Just about the last of the big-scale, major studio science fiction films from a distinct era stretching roughly from 1966's Fantastic Voyage and preceding the genre-changing release of Star Wars in 1977, Logan's Run (1976) is colorful and entertaining but also garish and, at times, quite stupid. This reviewer never read the very different novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson from which it was based, but the film version is highly derivative and episodic, with some interesting ideas and evocative concepts undermined by a plodding, often illogical script and ambitious but obvious special effects that, at times, are pretty dismal even by 1976 standards. Though originally tied to seminal fantasy producer George Pal, the film was eventually overseen by Saul David (Fantastic Voyage), with by all accounts many changes for the worse along the way.
The film's credits and advertising falsely claim it was "Filmed in Todd-AO." However, it most definitely was not shot in 65mm, but rather in Todd-AO 35, i.e., standard 35mm anamorphic wide screen, using Todd-AO-provided lenses, so viewers expecting an especially pristine presentation along the lines of South Pacific will be disappointed. Metrocolor did the lab work: many original film elements handled by that long-defunct offshoot of MGM went missing through the years, and I suspect that may also be a factor in the rather blah transfer of Logan's Run. It looks okay, but rarely much better than that.
On the other hand, the remixed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is a true delight. Logan's Run was the first-ever Dolby Stereo release, and the film's sound effects, directional dialogue, and especially Jerry Goldsmith's terrific score make this a feast for the ears if not the eyes. Warner Home Video's initial DVD version, released in September 1998, was one of the format's first - the limited extras for this Blu-ray release are all ported over from that 11-year-old release.
By the year 2274, mankind is shielded from the outside world in a bustling high-tech metropolis under massive domes. "Here," explains the pre-title prologue, "in an ecologically balanced world, mankind lives only for pleasure, freed by the servo-mechanisms which provide everything. There's just one catch: Life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of Carrousel."
In this world, 26-year-old Logan 5 (Michael York) and Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) are "sandmen," Praetorian guard-type elite soldiers tasked with tracking and killing 30-ish "runners" who choose not to participate in Carrousel on Last Day, but take their chances in hope of finding "sanctuary" somewhere in the harsh world outside the domes.
Carefree Logan meets depressed Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), a young woman troubled because a friend recently tried to run and was killed by Sandmen (possibly Logan and Francis, though the film isn't entirely clear about this). Her questioning attitude strikes Logan as puzzling.
Meanwhile, the city's main computer scans an ankh pendant found on the body of one of the dead runners, a pendant identical to one worn by Jessica. The computer orders Logan to infiltrate the network of runners and locate Sanctuary. To enable this, the computer changes Logan's "lifeclock," a colored implant on the palm of his left hand, to blink red - indicating his Last Day is imminent, rather than reflect his true age. Logan nervously asks whether he'll get those four years back once his mission is completed but the computer offers no such reassurances, which makes no sense. Also for no good reason the computer volunteers an unsettling revelation: everyone dies at Carrousel - no one is reborn. These aren't exactly incentives for Logan to come back.
He becomes friendly with Jessica, and though she doesn't trust sandmen generally, reluctantly agrees to take him through the Runners' underground railroad to freedom. Francis meanwhile, upset by Logan's strange behavior, becomes obsessed with bringing him back, dead or alive.
Logan's Run is a big mess of a movie. The story is basically Fahrenheit 451 with relationship elements similar to Ben-Hur. Like Montag the fireman in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Logan is part of the elite policing force suppressing a basic freedom. And like that story, Logan eventually sees the errors of his ways, enlightened partly via a rebellious young woman who in turn helps him flee into the countryside. However, where Montag comes to realize the evils of book burning after secretly reading some of the great literature he burns, Logan only sees the light after he becomes a target, which doesn't make him a particularly sympathetic character. An even bigger problem with the film is that Logan pointlessly continues to deceive Jessica until quite late in the story, willing to see other runners killed in the selfish hope of saving his own neck.
The relationship between Logan and Francis seems to have originally been conceived with the same homoerotic qualities as those between Ben-Hur and Messala in William Wyler's 1959 epic. There's a very slight suggestion early on that Logan may by bisexual, but most of whatever was originally planned seems to have been scuttled to insure a PG rating (other sexual content was cut for this reason). In any case, Francis's obsession toward Logan makes no sense otherwise.
