Friday, April 21, 2023

A relic from a bygone day

So my wife and I settled down to a viewing of the 1976 movie Logan's Run.  I remember when that was broadcast on network television when I was in late elementary.  It was a big thing that received quite a lot of attention.  As a Michael York fan, I am able to watch almost anything of his and enjoy.  And for my money, he's the best John the Baptist I've seen on film:

Anyhoo, Logan's Run is like There! I Said it Again, as performed by Bobby Vinton.  That song is known to music historians, not because of anything special about the song.  Instead, it is remembered because it was at number one on the American charts until it was knocked off the top spot by I Want to Hold Your Hand, thus ushering in the musical and cultural revolution brought to our shores by Beatlemania.  

Logan's Run was, in 1976, about as much as you would get from Hollywood in terms of Science-Fiction or Fantasy.  Save for Kubrick's space trip 2001: A Space Odyssey, even at the top of its game, Sci-Fi and Fantasy were relegated to the card table of Hollywood dinner parties.  That was the best those genres could get.  As often as not, they were placed even lower on the scale to somewhere between N-Level to Z-Level leftover circus meat status. 

Logan's Run was certainly the best you could get in 1976.  The 70s were, after all, the Decade of Realism, and movies wanted everything to look "real", grimy, messy, vulgar, violent, whatever they believed would make a movie realistic.  In such a context, movies about spaceships or vampires just didn't cut it.  If you got horror, it would be some occult supernatural thriller like Carrie or The Exorcist.  In those cases heavy doses of makeup (the art of which was improvising through the 60s onward, see Planet of the Apes), or simply camera tricks and your imagination did the trick.  Science Fiction was even more difficult to translate into 70s cinema on a respectable level. 

For its part, Logan's Run is a sort of post-post-apocalyptic movie, where humanity has built a pleasure dome for itself in the wake of the horrors of overpopulation and war.  The pay off?  Nobody can grow past 30 ( the age is younger in the book (21), but York and Jennie Agutter were both in their 30s).  

Of course people believe they can be 'renewed', when the truth is much uglier.  York plays a 'sandman', essentially a cop whose job is to stop people from trying to escape this paradise of pleasures.  He is charged with finding out about something called Sanctuary, and begins to figure out that not all is good and fun where their little Utopia is concerned.  He must do this while being pursued by a Javert like former friend and sandman still holding to the indoctrination.  Fun stuff, and the primary actors - including the always solid Richard Jordan and scene stealing Peter Ustinov - make it a worthwhile watch.  

But what makes it noteworthy is its position on the edge of a cinematic revolution.  JAWS had already been released in 1975, being the first film to surpass 100 million dollars at the box office.  It appeared to usher in the Summer Blockbuster, but not really.   The question was whether its success was good timing due to the movie's theme (be afraid of the water) and the summer beach season, or if there really was something advantageous for aiming particular movie genres at a summer release date.  The year after Logan's Run, that question was answered once and for all.

Because the following year saw the release of Star Wars.  I once had a professor in college who said there were three cultural landmarks in the 20th Century that overnight changed the direction of not only entertainment, but of culture as a result of their appearance:  The conversion of film from silent to sound, the arrival of The Beatles, and the release of Star Wars.  They all had impacts well beyond their actual contributions, had impacts almost immediately, and had influence well beyond just their particular artforms.  Even television, as massive as its influence turned out to be, didn't change things overnight in the way of those three events.  

It's also fun to look at Logan's Run and see what passed for science fiction, special effects, and basic film production in 1976, and compare.  If you look at the opening sequence of Logan's Run and compare it to Star Wars a year later, it's not hard to agree with Steven Spielberg's appraisal at his friend George Lucas's screening: in the first 20 seconds he knew Lucas had changed the movie industry forever.  Whether for better or worse, as in all three of those landmark developments, remains to be debated.


1 comment:

  1. Javert like former friend. . . what an accurate description! As for Peter Ustinov, I liked him very much in Quo Vadis!


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