Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Retrospective: Looking back at Logan's Run....what IS it about that film?

Recently, I've been revisiting movies that I've caught in my youth- and trying to gain some perspective and insight from viewing them.... and it's always odd to see which ones make you go, "Wow, I forgot how great this film really was- I never noticed how well done this/that was done. I truly appreciate it being older and knowing some of the ins and outs of how difficult it might have been to achieve that." - or - "WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING???? I MUST HAVE BEEN INSANE!!! THIS IS (fill in your own endearing term for excrement)!!!"

Well....most of the time, I find most of the films I returned to, it's a bit of both.

Case in point: LOGAN'S RUN, starring Michael York (who was the original "Luke Skywalker" of the classic Richard Lester "The Three Musketeers") as Logan-5 and Jessica Agutter (who I'll talk about more in a minute) as Jessica-6.

For those unfamiliar, LOGAN'S RUN was a 1976 pre-Star Wars (read: not-so great special effects) science fiction epic, based on a science fiction novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. (More information can be found here:

But, in a nutshell, Logan's Run- the book- was based on a society where everything is perfect, but with one cost: No one was allowed to live past 21. If so, you were hunted down by a police force known as the Sandmen. (Pretty clever, eh?)

I knew about the movie (but wasn't nearly old enough to drive yet) but caught onto the comics by David Kraft and George Perez--- and LOVED the artwork by Perez (whose comic work was in his highest gear imo at this time). (*Sidenote: In an interview with Perez years later, he HATED the movie, but was determined to prove himself to Marvel Comics by giving this comic book adaption his all--- and it shows. It's easily the best drawn and designed comic adaptation of a movie- ever.)

I could go on and on about how inventive George Perez was in comic book storytelling early on- (*Sadly, much like other artists during the bronze age, like Barry Windsor-Smith and Dave Cockrum, his style changed and became more detailed but somehow a lot less interesting. But that's another post.) If you look at the above example, I still marvel at how interesting he's made what's basically a pretty static conversation between two characters.

In another great example, Perez does something that even film can't do--- it crosscuts between two lines of action (The android named Box creating a sculpture out of the two characters while Logan and Jessica discover the secret of "Sanctuary")- but in a way that allows the reader to choose the pacing of what to follow first simultaneously.

It's one of many examples that Perez has done that really illustrates how comics CAN be a superior form of communication to film in many ways. (Mastering a way to translate that to the computer is the next stage imo, but that's also another post).

Anyhow, the comic got me interested in the movie, and seeing the movie as a kid--- one thing about seeing the movie as a kid is the ability to overlook a lot of things that, as an adult, would be easy to poke holes at critically.

The movie definitely looks dated- that's a given- with the stuntwork and effects taking the biggest hit (it's a bit funky to see stuntmen STAND and WAIT for lazer explosions to go off before moving).... but the oddest thing is that it still works, from the cheesiness of the costuming (everyone wears a different colored toga, depending on what stage of life you're at, unless you're a sandman, then you get a cool black turtleneck with blue striping and a lazertag gun)to the use of a megasize dressed up shopping mall as paradise, to the giant (but fake looking) domed city miniatures.

I think it still works, because it's a dark fairy tail whose theme resonates. It's a concept that is hauntingly attractive and repulsive at the same time. The idea of staying youthful and energetic, without limits--- and hunting down and destroying the weak and dying parts about oneself and society will always strike a nerve of sorts. (This aspect was the most interesting thing about the Leo DeCaprio film, "The Island"-- where everything was shaped to be paradise... but the cost of it was the tribe abandoning you if you happened to weaken or get sick.)

For sure, one thing that doesn't age are performances and musical scores (well, there are exceptions, but I don't wanna go there). Jerry Goldsmith is a legend (for good reason), but it was striking how much his music helped carry the tone of what was supposed to be conveyed. (*Much like Vangelis did for Blade Runner- the workprint for that film REALLY shows just how much was lacking without it, despite brilliant visuals)

The first 'hunt' by Logan-5 and his best cop/Sandman buddy (played by the excellent Richard Jordan) Francis-5 shows them to have the time of their life hunting down a 'runner' (The name given by people who turn 30- as opposed to 21 in the book- who want to keep on living, but run away, versus subject themselves to a process called "Carousel"--- where supposedly they may have a chance to 'Renew' and live again- though this is never fully explained in the film) - but the psychosis behind it is magnificently underlined by Jerry Goldsmith's score. It's exciting for these Sandmen to feel like they're justified in killing these 'bad' runners, as it's the law, but it's extremely perverse as well, and the score takes that idea home.

Eventually, the tables turn when the central computer prematurely ages Logan-5, and takes away a few of his years, with the idea that he must go undercover as a 'runner'- and discovers that Jessica-6 (A gal who Logan has a blind internet/transporter date with, who is a link to an underground movement for people who want to live past 30 and defy the law) and the movie works as well as it can for most of it- but for me, both the movie and the book fall apart with the last act.

(Do I really need to say,'spoiler alert'? Vomit.) The last act of the book, in order to escape, Logan and Jessica (I'm not kidding) get on a rocket and fly to the moon.

In the movie, Logan and Jessica escape outside of the domed paradise city/shopping mall, and find a happy senior citizen who hangs out with a million cats- who everyone adores, once Logan and Jessica destroy the city (and its food and water supply presumably) as well.

Still--- up until then, what keeps one going with the movie is the premise (unthough unfilled) and incredibly strong acting by York and Jessica Agutter for what's going on around them. There's a lot to like in the cinematography (Did I mention how picky I am on compositions of shots?), and the director seems smart by the commentary, but the staging of some of the sequences definitely seem pretty bad- fine for the stage, but fairly unconvincing (i.e.- in one scene, a runner basically throws her arms at Logan so that she can grab them- to make the transition work where she is 'struggling' to get away.) Anyhow, nitpicking for an old movie.... but Agutter in particular is our entry point- and I was suprised in dissecting the film just how much she's the anchor for believing in the film. (Not that York is anything less- but York is the one going through changes, questioning himself, whereas Agutter's character is pretty solid in her convictions throughout)

Anyhow--- It's a film that I'm not suprised that has stuck in people's minds over the years... it has a visual concept married to a premise that strikes a chord and a question mark behind it: how long do we really want to live? How long should we live?

It's a question that I'm sad that Bryan Singer (who was going to direct a remake) didn't get a chance to address in an updated movie. Whoever remakes it.... hopefully they grab the premise and really take the unanswered question home to some fulfilling answer (or resolution- I'm not picky)--- the books, the comic books, the movie, and the tv show never got to.

If not, maybe I should do a fan comic and do it myself.

No comments: