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Wed, Jun. 22nd, 2011, 08:33 pm
Wayback Movie Review: LOGAN'S RUN

This week marks a very important anniversary in SF film history. It was thirty-five years ago, on June 23, 1976, that MGM released the film Logan's Run.

Thirty-five years. You realize what that means? That's right, it means this film somehow escaped its deserved fate on its thirtieth anniversary, and has been living on borrowed time for the past half-decade. Well, the time has come to address this oversight, and to finally subject it to the bright, snarky red flashing spotlight it deserves. Last Day begins, and so does the Wayback Retro Review of Logan's Run!

The film begins, as all well-crafted narratives do, with a full-screen title card full of exposition: it's the 23rd century, and society has been forced by war, pollution and overpopulation to retreat into large environmentally-controlled domed cities. Here, automated systems take care of all of life's necessities, allowing everyone to live a life of hedonistic abandon... until they turn thirty. Here then we have the first instance in cinematic history where a Spoiler Warning should technically appear within the film itself.

After some impressive views of the majestic exteriors of the great domed city, we move to the city's interior, which looks like a suburban Texas shopping mall, except without kiosk owners grabbing passers-by and hawking stinky, overpriced skin creams. The city is full of young, beautiful men and women dressed in color-coded pastel rayon. Here we meet Logan 5 and his partner, Francis 7. Logan and Francis are "Sandmen," or elite law enforcement officers, who have the job of chasing down and catching Runners. They are also apparently the only people in the city who do have jobs, as well as being the only ones in this sexually-liberated society forced to cover their entire bodies in black and gray turtleneck uniforms. Plus they have guns, and unbridled authority. Yeah, that's a formula for a peaceful utopia right there.

Logan, we quickly learn, is a bit atypical for a Sandman, because he questions the world around him, and thinks the kind of deep thoughts usually only pondered by college freshmen after their first joint. In contrast, Francis is a dogmatic believer, who accepts without any hesitation that their world is in perfect balance, that Carrousel brings Renewal, that Oswald acted alone, and that tax cuts create jobs. Logan and Francis are patrolling the mall when the announcement comes that Carrousel is about to begin for everyone whose lifeclocks – the small crystal embedded in their left palms – are blinking red. Everyone heads to the arena to see the show, including Logan and Francis.

(Okay, so, the Sandmen have the one job of catching Runners who refuse to take part in Carrousel. So, wouldn't the better place for two on-duty Sandmen to hang out be anyplace other than Carrousel? Just a thought.)

And what a show Carrousel is! All the birthday boys and girls march out into the middle of an arena wearing hockey masks and white hooded robes, which they later drop to reveal flame-patterned tights. Then a crystal in the ceiling starts emitting electronic tones and strobes of light. It's like Pink Floyd Laser... if Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters were drunk mice bouncing on a Moog synthesizer. The thirty-year-olds then start spinning on a huge turntable, and one by one start to levitate. The crowd jumps to their feet and cheers as they rise higher and higher, until the Good Lord blows them up real good. Oooh!! Aaah!!

Right in the middle of "Shine On, You Crazy Red-Flashing Diamond," though, Logan gets a text on his iPhone: there's a Runner on the loose! In the middle of Carrousel! Whodathunkit? He and Francis run out into the mall trying to find the Runner. Fortunately, there's an app for that: Logan pulls out his iPhone again and scans for Runner lifesigns. They locate the Runner, who for some reason is running into the mall's center court, as opposed to running, y'know, away. Logan fixes the Runner in the sights of his zap gun, fires, and strikes the floor three feet in front of the guy. The Runner turns and runs down another corridor, Logan hot on his heels, and finds Francis waiting for him around the next corner. He turns back, and Logan fires again... and again, hits the floor in front of the Runner. Now both Logan and Francis are giving chase and firing at the Runner... and both repeatedly raising sparks on the floor. Their aim sucks so badly, there are Imperial Stormtroopers in the audience snickering at them.

The Sandmen eventually corner their Runner on one of the mall's upper levels, his back almost literally against the wall. Both Sandmen fire a constant barrage of energy blasts... each and every one of which hits the wall behind the Runner. Some of them even pass right through the Runner's body to spark directly behind him! My god, the Sandmen are powerless to stop this superhuman rebel! So it's very fortunate for them that, once they finally stop firing at him, the Runner turns, flips over the railing and breaks his neck on the floor below.

