Released the year before Star Wars, Logan’s Run has turned into a cult classic, but there’s always been an air of missed opportunity about it. If only The Time Machine’s George Pal had followed through with his intention to direct the movie instead of letting the job fall to a distracted-and-going-through-a-divorce Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days). If only they hadn’t made so many changes to the source material, George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nola’s novel in which the future society’s cut-off age is a more dramatic 21, not 30. If only they had cast someone other than Michael York in the lead. If only they’d focused more on the story and intended social commentary on ageism instead of cramming in so many subpar special effects sequences. Heck, if only they’d at least had more money to make some of the special effects look better, especially the miniature model of the future city. If only…well, you get the idea.
Yet, until recently I had never seen Logan’s Run. In my past life as a video store clerk, we once played Logan’s Run on the TV inside the store, or at least I think we did. To be honest, that was an especially busy night, and my only clear recollection is of looking up at the TV over my shoulder one time and thinking, “So 70s.” Also, I vaguely recall my co-worker, the one who’d wanted to watch the movie in the first place, hastily hitting the stop button and replacing Logan’s Run with something else.
That had been my one and only exposure to the campastic glory of Michael York and Jenny Agutter’s mad dash through a far-flung future consisting of monochrome sets, funky discotheque battles, wholly unconvincing robots, and jumpsuit-adorned twentysomethings. But then I happened upon Logan’s Run on TCM’s app and decided it was about time I, a supposed die-hard sci-fi fan, finally gave this film a shot. It’s….well, it’s not great, you guys.
Logan’s Run is indeed so very, very 70s in every way (a pre-Charlie’s Angels Farrah Fawcett even pops up at one point), and time has not been this movie’s friend. As Empire put it, “There is something in the future gazing of that era’s sci-fi that defines contemporary obsessions rather than notions of future possibility.” Indeed, the film’s vision of a hedonistic, brightly colored future ruled by computers speaks exclusively to 70s concerns, which look positively quaint now. Beyond that, it’s simply astonishing how far behind the curve Logan’s Run special effects are in comparison to Star Wars. However, the movie isn’t a total waste of time. It still has its moments, even today.
The plot can’t help but feel a tad familiar by now: In a dystopian future where the remnants of humanity live in a sealed, underground city, youngish people have to fight to survive. Obvious shades of Hunger Games, Maze Runner, but in this case the idea is once people turn 30 they are either somehow saved and preserved or simply blown up, ensuring a society devoid of anyone 31 or older. Those who opt out of this system and make a run for it are hunted down by laser gun-sporting cops known as “Sandmen.”
When one of the cops, Logan (a too-old-to-be-playing-a-29-year-old York), is assigned a secret mission to leave the city and track down thousands of missing runners he ends up being chased by his own colleagues, thus turning him into a victim of the very same justice system he used to uphold (ala Fahrenheit 451 and Minority Report). The ensuing journey through the city’s underworld and aid from a rebel love interest (Agutter’s Jessica) leads him to uncover a larger conspiracy which challenges everything he thought he knew.
The problem is not the familiarity of it all, especially since judging the film against any genre tropes which came decades after its release is inherently unfair. The problem’s not even the plot. Logan’s conversion from believer to rebel feels plausible enough, and where exactly his investigation takes him certainly left me surprised. The problem isn’t with the action. In fact, as an exercise in sci-fi exposition, character establishment, and then spirited chase sequences, the first hour of the film is actually energetic fun, particularly as it pits Logan and Jessica against one dangerous encounter after another.
The problem is once the movie gets out of the city it has no idea what to do with itself anymore. The director’s disinterest in the material is obvious, and the lack of depth for Logan and Jessica as characters becomes a problem (they’re a bit too simple for their own good). The narrative more or less meanders for its last hour before reaching a nonsensical finale let down by atrocious special effects.
But even in the film’s better moments director Michael Anderson and his team feel more interested in spectacle at the expense of character and theme. As such, it’s far too easy to reach the end of Logan’s Run and not know for sure what the filmmakers were even trying to say about society here.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Let down by its instantly dated fashion and special effects, Logan’s Run ultimately remains an intriguing time capsule of the 70s and of pre-Star Wars sci-fi. It was, at the time, the last gasp of the social commentary sci-fi steeped more in sociology than mythology, and as a movie, its first hour remains a spirited burst of dystopia-set action. It’s a film very much so of its time, but there are moments, short bursts, really, of quality storytelling and thrilling action which still hold up today.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- If there are any people of color in Logan’s Run vision of the future I missed ’em.
- In a piece for Tested.com, Michael Anderson’s son conceded his father “was more interested at the time in trying to find [an old flame’s] phone number than he was with the movie!” So, the movie about the perils of a society given to youth worship and sexual abandon was made by a dude too distracted by his own love life to focus. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
- SPOILER: Filmstruck’s spot-on forecast for what becomes of Logan’s Run’s humans past the ending of the movie:
“But wait,” you say, “doesn’t it have a happy ending?” Well, no. If a crazy old man with the i.q. of a corn silo, living in the U.S. Capital building with 500 cats, is the savior of the world, folks, the world’s not going to last too long. Once they destroy all those computers, how long before they all starve to death? I give humanity two months, maybe three, following the conclusion of Logan’s Run. After that, they’re all dead.
What about you? What has been your experience with Logan’s Run? Are you someone who also watched the short-lived Logan’s Run TV series? If so, do tell.