The most relentlessly 70s of all 70s genre movies, Logan’s Run cast some of the most iconic actors of that decade – York, Agutter, Fawcett, Ustinov – in a sci-fi fable that swings between kitsch and the dystopian fallout of the summer of love. In the reasonably far future, some unknown disaster or war has quarantined the remnants of humanity within enormous sealed domes while the crumbling cities outside are being reclaimed by chaos and vegetation. To prevent overpopulation, the inhabitants are culled at the age of 30 in bizarre cremation ceremonies called ‘Carousels’, which are seen as a cross between a fireworks display and genuine reincarnation. Not everyone wants to die this way, and executioners called Sandmen track down the runners…
In the 1950s, Michael Anderson was one of Britain’s most successful and reliable directors, bringing seminal adaptations of 1984, Around the World in 80 Days and the story of The Dam Busters to the screen. However, relocation to America and an uncertainty on how to film genre fiction led to camp adaptations of the 30s pulp hero Doc Savage in 1975 and the controversial novel Logan’s Run a year later. The dark and prescient aspects of the book remain intact on screen – the amorality of a pleasure-seeking society, the casual sex and violence, the idea of limited life expectancy leading to feral children and youth-obsessed adults – and have even been improved on in the screenplay. Outré dialogue sticks in the mind – from the killer robot (which looks like a Blue Peter tin foil and cardboard project) that repeats the mantra ‘Fish, plankton, sea greens… protein from the sea!’ as it freezes unfortunate humans that stumble through its lair, to the impossibly old man who quotes from The Naming of Cats, the infamous book that would inspire Andrew Lloyd Webber’s slide into kitsch in the 1980s.
However, the tone of the film varies between thriller, satire, black comedy and farce and while the actors gamely do the best they can with the material, it’s a competition to see who comes across as the most confused on screen: the deranged computer running the dome, Farrah Fawcett’s forgetful plastic surgeon’s assistant or Logan himself (Michael York). Ironically, the most successful character is the one-note Sandman Francis (Richard Jordan), who sticks to his guns throughout, doggedly pursuing Logan across an increasingly bizarre landscape to fulfill his duty as a protector against overpopulation. Elsewhere, Peter Ustinov seems to have wandered in from an entirely different, much subtler film (perhaps the director was most comfortable with actors of his generation).
Occupying some kind of strange, belated middle ground between Hair and Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run is a dystopian vision that is most likely to be remembered for the tacky special effects and lurid deaths, as well as for being filmed in a shopping mall. In the right hands, this combination would produce a dark gem like Dawn of the Dead, but here it is no more than a historical curiosity.