Logan rushes down to check the body while Francis calls in mall maintenance to clean the mess. Logan finds a medallion on the body, which he pockets, along with his mood ring and his calculator wristwatch. Then the cleaning crew arrives, riding something that looks like a cross between a jetpack and a Segway, but not as cool as either. They fly over the Runner's body and spray it with Corpse-B-Gone, which dissolves the body to nothing, leaving only a shiny patch of floor, and a fresh lemony scent.

Later that night, Logan is in his apartment, wearing his official Sandman poncho/bathrobe/window treatment. He decides to log onto Chatroulette v. 227.4, which instead of just letting Congressmen and other people show their penises on screen, lets Logan transport willing sex partners into his own home. Man, is the future awesome, or what? This is how he meets Jessica, but as soon as he starts to show his penis, she says she's not really in the mood because one of her friends got exploded at Carrousel. Logan pretends to get all sensitive in order to get into Jessica's panties (metaphorically speaking, since she appears to be going commando underneath the oversized handkerchief she's wearing), and they end up just talking, about deep things like, why do we have Carrousel, and how can a society that encourages purely selfish behavior in its citizens for their entire lives, and then demands the ultimate selfless sacrifice, maintain itself without collapsing under the weight of its own ludicrousness? Before things get too deep, though, Francis shows up with two more hot babes in tow. Jessica takes this opportunity to duck out of the apartment, while Logan takes the opportunity to finally show his penis.

The next day, Logan goes to Sandman Headquarters to turn in the items he lifted off the Runner the night before, in order to build the case for prosecution turn it over to next of kin What, are you the script's mother? Does it have to explain everything it does to you? After scanning the medallion, the Sandman computer tells Logan to sit down, we need to have a talk. Logan is confused, because this is now the second day in a row he's had to talk to something with a feminine voice without getting to have sex. The computer tells Logan that over a thousand Runners have gone uncaught and unaccounted for over the years. They are believed to have gone to a place outside the city called "Sanctuary," and the ankh medallion is their symbol. The computer wants Logan to go undercover as a Runner to infiltrate their underground society, find Sanctuary, and shut it down.

"But how would I pose as a Runner when my lifeclock is still solid red?" Logan asks.

"Hmmm, that is a good question," the computer answers. "While I think that through, would you mind putting your palm on the scanner thingy again, there's a love..."

Next thing you know, Logan has a one-way ticket for the next Carrousel ride. Naturally, he starts to freak out over the possibility that there will be no Renewal, and only polite applause for his photograph during the "In Memorium" segment at next year's Oscars. But he has a job, so he calls Jessica to his pad again, tells her he's changed his opinions 180 degrees since the night before, and wants her to ask her friends in Runners underground to get him to Sanctuary. Unfortunately for Logan, his character judgment is no more accurate than his zap gun aim: Jessica and her friends immediately decide they have to kill the Sandman before he lets anyone else find out about Sanctuary.

And so, Jessica goes back to the Sandman's private apartment, where there will be no witnesses as she quietly and discretely assassinates...

Oh, wait, no. They can't do that, because Jessica is a girl, and even in 2274, women are only good for two things... or actually one, now that they don't make babies anymore. The actual plan is for Jessica to go to Logan's apartment, lead him to the busiest part of the mall beside the most iconic landmark in the city, where a pair of poofy-haired roughs will choke the elite law enforcement officer before hundreds of witnesses with their gold chains.

It's a brilliantly macho plan, and the only reason it doesn't pan out is that, once they're at the mall, Logan gets a call on his iPhone ordering him to catch and kill another Runner. So of course, he tells the woman he's trying to convince he's sympathetic to the Runners that he's off to kill the Runner. And of course, this woman who is part of the Runner underground tags along to watch the Sandman kill the Runner. The two poofy-haired killers scowl, toss back their tresses, and chase after them both.

Minutes later, Logan and Jessica are in Cathedral, a lawless district overrun with "cubs," young feral kids running wild and loose. As soon as they arrive, they are surrounded by a gang of these kids, brandishing homemade spears and switchblades, snapping fingers and telling the intruders to get off their turf, daddy-o. Fearing for his life, Logan pulls out his zap gun, aims... and hits a couple of concrete blocks. (Dude, you really should take that thing in to have the targeting scanners recalibrated, y'know?) But the shots are enough to send the gang dancing back to Pop's soda fountain. Logan then spots the Runner, a woman who tries like hell to act cool, and tells him, "My lifeclock is broken. I'm not thirty; I'm only twenty-two."

