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The Test of Time: Logan's Run (1976)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY MICHAEL ANDERSON

STARRING MICHAEL YORK, JENNY AGUTTER, PETER USTINOV, FARRAH FAWCETT

Hey, whatever happened to that killer sounding LOGAN’S RUN redux with Refn and Gosling attached? Oh, probably the same thing that happened in the 90s when DiCaprio was all set to star as the titular time-running terminator. Shite fizzled. And why did it dissipate, exactly? Well, in due deference to the late great British director Michael Anderson, who just passed away at the age of 98 over the weekend (RIP good sir), the source material just might be too damn difficult to film. Again. The textual girth is simply too rotund to wrap one’s arms around…the loftily imagined sci-fi rulebook the novel established too strict to credibly enforce. Even with all the technological advancement we’ve seen in the industry over the past four decades, to this day, 42 years after its initial release, a big-screen LOGAN’S RUN redo still languishes away in development hell. WTF indeed!

Yeah, I know what you might be thinking. LOGAN’S over 30 now, why even care…this sucker’s either dead or failed to renew. Fair point. But you know how we do…we’re fixing to give Logan a different kind of Test of Time. See, we’re less interested presiding over the man’s scheduled expiration date than we are in assessing the meaningful merits of Logan-5’s life-clock. You feeling it? F*ck yeah you are! So raise your lasers, friends. Mr. Sandman, bring us a mother*cking beam!

THE STORY: Adapted from the William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson novel by David Zelag Goodman (STRAW DOGS, EYES OF LAURA MARS), LOGAN’S RUN is a wondrously realized tale of dystopian science fiction. Taking place in the year 2274, Earth’s population has been sequestered under a giant domed metropolis mean to keep catastrophic pollution at bay. In this simulated place of paradise, every pleasurable vice is at your disposal. But there’s one crucial caveat. You can only live to the age of 30. After that, you have two options: die, or partake in a ritual of renewal called Carousel. As the film opens, we meet our unwitting hero Logan-5 (Michael York), a 26-year old Sandman, a euphemistic term for a Terminator, a person assigned to hunt down Runners – people who try to escape the dome after their thirtieth birthday. Logan lives quite the hedonistic libertine lifestyle, firing lasers at helpless escapees by day, shacking up with scantily clad vixens by night. That is, until he’s given a brutally bothersome briefing by the higher-ups…

Logan’s mission is this: While feigning to be a Runner, Logan must escape the dome and locate and destroy Sanctuary, the central place of refuge that all of the escaped runners eventually end up at. This will prove all but impossible, particularly when none of the other Sandmen know of Logan’s directive. Logan enlists the help of the ultra-sexy Jessica (Jenny Agutter), finding additional aide via Old Man (Peter Ustinov), a senescent human being living full and free (with his cats) outside the strictures of the ecological dome. For some reason Farah Fawcett shows up, distractingly so, with Logan’s former partner Francis (Richard Jordan) hot on their heels. Logan must evade peril, then complete a search and destroy mission as ordered, but his findings lead to a clash of conscience that turn Logan into the de facto leader of a potential new world order. That is, we shall all eclipse the age of 30!

WHAT HOLDS-UP: More than anything, I really believe the single most lasting aspect of LOGAN’S RUN is its vast influence. Its unassailable ideas. Its overall legacy. Remember, LOGAN’S RUN was released just a year before STAR WARS would absolutely demolish and remap the landscape of cinematic science fiction. And yet, LOGAN’S impact is still felt. Sure it pulls from the dystopic mores of heavyweight films like 2001: A SPACE ODDYSSEY, THX-1138, 1984 (the first big-screen adaption of which was brought to us by Michael Anderson in 1956) and perhaps a few other strangely numerically-titled examples. But it’s the common denominator established by LOGAN’S RUN that we’re most interested in.

And that is, the very ideas and influence Logan boasted is directly reflected in everything from BLADE RUNNER, THE TERMINATOR and THE ISLAND to DIE ANOTHER DAY (which flat out cribs the haywire-facelift scene), MINORITY REPORT, SNOWPIERCER, and countless others. In fact, until STAR WARS would shatter the all-time box-office record, the successful reach of LOGAN’S RUN included two potential sequel scripts by Zelag Goodman, LOGAN’S WORLD and LOGAN’S SEARCH, as well as a short-lived TV series that ran on NBC for one season in 1977. The reason for this is, I’d argue, the well established, firmly delineated guidelines that so clearly define the stakes of this particular world. It’s ethos-driven mythos is so detailed, so intricately thought-out, that it’s damn near impossible to not have its codas embossed on your brain.

