Logan’s Run (1976) | Sci-Fi Saturdays

by Jovial Jay

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream. Make her a runner, like I’ve never seen.

Logan’s Run is a futuristic sci-fi action/thriller set in a distant time when the world is a Utopia. There’s no gas crisis, or Middle East problems to worry about. Just peace and love and sex! But would you be willing to live in that world if you had to die at age 30? Young Logan makes the journey through the many layers of this future world to answer just that question.

First Impressions

“The first motion picture of the 23rd Century,” says the trailer, and it shows an idyllic future where pleasure and freedom are the rules for the day. But Logan has a dark secret that is teased, and he soon becomes a runner (from this utopia). Many fantastic and futuristic sights are shown: hover cars, a silver robot, glowing palm crystals. The trailer is interesting enough but doesn’t really seem to give a sense of what the film is about. It does raise questions like, why is the Lincoln Memorial in this futuristic film, and why is Logan unaware of what “being old” looks like? There’s a modern-cut trailer on YouTube that might do more to grab people’s attention for this film. Either way, let’s jog along with Logan’s Run.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.


Sci-Fi Saturdays

Logan's Run

Logan’s Run title card.

The Fiction of The Film

Three hundred years into the future, in 2274, the world is an idyllic utopia populated by young and beautiful people. They live a life of pleasure and ease in exchange for agreeing to self-terminate their life when they reach age 30 (Last Day) in a spectacle called Carrousel in which they are “renewed.” Some members of the society however decide that they would prefer to live, and attempt to go to a place called Sanctuary. To stop these individuals, the society has members that act as enforcers of the law called Sandmen. They terminate the runners, and help restore the natural order of the idyllic world.

Logan 5 (Michael York) is one such Sandman who hunts down runners. He and his fellow Sandman, Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) enjoy their work and the perks it brings, such as the thrill of the hunt, a nice place to live, and any woman they wish to have. After one successful termination, Logan returns to the Sandman headquarters to debrief with the Central Computer. One of the runners’ objects confuses the computer and places Logan on a secret mission to investigate. The Ankh amulet Logan returned is a symbol of Sanctuary, which the Central Computer needs more information.

Logan's Run

The futureworld of Logan’s Run. A cross between Las Vegas and Walt Disney World, was executed as a large-scale miniature.

Logan’s life clock (a crystal on his palm that changes color as he gets older, flashing red on Last Day) is fast forwarded 4 years to his Last Day by the computer in order for him to convince other runners that he’s one too. He finds Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), a young woman he had previously seen on The Circuit (a Chatroullette-style transporter for companionship) that also wears the Ankh symbol. He convinces her that he is a runner, and needs her help to find Sanctuary. In order to avoid other Sandmen, Logan attempts to get a new face at New You #483 where Holly 13 (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) works, but he is trailed by Francis.

Logan and Jessica escape through the back of one of the many hedonistic sex-clubs, into the superstructure of the city. They meet other humans that live inside the walls of the large domed city that instruct them where to go to find Sanctuary. Logan secretly broadcasts his location to the Central Computer alerting the Sandmen where the runners are hidden. Francis, who is hot on his tail, tries to convince Logan that the woman is not worth it and he should return to the city, but Logan knows his mission is more important.

Crawling through the pipes and water-logged chambers, Logan and Jessica emerge into an ice cave where they meet a shiny metal robot named Box (Roscoe Lee Browne). Box is charged with harvesting “fish, plankton, sea greens and protein from the sea,” for the city. But at some point the source of food dried up and Box was left without anything to do. Until one day, Runners started showing up. Logan & Jessica manage to escape a quick freeze, while destroying Box. Logan finds it hard to believe that no Runner has ever made it to Sanctuary. He is now intrigued about the truth, as well as coming to love Jessica.

Logan's Run

Logan and Jessica discover an old man in the run down buildings of Washington DC, who teaches them that there is more to life than what they’ve experienced in their slim worldview.

Outside, exposed in the sun and air–which the pair have never encountered, they wander through nature until they come upon a vine encrusted Washington D.C., evident by the architecture. They discover an Old Man (Peter Ustinov), whom they are fascinated with. He quotes TS Eliot and tells them about mothers and fathers, birth and death. They can scarcely believe someone like him exists. Logan decides to return to the City with the man in order to show people that they don’t have to live like they do. That there is more to life than the City, and Carrousel.

Francis has tracked the couple to the old city, but dies in a fight with Logan. In his last moments, Logan shows Francis that they’re life clocks no longer work, and that they’re free. Even on his deathbed, Francis believes this to be a lie, claiming that Logan has been renewed! When Logan, Jessica, and the Old Man return to the New City Logan is taken in for questioning by the Central Computer. When he tells it that there is no Sanctuary, it enters a causality loop, unable to believe the truth. The computer self-destructs taking all the life clock technology with it. As the city burns, the citizens spill forth to find the Old Man waiting outside. Logan and Jessica, now in love and no longer burdened with a known future, are prepared to help the citizens grow into a better society once again.

