible rule to die at thirty.  Boy that really sucks.  You’re just figuring things out in life and then BAM!  You’re time's up.  It’s a horrible thought because life is so precious.  I know so many people who died before they even got to twenty and it’s horrible that this society theorized that it was better to do this to control the population instead of finding other, more humane solutions.

When I first viewed the film, I thought that maybe this was a city in space or on another planet, but this is indeed planet Earth in the year 2274.  I’ll just set up the society for you really quickly before we get into the meat and potatoes of this review.

The society of this world is really interesting.  It’s a hedonistic pleasure zone for their citizens to do anything they please.  Each child is born with a clear crystal flower life clock.  After a year to the 15th year the crystal is yellow, 16 to 24 it’s green and from 25 to 30 it’s red.  The life clock blinks when you are close to death day or what they call Last Day.  It’s supposed to turn black, which is mentioned in the film, but never actually shown in the film.

In the book, Last Day is a day all the citizens know is suicide and most people just go along with it in a spiritual euthanization ceremony.  The filmmakers probably didn't want to use that type of death in the film because it was used in Soylent Green 1973.

In the film, the citizens know that they die, but falsely believe that they will be reborn or what they call Renew and the process is a big elaborate event that is a daily spectacle at a place called the Carousel where all Last Day citizens gather in a circle, soar into the air and then explode.

Theatrically, Carousel was a great way to add yet another level of shock value to this monstrous act as the crowd goes wild cheering for the subjects to Renew.  This is clearly inspired by the ancient Roman colosseums.

Carousel is where all of the adults of the city gather for entertainment, daily socializing, and reinforces the brain washing belief of renewal among the masses.  

However, there is no renewal.

This is the main challenge in the film.  There is a computer that controls the entire city, bearing a very calming female voice.  In the book, it’s called The Thinker and because the movie never gives the computer a name, I’ll be calling it The Thinker.

There are a few people who are assigned jobs.  There are the law enforcers called Sandmen.  Sandmen are mainly responsible for tracking down and terminating people who decide to run from their fate on Carousel called runners.  Cleaners dissolve the dead bodies of the runners so that the public never sees it.  

The Sandmen report their findings to The Thinker and this perpetuates the situation generation after generation.

A whole society that is totally messed up is as good of a challenge as you can get because a lot like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers where you’re dealing with pod people, anyone could be the enemy.  Nearly everyone has bought into this cockamamie idea, including Logan 5 our protagonist.  I love the set up for the story and this enormous challenge presented in the film for the characters.

The story focuses on Logan 5, a sandman who is the model citizen with a few questions about how things are done in the city and renewal.  Any doubt he has about his world is brushed under the carpet as he and the other citizens get swept up into Renewal at Carousel.  He drank the Kool aid and bought into the lie.

As a Sandman, Logan lives a life of privilege in their lifestyles.  They live like kings and they are looked up to for what they do, and something I hadn’t recognized before is that the Sandmen are intimidating to the citizens.  There is a sense of distrust between Sandmen and the citizens because to go against a sandman may be interpreted that you are a runner or that you are going to run.  Logan’s best friend Francis 7 even says that he can tell when a red is going to run.  

The film shows us how the Sandmen brutally hunt down and torture a runners.  At one point they taunt him and purposefully miss shooting him to horribly terrify him up until the very last moment of his life. They find it all so exciting and entertaining. The Sandmen are horrible people.

The runner Logan kills had an ankh in his possession, which The Thinker says is related to 1056 missing runners and relates to a place called sanctuary.  He is given an order to penetrate the city seals by becoming a runner, find sanctuary and destroy it.

This happens about 25 minutes into the story, but this is the main thing that trusts the characters into action.

Only at 26 Logan’s 4 years have been forfeited for an early Last Day. Logan isn’t actually that likeable, but when this happens it feels like there’s an evening of the scales.  It’s still uncertain whether or not he’s actually working for The Thinker or not.  I really liked that ambiguity, giving us a good amount of mystery about what is going to happen next.

There is a scene where Logan tries to talk to Francis about what is going on, but Francis proves that he believes in the structure of his society to his own detriment. So Logan can’t confide in Francis.

Logan desperately asks a girl by the name of Jessica 6 to help him after remembering that she wore a collar with an ankh attached and that she questioned renewal.  The ankh is not only a calling card, but it has a practical use as a key to open a door that leads to sanctuary.  I actually loved the fact that they used an ankh in this film, because when I was younger, I was heavily into ancient Egypt.  The ankh or key of life is an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol that represents the word "life".   For characters to have this key in the film, is to choose to live.