Logan raises one eyebrow and says, "Uh-huh."

The woman's smile drops. "What? How old do you think I look? Well?!"

Logan, being no dummy, pretends not to hear the question, and instead asks the woman what she knows about Sanctuary. The woman says she knows nothing, and then asks Logan if he thinks the blinking red light on her palm makes her look fat. Logan lets her escape rather than give her an answer. Logan and Jessica leave Sanctuary, unaware that Francis has been tailing them, and witnessed Logan's dereliction of duty. He shouts after the Runner, "It makes you look like you have a huge ass!" just before terminating her.

Leaving Cathedral, Logan decides he needs a new face, so he and Jessica pay a visit to the local New You cosmetic surgery franchise ("Over 100 Million Sliced"). There, they meet a cardboard cutout of Farrah Fawcett-Majors which, thanks to the film's Academy Award-winning visual effects team, almost seems to be a real person. She brings them into the operation room, where they meet the Doctor and get their first look at the Roto-Laser-Plex Slice-o-Matic 3000 automated cosmetic surgery suite. Doc is skeptical of the Sandman, but since Jessica vouches for him, Doc gives Logan an up-close demonstration of how the lasers make surgically precise, instantly-healing incisions. In the middle of this, Doc's phone rings, and the person on the other end asks him if he would like to play a game of solitaire. He hangs up, and tells Logan that the demonstration of "safe mode" is over, and now he's about to show him "horrible painful death mode." And before Logan can react, the deadly laser fires at full-power...

... and the surgically-precise beam misses him completely. As do all five of the other surgically-precise lasers whirring over his head. Apparently, the same firm that calibrates the Sandmen's zap guns also worked on this thing. Logan grapples with the Doc, and throws him onto the table under the lasers. “Do you expect me to talk?” Doc says... or he would have, I'm sure, if the lasers didn't then start working properly just then, and slice him up like a rare roast beef.

On the run now, with Francis hot on their tails, Jessica leads Logan through a dimly-lit PG-rated orgy and to the hidden world of the Runners. Having now convinced Jessica of his sincerity and having earned her unreserved trust, Logan betrays her by surreptitiously turning on his iPhone's GPS tracker. Minutes later, an army of Sandmen storm this secret refuge and slaughter everyone in sight, while Logan and his girlfriend turn their backs on the people they helped kill to seek Sanctuary for themselves and themselves alone.

At this point, the audience starts rooting for Francis to catch and kill these self-centered douche-nozzles.

Running from the slaughter, Logan and Jessica reach a door. The ankh symbol lights up on the control panel, and a computer voice tells the Runners to use their key. Both fumble to get Jessica's ankh necklace free, and end up dropping it into an inconveniently placed puddle. Logan tries to reach down and get it, but it's fallen too deep. Far, far too deep. It's only after this that Logan remembers he has a spare ankh in his pocket. ("Oh, and I thought you were just happy to see me," Jessica pouts.) They slip through the door and get away just a step ahead of their pursuer. The panel lights up again for the Sandman, and Francis just happens to notice the necklace in the puddle. And why shouldn't he, since the medallion is now only in six inches of water? Lucky Francis didn't come along ten minutes later, because then the puddle and the necklace would have been ten feet overhead. (Well, why should my snark have to make any more sense than the fucking script does?)

Logan and Jessica make their way through the forgotten, water-logged depths of the city, managing to keep just ahead of their Sandman pursuer. They eventually find themselves in a strange, frozen realm once populated by a race of ice-animal sculptors. The two decide this would be the perfect place to get out of their wet clothes, and let them lay crumpled in the snow for five minutes to dry.

As they sit on the frozen ground beneath a giant ice-walrus, wrapped in stiff old animal pelts and wondering why they're still cold, they are approached by a giant napkin dispenser from a 1950's diner. This is Box, a robot who for years has been harvesting food from the sea to feed the city. However, Box explains, once the seafood ran out, and once Runners started visiting his realm, he's been freezing them and putting them in his food stores. "Oh my God!" Logan says. "Soylent Green -- or the non-infringing equivalent in this universe, which is never actually referenced or seen being consumed -- is people!" Just as Box is about to peel a layer of aluminum foil off his head and use it to wrap up two new Swanson entrees, Logan fires his zap gun at the homicidal robot... and of course misses, hitting a flock of ice-bird sculptures overhead. As luck would have it, though, these birds were the only thing keeping the ice cave from collapsing. The metallic automaton who has survived since time immemorial is destroyed, while the two frail humans... Yeah, you guessed it. Bonus points if you also said, "and without a scratch."

