Without any conscious foreknowledge or intent, 'Logan's Run' marked the end of an era in filmmaking. The movie by director Michael Anderson is the last of the old-fashioned science fiction epics. There are two important things to keep in mind while watching it. First, it premiered in 1976, just one year prior to 'Star Wars'. Secondly, it won a Special Achievement Oscar for its visual effects, which were considered quite astounding to audiences at the time. Try to contain your disbelief as the opening credits play out over the laughably silly miniature scale model of the futuristic city. This is what science fiction was prior to 'Star Wars'. For all its good intentions and genuine ambition, the film would become instantly, painfully dated only one year after its release. And yet, looking back on the picture now, it's precisely that very datedness that makes it so fascinating and, yes, entertaining. This isn't a vision of the future; it's a vivid portrait of the past.
Sometime in the 23rd Century (the same time period that 'Star Trek' is set, for those keeping track), the Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or so we're informed. What remains of civilization has clustered in a giant domed city, shielded from the outside world. Life there is a perfect utopia. People live only for pleasure, and there's plenty of that to go around. There's just one catch: in order to maintain the city's delicate ecosystem, the population must remain at a constant fixed number. Thus, for each new life hatched in the breeding center, an existing life must be taken away – "One for one." Every member of society is assigned a set lifespan of 30 years, marked by the color-changing crystal embedded in his or her left hand. When the crystal starts blinking, time is up, and the person must participate in the ritual of Carrousel, wherein a group of expirees is sent to an amphitheater, raised skyward by a rotating force field, and exploded in spectacular fashion for the entertainment of the cheering crowd. Few seem bothered by this. Carrousel isn't death. It's a time for Renewal, they believe.
But not all believe. Some fear death and attempt to escape the city. These Runners pose a potential threat that may upset the social order, and must be stopped. A Gestapo-like police force called the Sandmen track down and assassinate the Runners before they can get out. Logan 5 (Michael York) is one such Sandman. He lives a life of unquestioning obedience to the city's controlling computerized intelligence. Logan believes in Carrousel. He has no reason to doubt, until one day the computer shaves four years off his lifeline and assigns him to go undercover as a Runner. His task: to follow the Runners to a mythical place outside the city called Sanctuary, infiltrate, and destroy it. As much as he wants to obey, Logan finds his belief system challenged the further he gets away from the city, and the more time he spends in the company of a fellow Runner named Jessica 6 (the achingly beautiful Jenny Agutter).
Like many old sci-fi pictures from decades past, 'Logan's Run' is primarily a movie of Big Ideas and Important Social Commentary rather than action. It's meant to be an allegory for the dangers of complacency and conformity, or somesuch. Its dialogue speechifies and its symbolism is heavy-handed. Logan's journey outside the city brings him face to face with the detritus of civilization, where once-great landmarks wallow in neglect and ruin, and he is forced to use books, art, and even a tattered American flag as weapons to defend himself. The script even falls back on that old chestnut of man's intelligence triumphing over technology, as demonstrated by a computer that must instantly melt down and explode the first time it gets confused.
For its day, the film was modestly but not unhealthily budgeted at $9 million and backed by the resources of MGM, still a major studio at the time. Its production design, costumes, and extensive special effects are as elaborate as they are hopelessly corny. This is a view of the future as could only be envisioned in the 1970s. Inhabitants of the city (who are notably all Caucasian, down to the last man, woman, and child) wear color-coded nylon togas and spandex tights. Farrah Fawcett (then Farrah Fawcett-Majors) makes a supporting appearance in all the resplendent glory of her famous feathered hairdo. The city itself is constructed of particleboard sets covered in shiny surfaces. The model and miniature vistas of tiny monorail systems cruising over plastic trees from cardboard building to cardboard building look exactly like what they are. Optical effects do not appear to have advanced any in technique or quality beyond those available 20 years earlier in 'Forbidden Planet'. When the Sandmen fire their strange pistols, sparks fly from the muzzle 'Buck Rogers'-style while strategically placed firecrackers sparkle near the intended target. As Logan attempts to break free from the city, he's confronted by a weird centurion named Box, who is part-man, part-robot, and mostly reflective disco ball.
