In the days before 1977’s “Star Wars” changed movies forever (at least for my generation), cinematic science fiction, with rare exceptions like “2001” and “Forbidden Planet,” consisted largely of cheapie monster flicks or dystopian nightmares.
One of the more successful of the dystopian movies was “Logan’s Run” (1976), based a bit loosely on a novel by sci-fi heavy hitters William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (“Twilight Zone” “Star Trek TOS”). Nolan would go on to pen a couple of other adventures in this series, but I’ve only read the first book, so I’m not qualified to write about the sequels.
“Can you identify this word?”
The original book was published in 1967, the famous ‘summer of love.’ It was a time when western culture was obsessed with youth, rebellion and the ever-increasing generation gap. In this regard (and others) the book is quite different than the adaptations that followed (the 1976 movie and 1977 TV series). Former ‘sandman’ Logan-3 and ‘runner’ Jessica-6 flee their society, where the mandatory age for Deep Sleep (death) is 21 years old.
Upon escaping, the two embark on an epic quest across many familiar landmarks and peoples of a post-apocalyptic United States in various episodic segments. They are eventually tracked down by Francis, a sandman colleague of Logan’s who reveals himself to be a surprise ally of the Runners. He is also revealed to be 42 years old (double the mandated life span of 21), but has disguised his age with plastic surgery.
Francis has been working within the system to help runners escape to “Sanctuary”, which is actually an off-world colony near Mars. Logan and Jessica are able to escape Earth via a rocket launched from an abandoned Cape Canaveral in Florida.
“More than a fusion of the two…”
Nine years later saw the release of the movie adaptation of “Logan’s Run”, with a screenplay by David Zelag Goodman (“Straw Dogs”) directed by Michael Anderson (“Around the World in 80 Days” “The Martian Chronicles”).
Many liberties were taken. The new mandated ‘last day’ was the date of one’s 30th birthday, which is a bit more realistic for casting purposes.
The scale of the novel was lessened a bit, with Jessica-6 (Jenny Agutter) and Logan-5 (Michael York) confining their quest for “Sanctuary” to Earth.
Instead of Last Day participants simply reporting to a ‘sleep shop’ for their termination, the film depicts an elaborate celebratory death ritual called “Carousel”, where people are killed in front of a live crowd, that fills the air with shouts of “Renew! Renew!” The Carousel ritual is genuinely eerie, with the participants wearing futuristic skeletal masks and body suits that seem more appropriate to a Halloween Ice-capades Show rather than an execution. The arena is illuminated with jewel-like laser beams that only add to the mood of this creepy spectacle.
Logan is assigned by the city’s control computer to go undercover as a Runner in an attempt to seek and destroy the Runner’s ‘Sanctuary.’ Logan’s palm’s life-clock is artificially advanced a few years (he is only 26), forcing himself to ally with Jessica, whom he met during a one-night tryst. Logan believes Jessica to be in contact with the Runner underground.
Logan and Jessica then seek the services of Runner-altering plastic surgeon “Doc” (played by Michael Anderson Jr, the director’s son). Turns out Doc has other plans for the former sandman (who’s responsible for killing a few of Doc’s friends). After a deadly surgical laser fiasco right out of “Goldfinger”, Logan and Jessica escape; leaving behind a traumatized, pre-“Charlie’s Angels” Farrah Fawcett as Doc’s comely assistant Holly.
As Jessica and Logan try to find their way out of the city in the quest of Sanctuary, they are nearly captured and killed by a psychotic environmental systems-control robot named “Box” (Roscoe Lee Browne), who, they learn, has been capturing Runners, freezing them, and repurposing them as a food source for the city (shades of 1973’s “Soylent Green”). Browne’s rich voice is very memorable; and the Box robotic costume itself always reminded me of some deranged cybernetic version of Burl Ives’ stop-motion Snowman from the old Rankin-Bass holiday specials.
Logan and Jessica’s quest eventually takes them into the wilds outside the domed cities, which is a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. overgrown with wildlife. The post-apocalyptic depiction of the Lincoln Memorial covered in vines is similar, though not quite as impactful, as seeing the half-buried Statue of Liberty at the end of “Planet of the Apes” (1968).
Outside the city, Logan and Jessica find that their palm life-clocks no longer function; they’ve turned white. They wonder if what they’ve found is, in fact, Sanctuary itself.
It is as this point we see one of the biggest changes (of many) between the book and the movie; it involves the character of Logan’s fellow sandman Francis (Richard Jordan), who is never allowed the redemption of the novel.