Jessica is actually part of a hearty subcommunity with common sense who do not believe that they will be renewed.  They vow to help runners try to reach sanctuary, but they are very leery of Logan because Sandmen never run.  I think too that the fact that the Sandmen never run is a clue to the fact that Logan’s fate is different than any other runner.  

Logan’s likeability grows, but only in proximity to Jessica who is courageous and sacrifices everything to go with him on the journey.  Why?  I don’t know.  She likes him so she wants to stay with him.  I wished there was more of a deeper exchange for her, like maybe she doesn’t want to wait to run or that she’s just curious about sanctuary.  

In the book Jessica is the twin sister of the runner that Logan terminates by the name of Doyle.  Jessica is a runner too so that is why she sticks with Logan.

The movie stays true to the book in the sense that they only become a couple after having gone through so much together.  Their relationship grows because they are partners in their wild adventures together, looking out for each other.  I thought that this was a sweet and organic way to see how they grow closer together, clinging to each other as they go.  It's very sweet how Logan tries to console Jessica when she is doubtful.

My favorite Jessica moment is when she freaks out when a lizard crawls up her skirt.  I can’t tell you how much I relate whenever I go camping and some insect comes by to inspect me.  “I hate outside!  I hate outside!” I do force myself to get some fresh air and sunshine, but Jessica, I can relate!

When they go outside they meet an old man that has no name in a very abandoned Washington D.C. accompanied by 20 to 30 cats.  I just love the look on Logan and Jessica’s face when they see a cat run out through a doorway.  It was priceless because Jessica and Logan have never seen a cat before.  Little details like that tickle me every time I see this film.

I thought it was interesting that the old man can't remember his name. I mean that's something you would definitely remember but that could just imply that he was too young to remember which is really super super sad!

The old man is a wonderful character bringing a sense of levity to the film.  However, because he has lived outside of the dome city all of his life, he has much to teach them about surviving on the outside.  I loved his character and what he brought to the film to give it more color and gravity.

All the while, Logan is being hunted by Francis, who has been left out of the adventure pretty much trying to figure out what is going on with his friend.  It’s really sad because, up until Logan became a runner, they were very the best of friends, doing everything together and I mean everything. 

Logan just abandoned Francis so we’re dealing with a very hurt young man who just wants his friend back really.  He’s so angry because this whole thing has gone too far and he can make this the way they used to be.

Francis also represents the fear of change, in the film, those who will never stray from their programming because it keeps them safe from the unknown.  He never believes the truth even when the evidence is staring him in the face.  It’s a tragedy.

In the book, Francis is the actual hero of the story.

The technical aspects is where the film really delivers this fantasy sci-fi on a silver platter to me.
The city was one of those incredible wonders of delight that was basically a group of incredibly designed miniatures.  Do they look real? No, but they were better than anything that was around at the time for science fiction.  Should that be enough?  No but I personally love the imagination given to the structures and a real moving rail system to boot.  I loved it and I’m not the only one because this miniature city has been repurposed in many movies and television projects such as The Ice Pirates (1984), Mork & Mindy (1978) season four, episode three, "The Honeymoon" and Star Trek: The Next Generation: Tapestry (1993).

The buildings were built at different scales based on their distance from the camera, to give the model landscape a greater sense of depth in forced perspective.

When I saw the movie which I have reviewed on this channel, Things To Come 1936, I couldn’t help notice the similarities in the design of the two cities and the use of holograms, which was also used in this film.  What a great movie to grab inspiration from.

The production saved over $3 million by filming interior shots of the city in Texas. The buildings used were the Dallas Market Center, the World Trade Center, the OZ Restaurant/Nightclub, and the Zale's Building.

The waterfalls that were used at the end of the film were of the Water Gardens, in Fort Worth, Texas. 

One of the spectacles of the film are the costumes of the citizens of the dome.  They were heavily inspired by ancient Grecian Roman fashions and I think the society was meant to replicate the excess of the ancient societies.  I mentioned  that the Carousel was very similar to the Coliseum, so costume designer Bill Thomas who previously worked on Spartacus and received an Oscar for it, was perfect for the task.

Many people immediately connect the designs as a calling card for the 1970’s and that is completely evident, but I also see the influence of ancient Rome and I also see hints of the late 1960’s as well.  They were very flowy but many of the dresses for the women were short hemmed minidresses.

Bill had the creative idea to use color to give the population the ability to identify their life clock age visually.  It’s something that most people don’t actually realize while watching the film, but the bright colors in the costumes are not a result of it’s 1970’s influence, but it served a function in the society within the film matching the wearers life clock color.  Then within those colors, there are variations like, dark green mint green Peach pink and dark red to indicate how far along a citizen was in that segment.  It was a wonderful detail that has been overlooked by many.

