FUCKED UP FUTURES: Logan’s Run (1976)

In the 23rd century, life is total pleasure. Except, you know, you die when you’re 30. If you can live with that, you can be part of Logan’s Run.

1970’s science fiction — pre-Star Wars is intellectual, overthought and sometimes, really slow. That’s my best explanation of this film. If you’re expecting an action-packed rollercoaster of a film, you’re not going to get it. You will get Peter Ustinov and a lot of cats. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Michael York plays Logan, a Sandman whose job is to hunt down runners that try to escape the inevitable — when you turn thirty, you enter the Carousel, where your body is recycled and you come back and are renewed. He and Francis (Richard Jordan, Dune), his Sandman partner, don’t question the system. That is — until Logan meets Jessica (Jenny Agutter, An American Werewolf in London) in the Circuit. The Circuit is a live action version of Tinder where women (and men) show up for sex when you call them on your teleporter phone. She rejects his advances and puts the ankh, a symbol of life, into his head.

When Logan catches his next runner, the computer asks him what the ankh he found is and why he’s interested in it. The computer takes four years off of his life and makes Logan a runner, sending him in search of Sanctuary, a place in the outside world where life can go on past thirty. He brings Jessica with him and Francis gives chase.

The ankh symbol is a key that unlocks the exit from the city to a frozen cave, where a robot named Box captures food from the outside. He also takes captured runners and freezes them. Before he can get our heroes, they run, causing the cave to collapse.

Outside the city, the life clocks in the hands of Logan and Jessica stop working. They then meet the Old Man (Ustinov, ad-libbing his way through the film and quoting  “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot), who lives inside a Senate chamber with about a hundred cats (including Gus, short for Asparagus). Logan realizes that everything he has ever believed is a lie and that Sanctuary does not exist.

Francis finds our heroes and attacks but is killed by Logan. In mourning, Logan buries his friend and asks the Old Man to come back to the city with him. Upon his return, the computer interrogates Logan and his answers so upset it that the entire city is destroyed. As the people of the city see the outside world for the first time, they meet the Old Man.

This film went through development hell to get made (a sequel/reimagining remains in the same state). It started with George Pal (Doc SavageWar of the Worlds) before moving to producer and Soylent Green author Stanley R. Greenberg, who created the Carousel concept before leaving the project (Greenberg really seems to love killing people when they get old).

There were plenty of technical challenges when it came to bringing the script to the screen.The Carrousel is one of the most complex wire scenes ever filmed, as there needed to be no lines visible as the citizens levitated toward their fate. Genuine holograms were created for Logan’s interrogation scene. And the film was the first to use several lenses and Dolby Stereo on 70mm prints.

Altogether, nine MGM soundstages were used for the film, as well as a complete miniature of the city. And the pool Logan and Jessica use to re-enter the city is MGM’s famous Esther Williams tank.

To depict the inside part of the city itself,  producers saved millions by shooting at the Fort Worth Water Gardens and the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Houston, Texas.It really gives the film the look of the future, as it was seen in the mid 70’s — a clean future that seems instantly retro. That look extends to the costumes, which feature the age of each character, other than the cleanup crew and Sandmen.

There was a ton cut from the film, like four minutes from the Love Shop sequence, an opening where Francis catches his own runner, a scene where Box the robot made a nude ice sculpture of Logan and Jessica and some drug references in the Arcade. The original costumes were much skimpier, too. By making them more chaste, the film saved a ton of money in body makeup.

This wasn’t the end of Logan’s run. CBS aired a 14 episode series during the 1977-78 season. And Willaim F. Nolan, the co-writer of the film wrote two sequels, Logan’s World and Logan’s Search. There have also been three other novels, Logan’s ReturnLogan’s Journey and Logan Falls (the first is an ebook while the other two remain unpublished), from other authors. 

Marvel Comics also published a five-issue adaptation of the movie, with two more issues showing what would have happened next, featuring early art by George Perez.

One last bit of trivia: tinted footage of the domed city was used to represent Ork in the TV movie Mork and Mindy: The Honeymoon. Oh mean and I forgot Farah Fawcett-Majors was in this!

In case you wonder where the 70’s thought the world was going to end up, this is a good time capsule. Maybe it’s also why I wanted to die before 30, because I knew I’d be too chubby for Carousel.

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