Francis is the book’s secret hero, whereas the movie simply depicts him as a fanatical obstacle to be overcome. He isn’t some clever undercover ally, nor is he middle-aged. He’s simply a robotic servant of the system, and nothing more. A lost opportunity…
The movie’s new ‘old man’ ally is now a kindly, half-senile old cat collector living in the Capitol building, played by Peter Ustinov. Logan and Jessica are genuinely awed by the man’s age, as they’ve never seen anyone over 30 years old. Ustinov was only in his mid-50s during filming, but was given a bit of wrinkled latex makeup along with a wig and a beard to make him appear decades older.
The end of the film sees Logan and Jessica return to the city of domes (swimming in through its hydroelectric system) with living ‘proof’ of both Sanctuary and the lies of ‘renewal.’ The old man is fawned over by the emerging youth from the city, who begin to flee the city en masse. The revolution has begun.
“When you question, it slows you down.”
While the film of “Logan’s Run” has its faults, it also makes the most of what it has to work with. The miniatures of the domed cities are impressive, as is the largely electronic musical score of Jerry Goldsmith; it’s sort of a high-tech answer to his primitive, non-melodic percussion and horns score for “Planet of the Apes.” Unsettling and disturbing, it fits the movie perfectly.
The film makes interesting use of real-life locations, such as the Water Gardens of Fort Worth, Texas. The location was also used in 1980’s PBS adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Lathe of Heaven.” Having seen them in person only a few years ago, they do indeed have a science fiction-y look to them. A matte painting was used in the film to make them appear to be a hydroelectric plant near the edge of the Atlantic ocean, rather than a bit of city landscaping smack dab in the middle of a downtown urban area.
The production team also made use of an indoor mall, the Dallas Market Center, to depict certain areas of the domed city. While it gives some scenes of the movie a very dated 1970s-look, it was arguably a very practical solution for depicting a futuristic city in those pre-CGI days when most special FX were simply too costly & limited.
The performances in the film are fairly solid, though no explanation is offered for why some denizens of the domed city speak in British accents (Logan, Jessica), while most others are flatly American (everyone else). It seems a bit odd since these very different-sounding people have lived their entire lives in the same closed ecosystem.
Michael York does a decent enough job keeping Logan-5 as a bit of a self-centered antihero who only finds heroism when his own life is imperiled. It’s entirely possible that Logan would’ve carried out his search-and-destroy mission of Sanctuary if he had a solid guarantee that his remaining years would be given back to him after completion of his mission. This is more or less in keeping with the antihero Logan of the book.
Jenny Agutter plays Jessica well enough, though it is something of a thankless role. Jessica was created just before Princess Leia and Ripley arguably changed science fiction female characters forever. A shame the ‘revolutionary’ Jessica didn’t take the lead on that particular revolution herself.
The lack of inclusive casting is also a bit of a squawking point today. Granted, this was common practice at the time, but it stands out for all the wrong reasons now. The 23rd century of the film appears downright archaic these days. A modern remake would almost certainly address and rectify this, I’m sure.
“I’m sure he was renewed.”
The fall of 1977 (post-Star Wars) saw CBS try to capitalize on the ‘sci-fi craze’ of the time by adapting the “Logan’s Run” movie into a TV series, with a pilot that does a quasi-reboot of the 1976 movie; using the same costumes, props and even stock footage from the 1976 film, but with recast lead actors. Even the date is moved up from the 23rd century to the early 24th (2319).
Forsaking the movie’s firm conclusion in favor of a more open-ended one, the new “Logan’s Run” was formatted as a weekly ‘on-the-lam’-style TV series, much like other sci-fi TV series of the time, including 1974’s “Planet of the Apes” TV series and 1977’s “The Incredible Hulk.” Granted, that format is native to the story of “Logan’s Run” (the book and the movie) but it still feels redundant with all of that competition. TV science fiction of the mid-1970s was stuck in a rut with “The Fugitive”-style storytelling.
Gregory Harrison (“Trapper John, M.D”) is cast as the new Logan, with the character changed into a blander and less-selfish version of York’s version (minus his British accent as well). Somewhat boring, by today’s standards, but par for the course in 1977 television.
The new Jessica is played by the late Heather Menzies (1973’s “Sssssss!”), and while she is slightly spunkier than Agutter’s (also sans accent), she is far from the fiery revolutionary I’d have liked to have seen. Sadly, the actress passed away only last December after a fight with brain cancer.
The two are joined in the first episode by a 200-year old android they find along the way named “Rem” (Donald Moffat, whom I still remember as Lyndon B. Johnson in 1983’s “The Right Stuff”). Rem is, by far, the most interesting character of the trio; essentially acting as the “Spock” (or more accurately, the “Data”) to our bland young heroes; seeing humanity through the objective lens of an outsider, commenting with both naivete and wisdom.