All of which is to say that the movie is a great kitschy blast of retro sci-fi fun. As an added bonus, it also has an almost shocking amount of nudity, including a freaky psychedelic slo-mo orgy and Agutter's jaw-dropping disrobement. For that, the MPAA saw fit to brand the film with a PG rating. Parental Guidance is suggested, indeed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Logan's Run' comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video. List most of the studio's titles, the disc starts the movie automatically with no main menu. Fortunately, in this case, the pop-up menus will work while the movie is paused. The disc is not burdened by any annoying forced trailers at the start.
All things considered, 'Logan's Run' looks pretty good… for 'Logan's Run'. The movie is obviously the product of a different age in filmic technique and style, as reflected in its very grainy, often flat 2.40:1 photography. The Blu-ray's 1080p/VC-1 transfer maintains all of the grain without any attempt to wipe it away through Digital Noise Reduction. In many scenes, it comes out thick and heavy, especially during the miniatures and optical composite shots.
Colors are a little dull and sometimes appear faded, but that's a common attribute of movies from the 1970s, and may just be a factor of the film stocks in use at the time. The picture generally has good detail, enough that you can plainly see many matte lines and the wires holding up the bodies during the Carrousel sequence (despite director Anderson claiming otherwise in his commentary). However, a lot of the movie was shot in soft focus, and some of the composite shots are downright blurry. Again, that's a fault of the production and not a transfer flaw.
Some gatefloat wobble is problematic in the transfer. This is most evident during the opening and end credits, but is present throughout the movie if you look closely during static shots. Fortunately, the issue is masked by camera movement and motion within the frame, and is rarely noticeable during the body of the film. Our eyes easily adjust to such things and tune them out.
'Logan's Run' has certainly not received the sort of full-blown restoration that Warner has afforded some of its higher-profile and more beloved properties recently. Even so, for what it is, the movie looks surprisingly decent.
I can't get over how great this disc sounds. For a movie from 1976, the 'Logan's Run' soundtrack is a real stunner. In its day, the movie played with both stereo and 70mm 6-track theatrical prints. The Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track is presumably closer to the latter. The mix has bitingly crisp dialogue. When the voice of the computer speaks, it really sounds like it's right there in the room with you. Though perhaps not up to modern expectations for zinging surround activity, some effective use is frequently made of the rear channels. Dialogue is also panned across the front soundstage on occasion, an effect rarely used in movies anymore.
Best of all, Jerry Goldsmith's famous score is grand and startlingly forceful. It has plenty of reverberant bass, and is reproduced in excellent fidelity. The breadth and clarity of the music puts many modern blockbusters to shame.
True, some aspects of the track haven't aged as well. Many of the crowd noises are thin and shrill. A lot of the twinkly sound effects are just kind of silly. Nevertheless, I was simply bowled over by this terrific soundtrack.
'Logan's Run' was never graced with much in the way of bonus features on any of its previous DVD editions. The Blu-ray carries over what few supplements they had.
'Logan's Run' is a look back at the state of science fiction filmmaking before the revolution of 'Star Wars' came around and changed the game forever. It's difficult to imagine that the two movies, so vastly different in vision, could have been made so closely together to one another. The campy 'Logan's Run' looks at least 20 years older in comparison. But that's not to say that the movie doesn't still have any entertainment value. Quite the contrary.
The Blu-ray has a transfer that's faithful to the source (with a few issues), but will probably not please viewers who expect sparkly clean eye candy in everything they watch. The soundtrack is more easily appreciated, but the disc's bonus features are only of mild interest. In the final analysis, this release merits a solid guilty pleasure recommendation.