The Sandmen stood out, dressed in a very utilitarian black uniform to show their dominance and intimidation among the crowd. 

That gorgeous house coat that Logan wears in his apartment when he first meets Jessica looked so comfortable, but it was very commanding too.  It was actually something that Bill Thomas put together last minute in about two hours before the scene was shot.  It left an incredible impression.

The Carousel sequence was a construct of the film, but it was also one of the most memorable scenes.  A very complicated rig was designed in the ceiling of the set to rotate and pull up the stunt performers, all the while a corresponding revolving floor was to create the spectacle.  It was a disaster during the rehearsal tangling the performers, which had to be rescued by a maintenance rig.  With adjustments, they pulled it off and one interesting technique they used was to lower the performers to the ground while shooting and then reversed the film to create the effect.

At the time, the old MGM backlot was in poor condition which made it perfect for the ruins of Washington, D.C. and the “outside”.

The ice cave sequence with the people frozen in the ice were actually extras spray painted white who then had to stand perfectly still until the end of each take to pull off the look.  It’s a low tech effect, but it looked pretty good to achieve the level of horror for the moment.  I loved it.

I enjoyed the guns that the Sandmen use.  In the book, the guns have many functions, but in the film it had more of a deadly firecracker effect, with short bursts.  They used butane gas cartridges, which you can tell by their discharge, but it caused complications on the set because they wouldn’t always work when the trigger was pulled.  However, I liked the theatrical look of their flares.

The action scenes were mostly of characters running and occasionally ducking a blaster, however, the fight between Francis and Logan was and still is a brutal display of savage rage.  I was passionate and realistic.  The music that coincided with it was marvelous, stirring up dramatic tension.

This movie is the very first to use Dolby Stereo on 70mm film prints.  However, they still didn’t actually know how to use all of its functions for the film.  Movies like Star Wars: A New Hope and Close Encounters of the Third Kind both released a year later would use it much better.

Jerry Goldsmith was responsible for the score and it had some distinct characteristics within the dome of a very synth-digital sound.  When on the outside, the music soars into a more booming classical orchestral score.

The casting for this movie is pretty interesting because it influenced the story and the main reason the Last Day age was raised to 30.  There were more complicated issues in hiring a large cast of actors under 21 in the 1970s.  As well most of the cast was clearly over 30 that were within the dome.

The first choice for the 26 year old protagonist, Logan was 37 year old, Jon Voight.  That didn’t pan out, but along the search, 33 year old British actor, Michael York was considering turning the project down until a colleague told him he should take the part it because, “‘it's pressing a lot of buttons.’” 

I enjoyed Michael in this because he’s so expressive and even a bit dramatic in a very elegant way.  There is something very soothing about the way he talks and responds to things happening in the film.  Even though Michael is doing an American accent, it still feels very proper and it’s very easy for audience members to confuse his character as being British, which many viewers chalk up to the fact that after several generations, it was normal for accents to blend together inside the dome.  I didn’t mind it.  His performance was one of the highlights for me.

Lindsay Wagner who was 26 at the time was first considered to play opposite Jon Voight.  However, British actor Jenny Agutter aged 24, was chosen, nearly accurate to her age in the film.  Jenny played Jessica with a sense of curiosity for adventure and innocence.

In an interview she said she enjoyed making this film but found her costume to be “embarrassing”, which I can completely understand.  There really wasn’t much to it.  However, when daydreaming about future worlds, I find myself wondering if we would wear any clothes at all.  I think we would at least dress for comfort.

Originally, Francis was going to be played by 36 year old William Devane, but he left the movie when the filming schedule clashed with another film project. 38 year old American Richard Jordan was cast as a replacement, but wow, did the project get lucky with Jordan.  He was amazing as Francis, allowing the audience to feel the menace of his imposition, tenacity and passion for his cause.  Through his performance, Francis is not just an evil cackling villain.  He’s sadly a tragically lost soul.

The role of the Old Man was offered to James Cagney but he declined preferring to remain in retirement from acting.  Director Michael Anderson asked 54 year old Peter Ustinov to join the project to play a one hundred year old man after working on three prior films together.  What a delight for this rather somber premise!  Peter was wonderful in this charming and whimsical role, improvising much of his dialogue and on occasion quoting "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" by T.S. Eliot.  He even mentions the strange term, “jellicle cat” made popular by the Broadway play and movies, Cats released in 1998 and in 2019 base on the book.  On the set, there were several cats that lived on the set and Peter Ustinov made cat drawings for Jenny Agutter to pass the time between filming scenes. 

