Friday, April 22, 2011

LOGAN'S RUN: Blu-ray (MGM 1976) Warner Home Video

At least in literature, the 1970s were a particularly prolific period for science fiction morality tales; most foreboding, some occasionally foreshadowing an apocalyptic future where mankind's stupidity brings about an end to civilization as we know it only to give rise to another even more terrifying outlook than the one left behind. Based on William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson novel of the same name, director Michael Anderson's Logan's Run (1976) is supposed to be a movie about a dystopian 23rd century mega-city where population control is achieved by killing everyone over the age of thirty. That the resultant movie emerges as a colorful claptrap rather than lush metaphor for post-Hitlerian societal decline is a shame as well as a gross bastardization of its source material.
Cheap jack sets and ultra-tacky special effects (that won an Academy Award, no less) are painfully obvious in all their 70s – then chic - moderne design. This isn't anybody’s idea of the future but, in fact, a reconstituted vision of the immediate present, gussied up with a few flashy/trashy pieces of modern art that have severely dated over the last 30 plus years. Of course, as a time capsule of ‘70s cinema all this oversight in Robert De Vestel's Production Design would be largely forgivable if the screenplay by David Zelag Goodman did not degenerate into a pointless chase, shot mostly in and around Fort Worth and on the old MGM back lot (in a deplorable state of decay and on the verge of becoming a housing project).
The film stars gooney '70s pop star Michael York as Logan 5, a bounty hunter working the policed state circa 2274. On the surface, the future is an idyllic paradise populated by half-naked sex kittens wearing paper-thin diaphanous gowns, and, buff young surfer dude-types who can barely hide what God gave them under Nylon/spandex ensembles. These ludicrous outfits are color-coded to reflect the age of the person who wears them. At birth, infants have a chip imbedded in the palm of their hands that changes color as they grow up. Red proves to be the most lethal hue in the spectrum. For once the chip turns red and begins to blink it signifies the end of an imposed life expectancy. These inhabitants are collected together, trade in their color-coded robes for white-hooded garments (that look like cast offs from the KKK) and demonic black and white hockey masks, and, are sent to 'carousel'; a new-fangled take on the old Roman arena.
With the rest of the city's gentry cheering them on, the expired individuals are hurled toward a spinning vortex that vaporizes them in much the same way a garden bug zapper dispatches unwanted mosquitoes and flies. Logan 5 and his best friend, Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) are Sandmen - assigned to capture a wayward expiree (known in the film as 'runners'). After some silly leaping and sprinting all over the multileveled interior of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, the runner is quickly dispatched by Logan and Francis using 'flare guns'; about as excitingly executed in SFX on the screen as watching lead paint dry. All hot and bothered from the chase, Logan returns to his apartment to search for recreational sex on 'the circuit' - a ‘pay as you go’ service that teleports companionship right into his bedroom. Logan's desires are inflamed by Jessica (Jenny Agutter); a Twiggy-esque blonde airhead.
But after Jessica and Logan engage in a conversation about why it is wrong to run, Jessica opts to leave Logan to his own devices. Before she leaves his apartment however, Logan takes notice of an ankh pendent around her neck. Back at Sandman headquarters, the state’s super computer reveals the runner he and Francis killed also wore a similar pendent belonging to a secret organization that helps runners escape their fate by showing them the way to 'sanctuary'. Logan is given the assignment to locate sanctuary and destroy it. To convince the organization that he is also in jeopardy of being called to carousel, the computer advances Logan's palm crystal so that it begins to flash red. Remembering Jessica's ankh pendent, Logan reunites with her and helps another runner escape. Francis, who is unaware of Logan's assignment takes Logan's actions as treason against the state and sets out to destroy him.