Rounding out the cast is the show’s “Lt. Gerard” is Randy Powell‘s Francis, who is essentially the same Francis seen in the film, save for any subtlety or shading that the late Richard Jordan gave to the character. In the TV series, he’s nothing but a one-note hunter seeking his prey.
Attempts were made to expand Francis’ motivation, by showing him meeting clandestinely with a group of old white guys who secretly run the domed city. Francis asks if they renew; they don’t. They basically admit to Francis that they’re the puppet-masters and that ‘renewal’ by Carousel is essentially a lie. They then offer Francis a seat on their ruling body if he succeeds in bringing Logan and Jessica back to denounce Runners and debunk the ‘myth’ of Sanctuary. This would’ve been an ideal moment for Francis to consider switching sides and questioning his life…but he doesn’t. Maybe he could’ve pretended to accept their terms while awaiting a chance to reunite with Logan and Jessica to bring them all down (?). We’ll never know…
Casting for “Logan’s Run” suffered a frustrating lack of diversity that was as prevalent in the TV series as it was in the film. This series was released over ten years after the original “Star Trek” debuted, yet we don’t see any regular characters who aren’t caucasian, save for extras or occasional guest roles. Granted, “Logan’s Run” isn’t some depiction of an aspirational future like Star Trek, but it’s pretty hard to imagine any realistic future that is so prevalently white-bread.
The series’ goal of “Sanctuary” is also somewhat poorly defined throughout its one-season run. Just what was it that our heroes hoped to find, anyway? Safety? Nice neighbors? Green landscaping? Did Logan or Jessica ever stop to think that perhaps they had to create their own Sanctuary instead of simply finding it on the road like a lost kitten somewhere?
In fairness, some of the stories are colorfully entertaining, if silly. The series’ tone, look and feel are at a midpoint between the kid-friendly “Planet of the Apes” TV series and the campier “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” Surprisingly there were scripts written by some big-name Trek veterans such as Dorothy Fontana, David Gerrold, Shimon Wincelberg, John Meredyth Lucas and Harlan Ellison.
Stories ranged from encounters with androids (Rem has a love story), space aliens, time-travelers and even a haunted house (I kid you not). Episodes began to repeat on the idea of our heroes finding a temporary haven save for one nagging little problem…such as a psychotic leader, barbaric cults, or evil psychiatrists (that last one came from an episode called “The Fear Factor”; a quasi-remake of Star Trek’s “Dagger of the Mind”).
Logan and Jessica’s relationship sadly never develops beyond an adolescent friend-zone crush, and there is no clear idea of how far they actually travel in search of Sanctuary. Their clothes are always clean (even Jessica’s satiny mini-dress), and their hair and makeup always seem fresh enough. No matter how far our heroes travel, the doggedly determined Francis and the domed cities always seem to be only a day or so away.
And each week’s episode ends the same way; with our trio safely nestled in their solar-powered hover car, heading off to… somewhere.
I wonder if a second season would’ve made much of a difference, or would it have merely been a protraction of things we’d already seen?
There is no renewal…or is there?
In this reboot-crazy climate of current pop culture, I imagine we’ll someday see a full reboot of either the “Logan’s Run” movie or TV series. And if ever there was a property ripe for a modern-day reimagining, it’s “Logan’s Run.” Screenwriter Simon Kinberg (“X-Men,” “Sherlock Holmes” movies) was attached to a remake as recently as 2015, but apparently nothing new has happened on that front.
I could easily imagine a new version moving away from a glitzy, 1970s disco-globe aesthetic and getting back to the harder roots of the book. Not to mention that depicting “Sanctuary” as an off-world colony with current FX technology would be a cinch these days, for a movie or a TV series.
Perhaps a feature length film (or miniseries, ala 2003’s “Battlestar Galactica” relaunch) could depict the grandiose escape from the city of domes, with a weekly TV series focusing on our heroes establishing their own Sanctuary beyond the Earth, where even simple, day-to-day existence is a hard-earned struggle.
Maybe the show could even work in a bit of that old Star Trek-style optimism, with our young (hopefully more diverse) heroes proving that a goal of something bigger and better than our current lives isn’t necessarily a futile quest. It could be a message very much needed today as our world seemingly retreats deeper and deeper into distrust, tribalism and fear-mongering.
Instead of simply running away from certain death at age 30, Logan and Jessica could be running towards a better future that they make for themselves. That could be a very interesting and positive direction for a new “Logan’s Run.”