Take one example, the color-coded life-clocks that are meant to signify certain strata of age groupings. The idea of having a colored button on the palm of your hand that indicates your age, and the necessity to wear a complementing wardrobe to match (if your button is red, so too are your clothes) instantly formulates for us an institutionalized set of rules we must abide by. The laws of LOGAN’S RUN are too strong to disobey, even as viewers, which keeps the legacy of the material as memorable as any visual representation of such. In short, there’s a veritable coolness to the thought-stoking splendor of LOGAN’S RUN that has yet to run out!

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Here’s where things get a bit dicey. Point blank, for as breathtaking as the size and scale of the production design remains to be, the awkward technological VFX and chintzy costume designs in LOGAN’S RUN do not hold up very well at all. Blows? Hardly. Betrays its age? Unfortunately, yes it does. Now, there’s no denying how impressive the VFX were in its time. In fact, peep this tidbit below (via IMDB):

Originally, there wasn't going to be a Visual Effects Oscar awarded for the 49th Academy Awards. The VFX committee didn't believe any of the films were actually worthy. Retroactively, this decision was overturned (unlike for 1973) and the Oscar given was shared between Logan's Run (1976) and King Kong (1976). The Academy's visual-effects committee members, including its chair, resigned in furious protest.

How strange, because to me, it’s only in retrospect that the VFX work feels outmoded. Judging by today’s standard, especially for a futuristic sci-fi tale as durable as LOGAN’S RUN, the FX are simply too basic, too monastic, too rudimentary to rightly match the movie's awe-inspiring premise. For one, the use of miniatures models is painfully apparent during certain scenes. Sure, some sequences come off more convincingly than others, but look no further than Box, the clunky ice-robot, for an example of painfully passé technology. This f*cker literally has pipe-tubing for arms…1950s style, a la Klaatu and f*cking Gort! Now, I can’t tell if this was intentional as a way of fusing the past with the present to create a newfangled future, but either way, the FX-work looks pretty damn hokey when watching LOGAN’S RUN today.

So too do the costumes. Good grief. Lamenting her wardrobe at the time, Jenny Agutter had it right to think these free-flowing see-through blouses with Peter Pan tights wouldn’t come off as presciently futuristic. They don’t, and actually tend to detract from the more serious notions LOGAN’S RUN has to explore. The green colored Runners literally look like the logo for Silicon Valley’s Pied Piper. F*cking Jared’s abominable jacket is more flattering!

Now, to be clear, this is not to impugn the production design itself. The sets are still pretty cool today, properly elaborate and futuristic looking, but the VFX used inside these spaces simply don’t equate. And not for nothing, but the camerawork is nowhere near as dynamic as most dystopian science fiction films we’ve come to know and love. There’s camera movement, to be sure, but there’s a certain level of inertia to the traditional way a movie is shot, sans CGI and more portable equipment, that kind of hinders they way in which the material could be shot today. In this regard, it’s easy to see why remaking LOGAN’S RUN now is such an appealing idea. The material is beyond reproach, but the tech can use a properly rebooted upgrade.

THE VERDICT: Michael Anderson was a very good director. And while his fecund filmography extends beyond our horror-based purview, remember, from 1976-1982, Anderson gave us four or five really solid genre outings that included ORCA, DOMINIQUE, three episodes of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and MURDER BY PHONE. Of course, that sprint began with LOGAN’S RUN, a movie whose lasting legacy and profound influence on the sci-fi genre has held up far longer than the technological means of achieving such. LOGAN’S RUN is still a great movie, let’s be clear, but it remains so because of its powerful premise, thought-provoking notions, and its foundationally laid groundwork that has allowed most sci-fi films to tread over in the interim. Runners, Sandmen, Life-Clocks, Carousels, Lastday, Love Shops, etc…these are terms that helped define a singular vision, yes, but also ones that have seeped into our collective filmgoing consciousness. RIP Mr. Anderson, may LOGAN’s RUN help you seek renewal!

STREAM LOGAN'S RUN HERE

GET LOGAN'S RUN ON DVD HERE

GET LOGAN'S RUN ON BLU-RAY HERE

Extra Tidbit: Per the troublesome FX, the Sandmen's laser guns worked using tiny butane gas cartridges, but were very unreliable on-camera, as the gas did not always ignite when the trigger was pulled.
Source: AITH

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