You are terminated, runner” – Francis-7

Logan's Run

Real world locations, like this Mall in Dallas, Texas, helped create the illusion of an idyllic future society.

History in the Making

As with approximately 50% of the films reviewed here on Sci-Fi Saturday, Logan’s Run is based on a book written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. And as with the majority of adapted stories it was changed to reflect the new medium of film, with the major conceit being the fact that Last Day occurs at 30 instead of 21. It was a film that had been in the works since shortly after the novel was written in 1967, linked initially to George Pal, but finally getting made at MGM by director Michael Anderson who had just completed Doc Savage: Man of Bronze for the studio.

Logan’s Run sits in an interesting place in sci-fi filmmaking. It was a return to a large budget spectacle film costing approximately $9 million. As a comparison 2001: A Space Odyssey is reported to have a budget of about $10.5 million, while The Andromeda Strain was about half that at $6.5 million. It uses minimal special effects (at least as far as miniatures and models go) and relies on real-world locations (primarily Dallas, TX) to help sell the future-world. And it continues the Dystopia theme from the early 1970s, fusing with it the more Utopian ideal from the 1950s. It also combined sci-fi aesthetics from television shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Space: 1999 into its look.

But it was also the last major sci-fi release before the world of sci-fi film would change forever. Released just under a year before Star Wars, Logan’s Run would pave the way for potential marketing and pop culture phenomenon of the late 70s sci-fi behemoth. Unlike previous big budget sci-fi films like 2001, and Soylent Green, Logan’s Run was primarily an action film. It presented larger thematic ideas like previous classics, but also carried the film with several action spectacles, including the Carrousel sequence, the ice caves, and the overall chase of Logan and Jessica.

The film also promoted itself heavily with T-shirts, comics, trading cards, and a television series. Only Planet of the Apes had done something similar, having also produced comic book, and an animated & live action TV series, but these things came at least 5 years after the release of the film. Logan’s Run merchandising was done concurrently with its release. The television show, green lit after the success of the film, would unfortunately falter coming in the 1977-78 season, just months after the release of Star Wars. The TV show only lasted 14 episodes with at least the last three never airing in the United States. It was the end (and the beginning) of a new world in sci-fi entertainment.

Logan's Run

This is Carrousel. The public execution of individuals over 30 years old. They are told that some will be “renewed” to live again.

Genre-fication

Logan’s Run initiated the aesthetic of the 1970s futuristic society. It’s brightly lit, vibrant color palette, costume work, and set design both harken back to films of yesteryear, while inspiring the look and feeling of future film as well. The film creates a complete futuristic world, with the costumes, props and location filming. It is reminiscent of Forbidden Planet, or Planet of the Apes in that way. It chose not to reuse elements from previous films that were common in sci-fi films. Often a futuristic prop created for one production would inevitably show up in another film to save money. Logan’s Run created all new devices for the cast to use.

Inspiration for this look probably came from a number of sources, but Star Trek (1966-69) seems like a prominent influence. The Sandmen all carry personal sidearms, which emit a “blast” of energy from their muzzle when fired. Unlike Star Wars and later sci-fi films, the lasers coming from the guns weren’t visible, but sparks and fire on characters and sets where the blast hit were evident. Logan and his fellow enforcers also had personal communicators and data devices, that looked like a cross between a Star Trek communicator and a tricorder. Add into this the idea of a glowing crystal implanted in the palm of all individuals, and the idea for what was capable in modern film grew exponentially.

Logan’s Run also used miniature environments sparingly as establishing shots to give the scale and sense of the city. In something that looks like a cross between Las Vegas and Walt Disney World, these models created a grander sense of scale to a film that was already pretty large in scope. It also brought back the notion of having a robot that looked like a mechanical device; chrome and futuristic. Box was a throwback to the robots like Robby, Gort, and the robot from Lost in Space. It was human in a suit, but provided more menace than the human looking Gunslinger from Westworld could exude. The film looked real and futuristic (at the time) and proved that putting money into a sci-fi film could have real benefits on the back end, something that studios had been reticent to do lacking a big name star to drive the film.

Logan's Run

Francis tries to convince Logan that running is wrong, and that he needs to return to society.

Societal Commentary

Thematically Logan’s Run takes the best themes of sci-fi media for the previous 20 years and presents a new and invigorating take on human life. It deals with ageism, hedonism, maturity, societal responsibility, and self-preservation in a fun and light hearted way. But the message it provides the audience is one that sticks with them even after the film is over.

