This is a movie that I watched, maybe, a couple of years after it came out. I saw it when it was shown on TV and loved it. I eagerly looked forward to the TV series although even the little kid that I was knew that it didn’t turn out all that well. Seeing it on DVD, I wanted to watch it but, then again, I didn’t. However much I had loved the movie, something told me it actually wasn’t all that great.
I was surprised to see the film attain (at least what appears to be) some impressive accolades. A science fiction awards group (Saturn Award) granted it the title Best Picture for its year and it has ranked highly amongst “science fiction films of the 1970s.” One must remember, though, what faint praise that can be. To be the “best,” it had to outdo films like Westworld sequel Futureworld and David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Reviews good and bad aside, when Netflix announced they were pulling it, I realized it was (as Elvis would have said back in 1976) now or never.
The movie is an adaptation of a book written in 1964. The film’s story deviates quite a bit from the written version, not least in terms of the maximum age allowed. In the book, nobody could live past 21. In the film, this was changed to 30. In part, this was probably necessitated by wanting to employ adults in the lead acting roles. Indeed, Michael York, Richard Jordan, and other key characters were well into their 30s when they performed their parts.
The book (which I have not read) explicitly draws a connection to the social unrest at the time of its writing. The introductory page to the book says:
The seeds of the Little War were planted in a restless summer during the mid-1960s, with sit-ins and student demonstrations as youth tested its strength. By the early 1970s over 75 percent of the people living on Earth were under twenty-one years of age. The population continued to climb—and with it the youth percentage.
In the 1980s the figure was 79.7 percent.
In the 1990s, 82.4 percent.
In the year 2000—critical mass.
Note that the book (again, unlike the movie) takes place in 2116, generations beyond the 1967 publishing date of the book, but still much sooner than the 2274 of the film. The movie, for its part, may have taken 30 as a convenient-yet-universal milestone in adulthood (like 21) or it may have been a reference to the the protest-movement catch phrase, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
Again, not reading the book, I can only speculate on the messaging within it, but I’ll do so in contrast with the lighter and less-focused film version of the story. In addition to the extrapolation of the youth-revolution of the sixties, there are obvious ties to the Malthusian overpopulation crisis worries that were part of the sixties angst. Erlich’s Population Bomb was still a year out when Logan’s Run was published, but its ideas were clearly being discussed. The world of Logan’s Run came about because of a desire (whether founded or not*) to curb population, implemented by a computer-controlled totalitarianism. In the book version, the computer is failing and thus the under-21 society is headed for disaster unless liberated. The film is different in a number of ways and, I suspect at least some of those changes are updating the mid-1960s counter-cultural ideas to the been-there, done-that 1970s.
The victims of the film version of Logan’s Run‘s dystopia go willingly. It is a combination of a willing suspension of disbelief in the potential for immortality through the “Carrousel” process combined with the hedonistic paradise created for those who are still under thirty (another reason to allow everyone to live past 20).
Actually, having watched it previously only on TV, I was unaware of the sexual content of the original version. Particularly the scene of having the escape route pass through some sort of weird sex-orgy club seems incompatible with the generally-accepted idea of science fiction as entertainment for youth. Those behind the film version of Logan’s Run seemed a bit surprised by the popularity of the movie with teens but geared the TV show spin-off toward that audience.
In any case, the movie makes the case for freedom as the ultimate virtue – an idea that seemed far more natural in the 1970s than in 2019. As the befuddled but youthful masses emerge from the wreckage of the collapsing dome city, we have faith (or had faith, in the 70s at least) that they were destined to survive and thrive in this new world of freedom. I think it also says something about the 70s in that “Sanctuary” (the safe place sought by all runners) is found to be as non-existent as “renewal.” While freedom and individuality are celebrated, so to is “humanism” over “faith.”
As a science fiction visual epic, Logan’s Run comes out a bit weak. The city-scape is built from small models filmed in close-up. That they are models, and cheap-looking ones at that. This means that any “big screen” special effects and long shots are far too fake looking, although the way they got the moving parts to work on them wasn’t half bad. By contrast, the live-action sets, while limited, do look pretty good for their time. Any special effects, explosions and the like, are very poor by today’s standards. Before we again look to “the 70s” to absolve the filmmakers we should remember this is only one year before Star Wars.
The story, too, seems somewhat cobbled together without much thought given to consistency. Logan and his fellow officers are called “Sandmen,” a slang term from the book. In the book, they are officially “Deep Sleep Operatives,” providing enforcement for those who refuse to report to “Sleepshop” at 21. Thus the term “sandmen” makes sense. In the film, they seem to be all-around enforces of social contract with killing runners as only one of their duties. I won’t try to do the math, but despite seeing two runners (besides Logan and Jessica) during the course of the film, it doesn’t seem like its a very frequent problem. Yet we have this significant caste of soldier/cop who are engaged full time fighting the problem. Called Sandmen. Strange.
The replacement of the Sleepshop with Carrousel likewise creates logic holes. In an original version of the film script, anyone who made it all the way to the top in Carrousel was renewed – which makes more sense except it would have been obvious to everyone if nobody ever renewed. As released, the film seems to imply that “renewal” is based around reincarnation. And yet, while it seems that it takes little thought for several of the characters to realize that nobody has ever been reincarnated, nobody except Logan ever makes that logical leap. One scene that continues to baffle me is that Logan makes that connection when he realizes how many runners there have been. Surely, he asks, some must have renewed? So is renewal entirely independent of the Carrousel spectacle? If so, what is the purpose of Carrousel? Is it just a “bread and circuses” act that deceives those who are entirely willing to be deceived?
The film adopts, I assume from the book, the idea that the city and its infrastructure are decaying, absent the stewardship of the great minds that built it in the first place. In the film, however, nobody seems threatened by this decline. While indications that power and food sources have been failing, this apparently hasn’t had any detrimental effect to life under the domes. Instead, the film’s recurring threat to humanity seems to be the limits of Artificial Intelligence. The dream of Sanctuary has been destroyed by an out-of-control robot who assumes that the runners are a new source of food. The city itself is brought down by confusing the master AI, in a trope that seemed popular at the time. Apparently, any all-powerful computer system will collapse when trying to solve a problem that runs up against the limits of logic. Given the ubiquity of these failures in 60s and 70s fiction, I wonder why we, as a society, didn’t anticipate code injection cyber attacks a little better? But that’s neither here nor there.
Along with removing Logan’s Run, the original Poltergeist is also removed. Granted, the two films were released six years apart, which can be a long time in special effects technology – but it isn’t really that long. In Poltergeist, the special effects have held up very well in the intervening years. I’d say its a combination of Spielberg being both talented and ahead of his time as well as his understanding the limits of what he worked with. One scene stood out as I was watching – a portal effect that was shown distorted and out-of-focus. This successfully deflected from the limitations in his special effects crew to produce a realistic effect on film.
After watching it, a younger viewer told me how impressed she was that they could make a film today that so successfully captured the look-and-feel of the 1980s. She was surprised when I told her that Poltergeist IS an 80s film – it was portraying “the present day” for the time that it was made. If that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.
*The film does imply a true over-population crisis and an environmental collapse beyond the domes. I can’t speak for the book. In the film, however, it is clear that the outside world is just fine for human habitation. Again, I can’t speak for the book but do note that the book’s Sanctuary is off-planet.