Monday, August 11, 2014

Young, fun, and dead before 31: Logan's Run


I recently read that you can't excuse a science fiction piece's lack of science by emphasizing the word "fiction." It's like calling a story "detective fiction" even if it doesn't have a detective in it. By this definition Star Wars isn't really science fiction and it's really not even a science fantasy, either. Space fantasy is a better classification for it, but if we've got to label it at all (and we really don't), I think fantasy, period, works.

The same can be said of Logan's Run. It takes place in the future, sure, but it has about as much science in it as a wet fart. It shares a lot of concerns of science fiction and even superficially appears to be science fiction, but upon closer inspection: nope—not really science fiction. For those who haven't seen it, it's a movie that's impossible to explain, really. I can tell you what it's about, but that doesn't even scuff the surface. They could hardly explain what to expect in the trailer without resorting to intentional vagueness:

Don't worry: that shot of the sun actually isn't the end of the movie

Logan's Run is one of my favorites. The first time I saw it was probably around the time the Encore cable station was new. Seeing it again, this time after the age of thirty, casts it in a new light. (The fact it's on Blu-Ray now certainly doesn't hurt.) The idea that a society would murder anyone who reaches the age when the human brain finally begins working objectively is nothing short of terrifying. But I remember thinking as a kid, "live in luxury, die at thirty? Sounds good to me!" The main character seems to think of the big Three-O as a long time off, too, even though he's only got a few years left as indicated by the color of the crystal implanted in his palm.

Yeah. Everybody has crystals in their palms. When it turns red, it's bye-bye life.

Here's the deal: Logan Five (Micheal York) is a sandman in an otherwise utopian city in which citizens are executed at the age of thirty. What's a sandman, you ask? Why, he's the guy paid to track down runners who attempt to escape their thirtieth birthday spankings. Logan in particular loves the chase. He and his partner toy with their terrified victims before violently dispatching them. The glee on Logan's is truly vile. The way he dispenses the word "runner" is analogous to the way a white supremacist screams racial slurs in a hate speech: "Run, runnah! Run!"

Another thing the movie wants to get off its chest: people under thirty are stupid. That's true, for the most part. The twenties is that awkward age where people still believe A) they're smarter than everyone else, B) old people are yucky, and C) all that shit about changing the world they heard at graduation. The film's young and insanely attractive citizens carelessly mill about their city, the last city left on the war- and pollution-torn planet, in slinky costumes and sex-crazed mindsets. There's not a bra in sight because hey, they're young and fun! And fun is the key word here because, like so many would-be science fiction films of the era, it's out of its fucking mind. I can't think of many films more insane than this, but Zardoz comes to mind.


I've got this in my Netflix queue, but unfortunately it's not going to be on Blu-Ray

There is, however, a second option for thirty year olds who don't want to die. All they have to do is ride The Carousel... and now that I'm tasked with explaining this device, I'm not sure I can. Basically it's a big machine in which thirty year olds go topless, wear hockey masks, and get magically levitated into the air where they're exploded spectacularly. Meanwhile a crowd gathers to cheer the midair detonations of their loved ones as if it were merely a fireworks show.

God, I love this shit. As far as movies go, it's the closest you can get to the kind of pulp science fiction that writers like Philip Jose Farmer and Roger Zelzany unleashed upon the world. You're going to see a lot of analog future technology, an unbelievable amount of sex, violence, and nudity for a PG-rated film, and a shit-ton of sheer awesomeness in the truest sense of the word.

Get this: the very first time we see citizens "riding" The Carousel, Logan shouts gleefully at their deaths like a crazed soccer fan. Then he gets a call on his 70s-futuristic walkie-talkie, which informs him there's another runner for him to terminate. At first you think Logan and his partner are really bad shots, but it soon becomes apparent they simply love torturing the shit out of this poor guy, whose only crime is he doesn't want to die. After disposing of the runner, the sandmen wonder, "Why do they run?" It's obvious it's not the first time they've wondered that and it won't be the last.

Upon inspecting the remains, Logan finds an ankh charm in the runner's pocket. Then he goes home to unwind by channel surfing on The Circuit. The Circuit is like the internet, only instead of browsing porn, you're browsing actual people who have teleported into The Circuit. You choose the person you find attractive, he or she physically steps out of the device, and then the two of you have sex. Simple, right? At least that's the way it's supposed to work. That night, Logan's pick turns out to be a curious woman, a trait which is dangerous in such a society. It turns out she only wanted to see how a sandman lives (the answer: lavishly). At one point she questions, "Why is it wrong to run?" Naturally, Logan doesn't understand the question and considers shooting her for asking.


The following day, Logan goes to work, but there's a problem. The super computer at headquarters has discovered the ankh in his pocket and identifies it at as a symbol of those who run. An interrogation follows, presumably to make sure Logan isn't a runner himself, and he's forced to go undercover in order to find Sanctuary, the place where runners attempt to go. The only problem is, Logan's partner thinks he really went on the lam so Logan really does have to run, in a way that Spielberg's Minority Report undeniably owes homage. The next thing you know there's an oddly placed and perhaps pointless cameo by Farrah Fawcett, a lot of fiery deaths because the sandmen use flare guns instead of lasers, and a "big reveal" that pales in comparison to the one at the end of Planet of the Apes, and not only because that film did it sooner.

It's a hell of a spectacle, yes, but not a seamless one. Exteriors of the city look about as realistic as a hobby train set, which detracts rather than adds to the already goofy nature of the film. There's a robot effect so painfully obvious you can actually see the lips of the actor beneath the costume. The lead female (Jenny Agutter) starts out in an extra tiny wardrobe that gets so quickly shredded down to nothing that the production crew had to put panties on her mid-movie—which you'll see purposefully in many, many stunts. Okay, that last one wasn't a complaint.

The thing is, the film's far too fun and goofy to ever be taken too seriously, and I'm not sure it should be considered a classic, which means I wouldn't be entirely opposed to a remake. Look, we all know a remake would likely suck, but there's a good message here, buried underneath all the fun. There's a moment towards the end when the young meet the old and I've got to admit it's strangely touching. I love movies that make me grin like a bit goof, and few movies do it as well as Logan's Run, despite how dark and/or silly it is at times.

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