With Box KO'd, Logan and Jessica move on, and find themselves outside the city at last. They are greeted by the sight of the rising sun, and both of them express confusion and unfamiliarity with this warm circle of light in the sky. As both actors are from England, they are both able to play this scene quite convincingly.

After traveling through the wilderness for days, they come upon the Lincoln Memorial, a famed and iconic American landmark, now reduced to a time-worn ruin. Logan collapses onto his knees screaming, "You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you all to hell!"

Okay, no, not really. There's not even an ape's head on Abe's body (which, had it been included here, wouldn't even have made this film's list of top five WTF moments). Still, Logan and Jessica are in awe of how old these vanished people looked, not to mention being 19 feet tall and carved out of marble.

From there they move on to the Capitol, where they find the Senate Chamber full of cats, the result of the "Drive the Rats Out of Congress" movement decades earlier. In fact, the only human left here is Santa Claus, who's fallen on hard times since all the world's children ended up sealed in domed, chimney-less cities. Jessica is fascinated by his white hair and wrinkled face, and asks if she can touch him. The old man gives her a look that says, "I may be old, senile, and half-crazy, but I'm not stupid," and assures Jessica that she can touch him to her heart's content.

Before he can invite her to sit on his lap so he can give her a "present," Logan starts quizzing him about Sanctuary, about other Runners, and about all the rest of the people who used to live here. The old man knows nothing about Sanctuary, and the Runners are forced to admit that their hopes of finding something wonderful at the end of this journey might be for naught... just as the audience did half an hour ago.

Having stopped running, Sandman Francis finally catches up to them. He grabs hold of Jessica, zap gun to her head, and yells at his former partner. "I loved you like a brother, man. And this is how you repay me? You ran, and now I have to kill you both!"

"Francis, remember who you're talking to," Logan says. "I know as well as you do, even at point-blank range, that zap gun won't even scratch her."

Point taken, Francis drops the gun and instead goes after Logan with his fists. They fight for several minutes, injuring at least one cat in the process. (No, really -- while grappling, they go rolling over one of the Senator's desks and knock off the kitty that had been sitting there, almost flattening him. Though, assuming he wasn't on his ninth life, he surely Renewed.) Finally, Logan gets the upper hand by grabbing a tattered American flag from the corner, and uses the staff to beat his nemesis to death. Happy Bicentennial, America!!

Logan and Jessica decide they have to go back to the city to tell what they've found. They invite Santa to come with them, to meet all the young boys and girls, and prove to them there is life after thirty. Once these last humans leave the Senate floor and leave them to their own devices, the cats are finally free to pass a balanced budget, and establish a universal health care plan that includes hairball coverage.

After retracing their way back to the city, Logan and Jessica bypass the exit they'd used before, and instead make their way to the Fort Worth Convention Center water fountain. Even though none of them have ever seen this place before, Logan instinctively knows that if dive into this fountain, they can follow the underwater tunnels back into the city (provided they make the right turn at Albuquerque). The old man watches the other two disappear under the water without resurfacing, then sits in the marble steps and tries to decide how long he needs to wait before it wouldn't be impolite of him to leave.

Once inside, Logan rushes to the mall, and from the uppermost balcony, he sees that Pink Floyd Laser has started again. "Oh, Jesus, God, no," he mutters, and then starts banging on the glass. "Elaine! And all the rest of you! You don't have to die!! You can LIVE!! Carrousel is a LIE!! Renewal is a LIE!! To Serve Man is a COOKBOOK!!"

He is quickly arrested by the Sandmen on suspicion of first degree scenery-chewing, and dragged to Headquarters to be plugged into and interrogated by the main computer. The computer asks if he located Sanctuary, and Logan answers that there is no Sanctuary. The computer, however, has already decided the existence of Sanctuary is an indisputable fact, despite the lack of any evidence, and is therefore incapable of accepting any information that contradicts the data it already has.

That's right, the computer was programmed by Sarah Palin.

(That's also right, I went for the easiest joke possible.)

The shock of this contrary input is so bad, not only does the Sandman computer overload and blow up, but everything in the entire city starts to spark as if a zap gun had been aimed at a spot six feet to the left of it. How it managed to survive so many centuries before now without circuit breakers, no one can say. But it's all falling apart now, and the people run and panic. The entire mall is in pandemonium. Styrofoam rubble rains down on the crowds. Stuntmen catch fire and fall over balconies. Dogs and cats live together. Mass hysteria.

