REEL RETRO CINEMA: New looks at old flicks and their comic-book adaptations…
UPDATED 6/23/21: It’s the 45th anniversary of Logan’s Run — still one of the grooviest sci-fi films ever. (It opened June 23, 1976.) This piece first ran in 2017 but it obviously holds up just as well today. Dig it. — Dan
By ROB KELLY
It’s the year 2274, and life is perfect: No one has to work. You don’t have to do anything, really, except enjoy yourself all day, every day. All your basic needs — food, shelter, entertainment, companionship — are met. There’s only one catch: Life ends when you’re 30.
But even then, it’s not so bad. Life doesn’t really end, exactly. Once the crystal embedded in your palm starts to blink red, you’re ready for “Last Day,” which means it’s time for “Renewal” — a process in which you and other fellow citizens are subjected to a public ceremony that vaporizes your old body, and you’re reborn.
At least, that’s the official story.
Logan 5 (Michael York) is a Sandman, a member of a police unit that tracks down “Runners” — people who don’t want to be reborn and try and escape. After he and his fellow Sandman Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) hunt down one such runner, Logan finds a small, mysterious ankh among the man’s possessions. Later that night, after he meets the ravishing Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), who wears the same symbol. He investigates, and the massive computer system that runs everything tells him that the ankh is a symbol of “Sanctuary,” a mythical place to which Runners escape—1,056 of them so far. Logan is instructed to go undercover as a Runner to find Sanctuary — and destroy it.
Directed by Michael Anderson (who also helmed Doc Savage: Man of Bronze, a film we’ve previously covered on REEL RETRO CINEMA), and based on a 1967 book by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Logan’s Run stands pretty much as the last example of Old Hollywood’s attempts at making adult sci-fi epics before George Lucas changed the world with Star Wars just a year later. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of the late-60’s hippie movement and the incipient Me Generation, taken to extreme, apocalyptic lengths.
Everything seems great to the people who live in the collection of geodesic domes that make up the sealed city. They are told from birth that the outside world has been ravaged by some sort of (presumably nuclear) annihilation, and is completely uninhabitable. The tiny group of Runners are quickly forgotten and dismissed, as if it’s absurd that anyone wouldn’t want this completely groovy lifestyle. If you want food, it’s available. If you want plastic surgery to change your appearance, it’s available (with the help of ’70s icon Farrah Fawcett, no less). If you want a sex partner for the night, all you have to do is tell the city’s computer system, and a wide variety of people—men and women—are sent to you to pick from.
Of course, Logan discovers fairly quickly that there is a dark side to all this freedom. As they make their run in earnest, he and Jessica pass through a group of people who are forced to exist like savages, cloaked in darkness and fearing for their lives. As the Sandmen arrive to tear the place apart, Logan and Jessica find their way to an underground ice cave, run by a giant robot named Box (voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne). Box explains that it is there to round up food from the outside world to feed the city’s inhabitants — and some of that food comes from the dead bodies of Runners (“I’ll have the Soylent Green combo plate, thank you”)!
But that’s not all—while trying to escape from true believer Francis 7, Logan and Jessica make it to the outside world, which, while abandoned and demolished, is also verdant and beautiful. Living in solitude is the Old Man (the great Peter Ustinov), who resides with dozens of cats in what was once the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Far from being inhospitable, there is a world outside, free from the tyrannical control of the city computers.
Logan’s Run has a lot on its mind, and fits quite well in the late ’60s/early ’70s genre of dystopian sci-fi epics that preceded it, like Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green and Silent Running. Its special effects and attempts at world building aren’t nearly as convincing as what we saw in those films, however. The robot Box is stiff and pretty cheesy, and it’s amazing to think that the much more believable droids of Star Wars were being designed at the same time. The difference is stark. And once our heroes make their way out of the city, Logan’s Run essentially becomes a POTA film, minus the apes on horseback.
That said, the film still has much to recommend. York is a good choice for the role of Logan, someone who imagines himself a tough guy but, like everyone else who lives under the computer’s control, is essentially a pet, whose every action is under tight control. Jenny Agutter is the stuff dreams are made of, a stunning beauty who can also handle herself in a tight spot. Peter Ustinov has a lot of fun as the Old Man, whose very appearance (“Do those lines in your face hurt?”) is baffling to the always beautiful, always young citizens of the city.
The opening sequence, called Carousel, where people get “renewed,” is effectively staged — with the subjects in their robes and masks, and spectators cheering as they watch them get immolated. The whole thing feels like something out a horror film, not a PG-rated sci-fi blockbuster. (Also surprising? The amount of gratuitous nudity. Thanks 1970s!).
Another thing Logan’s Run has in common with the Planet of the Apes series was its attempts to reach beyond the initial film. Even though the movie was a big hit, MGM didn’t develop a sequel (despite there being sequel novels), choosing instead to launch a TV series the following year starring Gregory Harrison. Like the POTA TV series, it quickly settled for a formula where Logan and Jessica had to keep running, having new adventures and meeting guest stars along the way. It only lasted 14 episodes.
While equally unsuccessful financially, Marvel Comics’ 1977 Logan’s Run comic-book series had a lot more going for it, creatively. The first issue is by the dynamite team of Gerry Conway, George Perez and Klaus Janson, who bring a classic Marvel sense of style to the proceedings. Perez’s seemingly endless visual imagination is on full display and, not hampered by budget, he creates a rich, detailed sci-fi world for the characters to inhabit.
All the basic details from the movie are present in the series’ first five issues (David Kraft took over the scripting chores with Issue #2), but everything is just so much more exciting. Box, who on film looked like a tin-foil-wrapped refrigerator on wheels, is as fearsome as Ultron when drawn by Perez and Janson.
Writer John Warner took the film’s premise and, uh, ran with it as of Issue #6, which was the first to feature original stories. As you might expect, an entire civilization learning that their life is a lie isn’t met with warm feelings, and in the opening few pages we see that things have descended into chaos. Perez had left the book as well, replaced by Tom Sutton, who does a fine job on the art, aided by ringer Terry Austin on inks.
Things lean very heavily on action in the Mighty Marvel Manner in Issues #6 and #7, but it would have interesting to see what, if anything, could have been made of this world in comic-book form. Alas, it was not to be, as Logan’s Run was cancelled with Issue #7. Marvel was publishing a frenzy of licensed properties at the time (Planet of the Apes, Star Wars (of course), Godzilla, Man from Atlantis, Shogun Warriors, Battlestar Galactica, Tarzan, John Carter: Warlord of Mars) and while Logan’s Run is no classic, Marvel putting such heavy hitters as Conway, Perez, and Janson on it meant they thought it had real potential.
Strangely, that seemed to be it for Logan’s Run as a property. There have been occasional stabs at a remake, but nothing has ever come to fruition. With a world as gadget- and computer-driven as ours, you’d think a story about people giving up their freedom in exchange for safety and the endless pursuit of pleasure would be able to find a few takers in Hollywood. But I guess until we get Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in Logan’s Run 2020, we’ll have to settle for the movie and the comic.
Which really isn’t too bad, even if (like me) you’re over 30.
— Check out THE FILM AND WATER PODCAST episode on LOGAN’S RUN. Click here.
— GEORGE PEREZ’s TOP 13 Comics Series – RANKED. Click here.
Rob Kelly is a writer/artist/comics and film historian. He is the co-host of Aquaman and Firestorm: The Fire and Water Podcast, the host of The Film and Water Podcast, and the host of TreasuryCast, a show devoted to the greatest comics format of all time, the treasury edition. He would like love a Jenny Agutter On Demand app.