Michael York takes credit for discovering 1970’s beauty icon Farrah Fawcett aged 28 at the time as he was playing tennis.  He said she was a "blonde vision of delight."  She was to originally be an extra, but successfully auditioned for the role of Holly 13, which is actually a character from the novel, contrary to the rumor that the part was created for Farrah.   At the time of filming, Farrah Fawcett was an unknown actress with this becoming her first role,  She married Lee Majors during the making of the film which also made her very famous by its release.  Soon after she landed a part in Charlie's Angels television show in 1976.

Other actors of note: the director's son, Michael Anderson Jr., played the role of Doc) and within the very dangerous contraption of the character, The Box, Roscoe Lee Browne was not only his wonderful voice but operator.

One of the authors, William F. Nolan was very unhappy with the movie.  I am not sure what part he didn’t like, but he wanted to work on a sequel to make it right.  I think that it must have been the message of the film versus the message from the book, or maybe it wrapped things up too neatly at the end and he had more story to tell.

A sequel movie might have been possible because Logan’s Run did well at the box office and with the critics.  As well it shared an Oscar for Visual Effects at the 49th Academy Awards between this movie and King Kong (1976).   That may shock some people but, the film had the most incredible visuals of its day and has not had the luxury as some films like Star Wars and Blade Runner to get their effects remastered or digitally touched up.  We have to take that into consideration when seeing these older films.

It was growing in popularity garnering a comic book series lasting seven issues in 1977 with Marvel Comics and a television series starring Gregory Harrison as Logan 5 and Heather Menzies as Jessica 6, wherein the original writers were called in to help the story along.

Historically, I am so glad this movie came out a year before Star Wars.  However, once Star Wars hit the scene, the television series was scrapped and memories of Carousel fled the minds of most science fiction lovers for a while.  There were even a few people who saw the similarities between the two movies and thought Logan’s Run was capitalizing off of Star Wars’ success.

The momentum was quelled, but William F. Nolan wrote sequels, "Logan's World" (1977), "Logan's Search" (1980) and, "Logan's Return" in 2001. 

As well there were many movies and television shows that were similar after Logan’s Run.

  • Blade Runner 1982, which has the term runner in the title and the replicants live for only 4 years, the same number of years left for Logan 5.
  • The Ice Pirates (1984) a clip of the domed city are used for some exteriors
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Tapestry (1993), you can see the cityscape from Logan's Run is outside Picard's window.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Unforgettable (1998) star trek version of logan's run
  • Antz (1998)
  • Farscape: Taking the Stone (2000) (TV Episode)
  • The main conflict seems to be based on Logan's Run.
  • Frequency (2000)
  • Impostor (2001)
  • Minority Report (2002)
  • In Time (2011)
  • Cloud Atlas (2012) Clones are given a false promise of "renewal" and wear similar robes as those in Logan's Run.
  • Oblivion (2013) ruins of Washington, D.C.

Warner Bros. began development of a remake in the mid 1990’s and has continued to try to get the project off the ground since then and got seriously close in 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011,  2012, 2013, and 2015.  

That speaks volumes about Logan’s Run and what Michael Anderson and MGM were able to do with this property.  It’s not a perfect movie by any account, but many of the story elements that were problematic for me stemmed from the book.  Books can wrap you up with a tiny detail for pages and pages, but movies are more detached.  It takes more practical probability to pull the audience in.  I felt the film did just that with the time it had to do it.  But what Logan Run really needs is a series again and not just a movie to tell the vast story that is lurking beneath the surface, similar to what they did with Westworld.  There are so many questions about this world to discover and I think it’s time to do just that. 

We can handle Star Wars and Logan’s Run cohabitating in the same world.

This film was just the beginning for me, seeing this fabulous future city as a child filling my imagination with so much wonder and hope that one day I could live in a place so advanced.  The pure dazzling theatrical spectacle of the film is what’s most memorable from the elaborate sets, the gorgeous cast, the creative costumes, and dreamy miniatures.

The film is incredibly stylish while taking you on a wild journey of discovery as if it were symbolizing that our Adam and Eve, Logan 5 and Jessica 6 were leading the people to return to Eden’s wilds of nature while discarding the glories of technology from a system that was ill conceived. 

My Rating:

That sums up my review.  I hope you liked it. If you did, I’ve got over 100 of these videos, so go on and browse the channel to see more reviews from me like this.  Subscribe if you haven’t done so already and hit the bell icon to be the first to be notified of my next video.  This is Retro Nerd Girl signing off!

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1 comment:

  1. Zardoz Speaks to YouDecember 24, 2020 at 12:05 PM

    I like how these blog versions of your youtube reviews are expanded a bit. Even if I don't always agree 100%, your reviews are always fair and considered.

    Zardoz has spoken...