Lone Star Cinema: Logan's Run

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Logan's Run

Watching Logan's Run -- which, if I remember correctly, I last saw on VHS nearly a century ago -- brings to mind the following bit of wisdom: Those who cannot remember the Seventies are condemned to repeat them.

And on a related note: Those who cannot remember bad Seventies sci-fi movies are condemned to remake them. Alas, humanity has not learned this lesson, for a Logan's Run remake is in the works.

To be fair, there are far worse ways to kill a couple of hours than watching Logan's Run. Released in 1976, the Texas-made film is mostly schlock, a cheese-smothered exercise in ridiculous, clichéd sci-fi silliness. But in its better moments, it's highly entertaining silliness. And when viewed through the lens of cinematic history, Logan's Run serves as a great primer in the look and feel of Seventies sci-fi filmmaking, one that begs the question What were they thinking?

The central premise of Logan's Run is that in the 23rd century, civilization has been mostly destroyed. Surviving humans live idyllic (if tightly regulated) lives in domed cities, with little work to do and many pleasures to be had. (This being a very Seventies vision of the future, most of these pleasures derive from commitment-free sex and drugs.) There is a nasty little catch, however: When people turn 30, they must be "renewed" in a public ceremony known as Carousel; actually, they're just incinerated.

Of course, not everyone buys into the whole renewal thing; those who try to escape this fate are known as "runners" and pursued by police known as "sandmen." Logan's Run's central characters are the titular Logan (Michael York), a heretical sandman who questions the morality of his job, and Jessica (Jenny Agutter), a would-be runner who belongs to a secret society that believes in a mythical place called Sanctuary, where people are free to live however they want for as long as they want. (Yes, they still can have sex and do drugs.)

Logan and Jessica eventually do run, escaping the city in search of Sanctuary and finding a beautiful, natural world unknown to almost everyone inside the dome. Logan's Run's second half -- which I found far more interesting (if no more logical) than the first -- follows Logan and Jessica as they experience the outside world, fall in love, meet a charmingly daft old man (Peter Ustinov) and must decide whether to return home and tell everyone there is more to life than hedonism and not having to worry about crow's feet or gray hair.

Of course, the more you think about all this, the less sense any of it makes. But Logan's Run isn't about logic or plausibility; it's mostly about futuristic sets, standard-issue form-fitting sci-fi costumes, chase scenes in which people blast each other with lasers, and occasional commentaries about the dangers of conformity and subservience to authority.

Oh, yeah -- Logan's Run also is about gratuitous nudity. And not just any gratuitous nudity; we're talking nudity so bizarrely gratuitous that it borders on being an in-joke about gratuitous nudity. The major female characters (including one played by Farrah Fawcett) wear ridiculous see-through costumes designed, it seems, to distract the audience from the dopey story and silly dialogue by showing us plenty of half-exposed buttocks and generous amounts of side-boob action. There is a requisite orgy scene, but of course (butt of course?). And in a couple of non-orgy scenes, the dialogue is carefully crafted to explain why the characters remove their clothes for no logical reason. (Speaking of nudity, I've seen Jenny Agutter partially or totally naked in more than a few Seventies films. Not that this is a bad thing -- but I can't help but think that by 1978 or so, she must have been awfully tired of shedding her clothes on camera.)

Nudity aside, Logan's Run is also notable for its horrid special effects, even by the era's standards. If the domed city looks like a model, it's because it is indeed a model, and not a very detailed one. The countless explosions and fireballs look laughably fake, and the outside world's ruined buildings look like painted backdrops. Many of the sets are no better; they look less futuristic than Seventies modern, as if much of the action takes place in the lobby of a nice Marriott or freshly built shopping mall. This is because the sets are, in fact, thinly disguised hotels, shopping malls and other public buildings, such as the cavernous Dallas Market Center.

(Out of fairness, I must mention that Logan's Run received Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction/Set Direction and Best Cinematography, and won a Special Achievement Award for visual effects. I'm completely mystified; many other sci-fi films of the era had far better production values. The best example is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which looked fantastic and was released eight years earlier.)

Despite my many complaints, I do recommend Logan's Run to fans of B-movie sci-fi and cinematic Texana. The film is full of obvious gaffes and begs laughter whenever it tries to be serious, but it never bored me. There also is some food for thought in what it says -- or at least tries to say -- about humanity's future. And of course, there is all that gratuitous nudity; maybe a return to the Seventies wouldn't be such a bad thing, after all.

Several DVD versions of Logan's Run are available, with various extra features; be sure the one you buy includes A Look into the 23rd Century, a nifty behind-the-scenes promotional featurette with cast and crew interviews. A Blu-ray version is available, but higher resolution is probably the last thing the special effects need. Save a few bucks and stick with the DVD.

Austin/Texas connections: Logan's Run was filmed in Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Irving and Houston. Metroplex residents may recognize many settings, such as the Fort Worth Water Gardens and First National Bank Building in Dallas. Seventies pop-cultural icon Farrah Fawcett was born in Corpus Christi and attended The University of Texas at Austin.