Logan’s Run (1976), starring Michael York as the titular Logan-5 and Jenny Agutter as the titillating Jessica-6, is a sublime ’70s disco-era false-utopia flick that is in turns terrific fun and troublingly prescient. Set in the year 2274, Logan is one of only several thousand remaining humans who live within ‘Dome City’, an automated world isolated from the dangerous and desolated ‘outside’. Civilisation has bottlenecked and drastic measures have been put in place to control population size and resources: each citizen’s age is tracked and identified by the colour of a palm crystal (‘life clock’), and at 30 they must report to Carousel where they face either death or ‘renewal’. Logan is a ‘Sandman’, a police enforcer whose job specifically involves tracking and terminating ‘runners’ – those who aren’t convinced by the promises of Carousel and so attempt to leave the city as they hit 30.
Logan’s Run is a study in the power of hedonistic urges to suppress the mind; as long as the people of the Dome are fed, watered and have access to ‘the circuit’ – essentially Tinder with teleportation – they don’t notice that they’re being murdered, and don’t stop to wonder whether the computer that raises their babies is really the best parental strategy, or whether long-term relationships might be more fulfilling than hook-ups. That’s what you get when your society is made up entirely of teenagers and twentysomethings…
And yet, Logan’s Run isn’t against pleasure. Its vilification stems from a hatred of blindness, of routine. In fact, there is no evil figure or government, just a self-replicating system with a flaw in the code. The ‘bad guy’ is automation. The computer’s need to control and maintain the population has led to stagnation. Humanity has to break free and reclaim its agency, and this agency is the key that unlocks vast new worlds. It takes a brave move, which may well lead to greater pleasures.
In lengthy in-Dome sequences, such as the super-surreal slow-motion orgy club and the charged ritual of Carousel, Michael Anderson captures the feel of the ultimate hedonistic society: if it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, ignore it. As becomes clear to Logan, questions don’t feel good, change doesn’t feel good, but they are vital to reach the true meaning of humanity.
In terms of direction, the film itself is a mixed experience. The fights are proper scrambly Star Trek fights and the film is littered with clichés that mostly revolve around Logan and Jessica’s sweetly awkward coupling. It’s not terribly good at disguising that the interiors were shot on location in newly completed buildings in mid-’70s Texas. However, parts of Logan’s Run are terrifically grand: the outside world, the ice cave, Carousel itself – which required a new type of incredibly complicated rig, where high-flyers were each on a separate, intricately coordinated runner. It was actually nominated for two Academy Awards, winning a Special Academy Award for its visual effects, yet it’s aged strangely. It’s got a place in the heart of anyone that’s watched it and thought ‘I know what they’re going for here’, yet its futuristic style appears resoundingly aged.
Designer blogger Christopher Noessel explains in detail the relative insanity and uselessness of much of the Dome City’s design – computer interfaces are inconsistent, gadgets are overpowered compared to their actual application (would you really use a magic healing machine solely for plastic surgery repairs?) and whatever ancestors programmed the dome were, frankly, insane. Let’s face it, it’s hardly a plan any of us would be enthusiastic about. It can be hard to connect with these blind children.
Performance-wise, Agutter continues her trend of always finding a way to get her clothes off (she even got her knickers out in The Railway Children!), though at least so does the swaggering, drawling York, who manages a passable – if weirdly clipped – American accent. For a dystopian love interest, Jessica is actually pretty capable in a tight spot, at least for 70% of the film. She is prone to being selfish and whiny, but then so is Logan. Ultimately, Logan is a product of the city, and starts out a monstrous child, banging on the glass to wake his sleeping baby in “Nursery” – the one he will never meet or raise; gleefully chasing and killing a ‘runner’ with his psycho friend Francis-7 (Richard Jordan); and cheering on the Carousel ritual even though moments ago he was questioning what happens to those who have reached 30 years. He doesn’t know if they are renewed or murdered, but he’d rather not think about it.
The real gem of this film – fantastically fun as it is – is Peter Ustinov as a relic of our world, an adorable old man obsessed with cats. Sweet and bumbling, he’s a wonderful snippet of what might survive out in the wilderness if things really do all go to pot. His brief and damning evaluation of Logan’s world – “takes all the fun out of dying, knowing ahead of time” – is reassuringly succinct, while digging out a little more of the genius hiding in Logan’s Run: with current anxieties surrounding new euthanasia legislation, an ageing population and extreme population growth, the film is sure to be brought up with increasing frequency. Now would be a wonderful time to finally pull the remake out of development hell.