[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]
Several people have assured me that Logan’s Run is a well-above-average science fiction novel; not having read it, I’m hardly about to contradict them, or attempt to blame the failure of the film version on the novelists. But as Logan’s Run dribbled out via a hasty, convenient, and not very convincing conclusion, I found myself reflecting that sf writers can get away with a lot on the printed page that moviemakers just can’t. At least until its current wave of respectability, sf put its practitioners in an economic/aesthetic bind: even a talented sf writer was faced with a shortage of time to work through his ideas and polish his narrative—gotta make a sale, buy bread and typewriter ribbon, and get on with the next one. And so you may be reading along in a sci-fi novel, find yourself turned on by the visionary or dramatic possibilities of a situation—say, 20 pages’ worth of prose—and then find yourself back in flat, uninvolving, strictly functional 10-cents-a-word narrative territory until the next intriguing passage heaves into view. A writer who has to get his character out of a tight spot can reach for his dot-dot-dot and announce a new chapter, cutting away in time and space, coming back to his character when it’s handy to do so, and trusting the casually surreal nature of the genre to soothe the savage beast of linear narrative curiosity. In a film, no way.
Michael York makes a difficult and perilous reentry of a domed metropolis of the 23rd century where they have not only an efficient goon platoon but also a supersensitive electronic surveillance system to zap those who get out of line; he’s captured, and then biff! boff! plinkplankplunk! he’s running free and, besides the guards, where are the walls, where’s the dome, who is Michael York and how can he get away with saying all these terrible things about The System? And while we’re at it, who, what, and/or why is the system? The ads—and the opening titles—give us the premise: life is a sequence of well-regulated hedonistic adventures that ends promptly at 30 when, to prevent overpopulating this bright-plastic world, each citizen gives him- or herself over to probable annihilation, but possible “renewal,” in a free-flight ritual called Carrousel. Nominate an attractive hero and heroine and write the rest of the story yourself.
York is a Sandman, a member of that playful elite security patrol—whose agents are not exempt from the age-30 deadline—who gets an assignment from the computer to penetrate and destroy Sanctuary. He’s never heard of the place, or even the word, but apparently it’s where the “runners,” those who resist their ordained demises, make for. Now, don’t worry about following this too closely, but York, who’s about 26, arbitrarily loses four years of living time—signaled by the fact that the red crystal imbedded in his palm starts blinking at him instead of shining steadily—and can’t get an answer from the computer when he asks, “I will get them back, won’t I? … Won’t I?” So he’s tricked up to make a credible odd man out as the City’s first Sandman runner, but somehow the ankh-bearing resistance types don’t buy it, and he’s almost murdered as a dangerous Sandman getting too close to the Sanctuary route, but on the other hand he’s sincere about playing their game so that he can reach Sanctuary and destroy it, except that he begins to wonder what Sanctuary is all about, too, except that he occasionally reverts to traditional Sandman behavior now and again, secretly alerting his brother officers—who don’t know about his assignment—as to the whereabouts of the rebels … oh, I give up.
What it is is confused. And while “confusion” resolves into lucid ambiguity in better stories, better films, in better hands than Michael Anderson’s and David Zelag Goodman’s, it doesn’t here. York and Jenny Agutter (the lovely girl from Walkabout whose nudity is always mysteriously PG-sanctioned) escape from the City, escape from the various booby traps that Sanctuary turns out to mean, and see a bit of the outside world. A godlike Abe Lincoln perched in the vine-covered Memorial, a fubsy old man (Peter Ustinov) living in the moldering Capitol with a flock of housecats, a sunny pool for skinny-dipping and affectionate sexplay instead of the hologram-delivered rutting partners back in the City. But York can’t enjoy it, can’t forebear going back to the City to tell all the others that there’s no good reason for them to croak at 30. And when he is captured and tells the computer there’s no Sanctuary—well, I won’t go into that, because I’ve already told more than I like to tell about “what happens” in a movie; but this final turn of events prompts a welter of well-if-that‘s-true-why-did-this-have-to-happen? questions that might have led us to some epiphanies, but don’t. Not in this film as it stands. It’s a hopeful movie, in its sappy way, overturning some traditional market-research verities about what audiences are supposed to find attractive and want to believe in these days, and just perhaps trying to suggest that the Great God Machine is ultimately self-destructive and Man Will Prevail. As for the machinery of this movie, it’s appallingly unconvincing for $7,000,000. I’m not talking about the machinery of plot and motivation now, but the special effects, the models, the imagined world of the future. $7,000,000? The Todd-AO format is too crisp, the true scale of things is tellingly apparent, the matte shots too visibly layered; we are assured that authentic holograms are used in the film (per Variety, “an unusual historical sidebar”) but they might as well be standard wonky process shots, for all the visual effectiveness achieved. Logan’s Run is so clumsy on every level that we can at least console ourselves with one notion: there’s no evidence that it was a waste of talent.
Direction: Michael Anderson. Screenplay: David Zelag Goodman, after the novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo. Production design: Dale Hennesy; set decoration: Robert De Vestel. Special visual effects: L.B. Abbott; additional visual effects: Frank Van Der Veer. Editing: Bob Wyman. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Production: Saul David.
The players: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Peter Ustinov, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Michael Anderson Jr., Roscoe Lee Browne.
© 1976 Richard T. Jameson