The 1970s were a time of excess. Following the freedoms explored in the late 1960s, the 70s gave birth to the exploration of sex, drug use, and partying. Dance clubs, swinging, the Playboy lifestyle–it all seemed like a glorious time in a world that hadn’t yet discovered AIDS. Logan’s Run plays on those themes heavily. A world where everyone is young and beautiful, can do whatever they want, with whomever they want, presents itself as a marvelous Utopia. There appears to be no war, or political issues in this future. Just some individuals that might disagree with the societal mandate of death by age 30, and those appear few and far between.

The film however shows Logan scratching the surface to discover that there is more at play. He realizes that there are over 1,000 unaccounted for Runners. That’s too many, he thinks. Some must have been renewed. He also sees the Cubs of the Cathedral, a gang of immature youth under 15 years old, that live in feral conditions before they are kicked out to either starve or find a way to live in society proper. Even this Utopia has a dark side, similar to the Eloi and Morlocks of The Time Machine. But that is only one aspect of the lies of society, since the domed city is isolated from the real world, in which at least one survivor, an old man exists. What does the society owe to this outcast? He is not part of the system and therefore deserves no thought.

Logan’s journey through the different stages of this society shows his emotional growth. He begins as a Sandman, following orders, because that’s how things work. When he realizes that there are other ideas of life in the world, such as Sanctuary, his resolve at the way things “always happen” is shattered and he wonders what else he could be wrong about. In the end, he discovers that there is more to life than the little world (literally) that he has lived in. This is maturity and one of the lessons that humans must discover in order to grow. Is it best for the world we live in to adhere to the code of society because that’s what is indoctrinated into us? Or does the questioning and evolution of society provide the strongest and more fulfilling path to a good life?

Logan's Run

Box, an early sci-fi part for an African American actor, was a murderous bot originally designed as a processor of foodstuffs.

The Science in The Fiction

Logan’s Run uses lots of interesting scientific elements to help create a believable future, and also make memorable moments on film. The biggest is the notion of the Life Clock, a small crystal implanted in the palm of every individual that counts down the moments to your death. It is a reminder of the mortality of individuals, but for hedonistic youth, it’s probably not a thought until it starts flashing red. At age 30, when the person finally starts to understand what living is about, they are forced (societally) to succumb to Carrousel and the slim chance at Renewal. It’s more chilling than fantastic and something that hopefully will never come to pass.

The film also deals with some very real technologies that a futuristic society may need to make use of. Box was tasked with freezing and preserving food that came from the sea. The proteins from kelp and seaweed would help a post-apocalyptic world meet their nutritional needs if the ability to raise animals were impossible due to overcrowding (as in Soylent Green) or impossible due to radiation, as is intimated by the domed lifestyle of 2274. The city is also set to run on hydroelectric power, something that has been a part of our society since the 1930s. But the hydroelectric generators of the future would provide the energy for a giant city, not just a small portion of it.  Interestingly the idea of solar energy isn’t mentioned in the film, something that the giant geodesic domes would be optimal to use.

The film also makes use of holography, and not just special effects versions of what a holograph would look like. These images of Michael York were created using mid-70s technology. Holograms have been a staple of sci-fi communication for a long time, but had not been addressed in film prior to Logan’s Run (Star Wars would make them much more prevalent). In this case, the Holograms are linked to the Central Computer delving into Logan’s mind to find the answers for Sanctuary. Each image is a portion of his psyche that will tell the computer what it needs to know.

Logan's Run

Logan is interrogated by the city’s Central Computer via use of holographic technology.

The Final Frontier

Probably the biggest deficit from Logan’s Run is its lack of diversity. As with The Time Machine, the future is very white. The depiction of future societies by Americans did not usually include people of color. Logan’s Run adds to that only young and beautiful people. Of course there were outliers in this genre, primarily on television, such as Star Trek, which tried to include many colors and nationalities in its cast. The lack of diversity is probably the biggest drawback from early sci-fi films since it fails to recognize the future of the world, and instead focuses on the future of the filmmakers. Of course, the perception was a reflection of the current social mores of the time. As the voices of minorities would increase, and people of color became decision makers in the film and media industries, these deficits would abate over time.

Logan’s Run also has a large amount of nudity for a PG film from 1976. Had it existed at the time, this film would have been rated PG-13. It definitely pushed the envelope of what was permissible between a PG and R-rated film. It was probably twofold in its inclusion: to help show the characterization of the future where sex is prevalent, but also as a crutch by the filmmakers in which to attract a larger audience. Either way, future sci-fi films would fall into the category of R-rated sexy/violent film, or the safer PG family/action film.

As stated before, Logan’s Run was both the beginning and ending of a style of sci-fi filmmaking. Its futureworld was intriguing and exciting, while its look and style was provocative and influential. It took the early steps to market a big-budget genre film and provide content to the entertainment hungry filmgoers of 1976. It was also the last sci-fi film prior to the advent of arguably the largest sci-fi (and film in general) franchise on the planet.

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