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We Got a Runner

By Alexander Joenks | Film | January 27, 2010 |

By Alexander Joenks | Film | January 27, 2010 |

There’s something about old seventies sci-fi that is just so bad that it wraps around back to something vaguely approximating good. Logan’s Run is a middling science fiction flick that hit theaters in 1976, one of that last wave of sci-fi before Star Wars came along and rewrote everything about the genre in film. So it’s got that nice and clean world of white washed walls, fluorescent lights and scanty robes for clothing.

Based on a 1967 novel of the same name, Logan’s Run is set in a future dystopia in which everyone is killed on their thirtieth birthday (it was 21 in the novel, but in production it was too difficult to find young enough looking actors). A crystal embedded in each individual’s hand changes colors over time, until it turns black and the bearer knows that it’s time to go get fried at a ritual called Carrousel. Of course some people make a run for it, and have to be chased and put down by the Sandmen, the obligatory jackbooted thugs of the piece. The Logan of the film’s title is one such Sandman, and the supercomputer at the heart of their city sends him on a mission to find and destroy Sanctuary, the legendary haven that the runners are trying to reach. Sex, violence, and running occur, as they are wont to do in films with entertainment value.

The film version of Logan’s Run made some significant plot changes that make the story marginally less memorable. The book, while not a story for the ages, at least veers into the truly dark. Sex, torture, and violence run throughout the novel. The character of Logan is not sent on a mission in the novel, but decides on his last day of life to try running to see if he can find and destroy the legendary Sanctuary, thus going down in a blaze of glory. It sets up the plot to be much darker and cynical, following a protagonist whose original goals are underhanded and malicious, only slowly transforming into a genuine good guy. Logan’s journey takes him through a surreal playhouse of a world that teeters on a knife’s edge between being genuinely creepy and creative and just suggesting that the author might need to seek counseling.

The society of both the film and novel is hedonistic and open, featuring an electronic “circuit” in which individuals can find others with whom to have sex, sort of a retro-future version of There’s a stretch of science fiction during the sixties that simply presupposes that in the future everybody will be swingers, just like other science fiction assumes we’ll have flying cars. As such, there’s plentiful nudity of course, a baffling parade of stripping down just to put other clothes on for plot reasons so awkward that they wouldn’t pass muster even in the porn industry. It’s been ten minutes, it must be time to see Jenny Agutter’s breasts again. Ah the nostalgia of feverish adolescence before the rise of the Internet. Logan’s Run was better than the Sears catalog.

The ending features the baffling trope of a computer exploding because it was presented with information it thought to be impossible. Naturally, through the wondrous design of future cities, the overloading of the computer detonates the entire rest of the city, conveniently without casualties. Universal suicide at age thirty is small potatoes dystopia compared to the engineer who used plastic explosives in place of grout and then wired the detonators up to an overgrown PC’s blue screen of death. And as the children of man come climbing out of their enclosed city, they find themselves in an Eden, only sprinkled here and there with the ruins of cities. Forest has retaken Washington D.C. The real dystopia would have been a few months after the end of the film when three-fourths of them had died of exposure or starvation.

The film’s central conceit of a society of mandatory suicide loses a little of what made it work in the novel. The novel takes as a starting point the explosion of population in the 20th century, and the resultant fact that the population was overwhelmingly young at any given time. Coupled with the youth movements of the sixties, the author took “never trust anyone over thirty” to its logical extreme: kill everyone over thirty. It’s not a horrible idea (I mean the story, not the policy); one of the cornerstones of science fiction is that exact intellectual exercise of carrying ideas to extremes to explore what they say about the present. The film skirts the issues, though, and exists more in a vacuum.

So is it worth seeing? Well, at the remove of years, it is absolutely and positively hilarious and painful to watch. The effects are so bad that they’re more causes than effects. The story is terrifically derivative, pulling science fiction tropes from better works and piling them on like gravy. If you saw this as a kid, it’s great fun to see again, but if not, I don’t think this can hold its own anymore without the element of nostalgia.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here.