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Logan's Run - Sci-Fi Classic Film Review

Logan's Run
Run, Logan, Run

Let's get one thing straight right at the outset: Logan's Run the novel and Logan's Run the film are two very different beasts. The first is a breezy sci-fi action/adventure stuffed with futurist ideas, and the latter is a dystopian fantasy more concerned with sociopolitical context. We'll get into the specific differences between the two stories soon enough, but before we can fairly analyze the film, we have to ignore the impulse to treat divergence as an inherent negative. While I do love the novel, my review last week was less than glowing, and there is plenty of room to improve upon what it tries to do. However, the film isn't attempting that. Instead, it's taking the ideas of the original story in a very different direction with very different goals in mind. This isn't necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is hard to resist the purist impulse to dismiss the film adaptation as some kind of bastardization that is untrue to the source material.

This is because, at first blush, it's immediately apparent that the film does away with one of the novel's greatest strengths: the futurism. Yes, the film takes place in the future, and yes, it has a few bits of sci-fi technology like teleporters and blasters. However, it doesn't have the underwater city, the Antarctic prison, the hovercycles, the memory cafés, or the deep lore. It's a far more contained story that takes place largely within a single domed city with a populace that is entirely ignorant of history, and the sci-fi aspects are little more than tropes as old as Flash Gordon.

To compensate, the film doubles down on the dystopian aspects of the story in a way the novel doesn't, choosing to highlight and elaborate on the flaws of a society where people are denied adulthood. This, it turns out, is one of the film's biggest strengths. The novel glosses over its subtext with a lot of action, but the film goes out of its way to address it. As a result, this is a movie that is best understood as existing in its time: namely, the mid-seventies, when the youth counter-culture of the sixties was reaching adulthood and finding a certain degree of disillusionment. That is what Logan's Run, the film, is really about, and when looked at that way, it's a remarkable bit of celluloid that deserves its classic status in cinematic history.

Logan's Run
At least the costume budget is kept down

The film pulls off this trick in a few ways. The first is by making the characters more naïve from the outset, with far more to learn about the way the world is supposed to work. By the end, when an old man tries to explain to the younger main characters the value of marriage, it's obvious the screenwriters were trying to show the importance of traditional wisdom to a generation that had gotten a little carried away with notions of free love and disestablishmentarianism only a few years earlier. There's also the brand-new concept of "renewal," which, although annoyingly unclear, gives the population a belief that reaching the end of their alloted lifespans isn't dying so much as gaining the chance at some kind of reincarnation. This makes "running" seem less appealing to the citizens of this universe without having to rely on dated sci-fi concepts like childhood hypno-training, which in turn demonstrates that these young people are more foolish than outright brainwashed.

Logan, as played by Michael York, has a more satisfying character arc, too. While he does seem a bit sadistic at the start of the story--not just killing runners but reveling in the chase like a serial killer--his change of heart follows a series of revelations about how many lies he'd been fed by his own society. That works better than having his character be ambiguous for ninety percent of the story, as you can watch him transition from a man on a mission to a man turning his back on the life he'd been so fanatical in living. It also helps that he is given the mission to find Sanctuary when he thought he still had four years left to live, so that the suddenness of his turn makes a lot more sense. How his mission comes about makes a bit less sense, though. In the film, it comes from the main computer forcing him into it by changing his status but also demanding he tell no one about it. There's no reason given as to why he has to do it alone, and it would be much more logical to have the support of at least a few of his fellow runners, who could put on a good show of chasing him without actually trying to kill him. Of course, that would do away with the awesome climactic confrontation between Logan and Francis (played by Richard Jordon, who will always be The Secret of My Success' Uncle Howard Prescott to me), which is certainly one of the film's highlights.

Logan's Run
There's just something appealing about her

The film--like the book--is sexually charged. Thankfully, the characters are older in the movie (the death age is raised to 30 instead of 21), but there's a lot of casual sex, nudity, and distracting clothing on display. It is pretty progressive about it, seemingly fine with things like homosexuality, but there is still some lingering patriarchy in the way men seem to treat women. That said, the character of Jessica is a huge improvement over the novel. She is far more liberated and interesting--and I don't mind admitting I have a crush on actress Jenny Agutter--though she is still saddled with an inexplicable moment of declaring her love for Logan after only hanging out with him for about an hour.

Where the plot falls down, though, is in the end, when it completely abandons the novel in favor of the more predictable trope of our heroes deciding to burn down the dystopia. Granted, the twist ending of the novel wouldn't work with how the rest of the story has been built. This change could have been more effective, but it's handled very poorly, with the heroes utterly failing to achieve their goal within minutes of returning to the city. The city only starts burning because the computer somehow malfunctions because Logan is telling it that Sanctuary doesn't exist, which... makes a bunch of buildings explode? I'm still not sure exactly what happens, but it's clearly lazy writing.

Logan's Run
It's like Cirque du Soleil, only the performers explode on the ceiling

Stepping away from the story, though, the film is flawed on its own merits. A lot of the effects are wonky as hell, with painfully obvious miniatures and weird blaster fire standing out as outlandish, even for the era. The cyborg Box--an awesome holdover from the novel--is pretty disappointing as well, looking like a man wearing an air-conditioning vent. There's also the score, by the usually impeccable Jerry Goldsmith, who delivers a hokey and at times unpleasant mix of styles that only occasionally works. Lastly, there's a big pacing issue, with the film having more of a five-act structure than a three-act one, making it feel long-winded, especially after Logan and Francis have their final confrontation over twenty minutes before the end. (I do love the set designs, though.)

Still, as pre-Star Wars sci-fi from the seventies goes, Logan's Run is one of the best films out there. If viewed as an adaptation, it's not particularly faithful to anything but the underlying ideas. If compared to other science-fiction films from the golden age or more recent times, it's disadvantaged by virtue of existing in that weird middle ground between the sci-fi cinema booms of the fifties and the eighties, with one foot rooted firmly in the fantasy pulp of decades past and the other stepping toward gritty realism that special effects weren't prepared to deliver. However, if viewed as a cultural landmark that resonates with its time, it's exceptionally well-done and incredibly important. I'm sure it will be remade one of these days--Simon Kinberg was attached as recently as 2018, but there's been talk for decades--and I'm pretty mixed on the idea. On one hand, if it's changed to reflect modern concerns or treated as a more direct adaptation of the novel, it could be good. On the other, Logan's Run is such a quintessential seventies sci-fi experience that it should probably be left alone.


-e. magill 9/12/2019


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SPECIAL THANKS TO MY PATRONS:
Diane Magill-Davis
John Burrill
Warren Davis

Become a Patron today!
patreon.com/emagill


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