Logan's Run was an expensive production, about $9 million, or nearly the same cost as Star Wars, and yet it still looks cheap and clunky. Opening shots of the dome-enclosed metropolis reveal a vast but patently phony miniature cityscape no more realistic than those seen in Italian sci-fi programmers from the mid-1960s. The film has lots of special effects, but many opticals are poorly executed, such as the matted-in flying clean-up crews that dissolve runners' bodies, and an elaborate sequence depicting Carrousel - with about two dozen stunt people floating upward toward "rebirth" - reveals highly-visible wireworks. (Somewhat better are Matthew Yuricich's matte paintings of a 23rd century Washington, D.C., its famous landmarks crumbling and overgrown with vegetation.)
Many of the film's interiors were shot at various shopping malls and hotels in Texas, of all places, and they tend to look exactly what they are, and are simply not convincing. Though Agutter is fetching in several of Bill Thomas's sexy (and bra-less) gowns, generally the costume design is very much stuck in the Disco Era. Michael Anderson Jr. appears briefly as a plastic surgeon; he wears a silver jumpsuit straight out of Lost in Space.
For the most part, the film explores interesting ideas in uninteresting, obvious ways. A strange sequence where Logan and Jessica encounter a robot called Box (played by Roscoe Lee Browne) conceptually has a lot of potential but is thwarted by bad pacing, cheesy set design, the lamest robot costume since the days of Mascot serials, and a thoroughly wrong-headed approach. Later scenes of Logan and Jessica meeting an Old Man (Peter Ustinov) in the Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol have real charm - it's their first encounter with anyone over 30, and his first human contact in many years - but Ustinov is allowed to overact indulgently, and his makeup is poor.
The DVD case describes Logan's Run as "trendsetting" (sic) but I'd argue the opposite to be true: after Star Wars, dystopian movies like Logan's Run, which, for all its myriad problems was still primarily made for adults and touched upon adult sexual issues, pretty much vanished. No, the only trend-setting this movie did was to inspire Logan's Run, a much worse 1977-78 TV series loosely based on the film.
Video & Audio
Filmed in Todd-AO 35 (and not 65mm Todd-AO - see above), Logan's Run gets an okay 1080p 2.40:1 presentation. Though an upgrade from the standard-def DVD, the image isn't all that impressive. Partly the cinematography is to blame, with its frequent shallow focus and wide-angle shots with softness around the edges of the frame; it's just not ideal Blu-ray material. Partly it's the special effects: the extensive use of (grainy) opticals and miniature photography that's downright out-of-focus some of the time. But the surviving film elements may also be at fault: Logan's Run has rather excessive fine negative scratches and other problems, though the colors are brighter than ever before, and the high-def format handles reds much better.
Conversely, the remixed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio (see also above) is just great, especially the use of separations in Jerry Goldsmith's innovative score, which is chiefly electronic inside the dome, but orchestral outside it. For this Blu-ray release, Warner Home Video really should have provided an isolated score option. A Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English and Spanish are also included, along with 1.0 tracks in French and German. My Japanese PS3 defaulted to Japanese menu screens that offered Japanese subtitles, but on American players only English, French, Spanish, and German subs are accessible.
Supplements are all leftovers from the 1998 DVD release. Included is an enjoyable audio commentary with Michael York and director Michael Anderson (Sr.). Some of the latter's comments are unfortunate, such as his claim that the Carrousel wires can't been seen, in even in a single shot, while at that very moment onscreen are very visible wires - and his memory is a bit off on plot points and other matters. However, he does discuss scenes cut or altered before the film's release, most of which should have been left intact. The short featurette "A Look Into the 23rd Century" and the film's trailer are in SD and are in awfully ragged condition.
Despite a laundry list of complaints, like a lot of viewers I still enjoy watching Logan's Run every ten or 12 years. It's enjoyable on a juvenile level, but overall mediocre. This new Blu-ray release is also a mixed blessing, with nothing new in terms of supplements, a fair-at-best transfer, but great audio. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, part of AnimEigo's forthcoming Tora-san DVD boxed set, is available for pre-order, while his latest book, Japanese Cinema, is in bookstores now.