Meanwhile, the old man has made camp beside the water fountain and built himself a fire out his copy of the script, something he wishes he had done when it was first offered to him. He sees the explosions over the top edge of the fountain, and then, one by young, hundreds of young people come into sight. They approach cautiously and wordlessly, eying each other warily. One nubile young woman steps forward from the mob, and gestures as if to ask if she can touch him. When she does, a dozen more pretty young girls, all with deep-seated daddy-abandonment issues, move forward, also eager to touch him. "Oh, Merry Christmas to me..." Santa whispers to himself.

Finally, Logan and Jessica emerge from the city, alive and safe. They exchange a look with the old man, and as the music swells, they share a embrace, a couple in love destined to live happily ever after... as all that's left of the civilized world continues to burn and explode around them.
* * * * *

Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2011 01:46 am (UTC)

I'm fairly sure I've seen this movie at some point in my childhood, though I have no distinct memory of it, and what parts I do recall I may be mixing up with bits of the short-lived television series, and with the many parody versions of the more iconic scenes and images that have been done over the years. Having now rewatched it for this review, I can understand why -- it's really not very memorable as a cohesive full-length film. And for the most part, what makes the memorable parts memorable is the elevated cheese factor.

To be fair, there are some good parts in here. The miniatures of the city exteriors are really beautifully done (though I suspect that, by saying that, I give myself away as definitely being old enough for Carrousel). In fact, a lot of the art and design work is excellent, despite being firmly rooted in the 1960s "Futuristic" style. As cheesy as the conception of Carrousel may be, with its rotating platform and flying wired stuntmen, its execution is pulled off quite nicely. And Sir Peter Ustinov, playing the role of the Old Man, literally has more acting talent in his fingers than Michael York or Jenny Agutter do in their entire bodies.

But it's all in service of a script that can't hold up under the weight of its own ludicrousness. I could full article picking apart the idea of a society where people who are pampered and spoiled for the first thirty years of life could then realistically be expected to voluntarily make the ultimate act of selflessness. But this is a social allegory wrapped in a science fiction premise, so we suspend disbelief on this point. Where this disbelief becomes strained is when we watch the film's protagonist go through a character arc that looks more like a sine wave.

When we're first introduced to Logan, he's presented as a man of curiosity, a man willing to question the way things are, even if he does ultimately agree they are the way they should be. When he's robbed of the last four years of his life, his doubts and his questions seem to intensify... but maybe he's just putting on an act to gain Jessica's trust. Or maybe he's genuinely curious about Jessica's thoughts on Carrousel and Sanctuary. Or maybe he's just using her, despite feeling bad about it... or not bad. Who can say, because we never get a chance to really get inside our viewpoint character's head, or to understand how his thought processes develop from one point to the next.

And the thing is, there's plenty of opportunity to do this. The majority of the movie is Logan alone with Jessica, with the two of them supposedly falling in love with one another in deeper way than either of them is able to imagine. Yet in all these tender private moments, Logan never opens up about his doubts or his fears, probably for fear of making the male lead seem weak. (Though interestingly, Logan does get to reveal his doubts to Francis in a scene where his partner is sitting naked in a Jacuzzi.) And Jessica, despite her introduction as a woman of independent thought who refuses to be treated as nothing more than a sex toy, spends the second half of the film playing devoted girlfriend and damsel in distress. So we have two weak characters doing and saying things for no reason other than the script tells them to, played by actors who frankly do not have a lot of on-screen chemistry. The result, naturally, is a big mess that, at best, can be viewed as silly pretty brain candy, but nothing more.

According to Wikipedia, a remake of Logan's Run has been in one stage of development or another since the mid-90s, and now actor Ryan Gosling has reportedly agreed to play Logan in a new film. I'll certainly be interested to see what a 21st century screenwriter, director, and VFX crew do with the property. It would be difficult not to improve on the first film... but I don't think we should underestimate Hollywood in this regard.

Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2011 05:22 am (UTC)

"Oh, Merry Christmas to me..." Santa whispers to himself.


Nice job, dude! :)

Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2011 11:38 am (UTC)

Love this review! Very funny. I may watch my copy of the movie today in celebration!

The movie really is the tragic love story of Francis and Logan, of course.

Fri, Jun. 24th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)

You're so right. The scene where Francis confronts Jessica and asks, "Why did he chose you?!" is just heartrending.