Logan and Jessica's first port of call is a medical clinic overseen by Doc (Michael Anderson Jr.) and his sultry assistant, Holly (Farrah Fawcett-Majors). Here, life-altering plastic surgery is achieved through instant laser procedures. Jessica assures Doc that Logan is their friend, but Doc is unconvinced. He places Logan in the operating chamber then deliberately attempts to cause the machine to malfunction so that the lasers will incinerate Logan instead. Too bad for Doc that Logan is a better fighter than the machine. After escaping the operating table, Logan manages to toss Doc inside the operating chamber where he is seared by its laser beams. Holly follows Logan and Jessica to an abandoned part of the city where members of the organization who save runners are waiting. After some initial convincing, one of the members instructs Logan and Jessica to make their way beneath the city, using the ankh pendent as a key to open various vapor locks along the way.
Unfortunately, Francis and a small army of Sandmen arrive, blowing the first gate, barring Logan and Jessica’s entry, and, killing Holly in the explosion. Logan and Jessica escape into the bowels of an underground 'fish farm'. Francis floods its chambers with sea water but Logan and Jessica manage an escape into a brightly lit frozen cave overseen by the robot keeper, Box (Roscoe Lee Browne). After some initial exploration of the cavern Logan and Jessica come upon the tombs of all the previous runners whom Box has hermetically sealed in frozen wall units. Box now informs Logan and Jessica that they too must be frozen as a possible future food source (shades of Soylent Green). Logan fights back – without much effort, I should point out - destroying Box and much of the cavern, to reveal a porthole leading to the outside world...but is this sanctuary?
Decidedly not! In fact, after walking some distance through swampy marshes and densely overgrown forests, Logan and Jessica come upon the tattered remains of Washington D.C., a city they have never known but whose landmarks are distinct and easily recognizable to the rest of us. In the Capitol Building Logan and Jessica discover 'Old Man' (Peter Ustinov); a hapless, cat loving curmudgeon whom they promise to bring back to their world as proof that one can grow old. Unhappy circumstance that Francis has found his way to the Capitol Building too and, after a struggle, is killed by Logan in the vine-encrusted hallows of the former U.S. Senate. Logan and Jessica take Old Man back to the city, though why either should desire to return there is, frankly beyond my scope of comprehension.
Leaving Old Man just beyond the city limits, Logan and Jessica are captured and taken to Sandman headquarters where the super computer attempts to extrapolate the true origins of sanctuary from Logan's thoughts. The revelation that sanctuary does not exist is too much for the computer. It overloads and short circuits. Logan and Jessica escape, killing more Sandmen in the process. The city's totalitarian command center self-destructs and the inhabitants are released into the outside world where they discover Old Man eagerly waiting to meet them.
Logan's Run is a gargantuan and very gaudy misfire. The acting is universally terrible, except for Peter Ustinov who has great fun hamming it up and delivers an amusing cameo. Michael York is unprepossessing and awkwardly un-heroic; stumbling through each scenario without fully grasping where any of the action is headed. York’s inability to convey even a shred of visceral energy diffuses the immediacy of the film’s badly concocted ‘escape’ scenario. But even York can seem like an Olivier next to the kitten-faced/blank-staring Jenny Agutter or glowering and beady-eyed Richard Jordan; neither achieving anything more than stick-figure/cardboard cutout caricatures of the wholesome ingĂ©nue and villain respectively.   
I will concede that the matte work and cinematography by Ernest Laszlo is first rate, particularly his melding of the old MGM back lot to paintings of the corroded and overgrown Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Hill. But Dale Hennesy's Art Direction is a disaster. Glen Robinson and Wayne Rose SFX singularly fail to fire the imagination. Fisher-Price has designed better gizmos and gadgets. The miniatures of the domed city in long shot have all the believability of an HO scale train model of the 1960s New York World's Fair. If this is their vision of the future it is one of the most lugubrious and lackluster ever conceived.
Warner Home Video brings Logan's Run to Blu-ray. When the transfer kicks into high gear, the 70mm elements are bright, registering vivid colors and solid contrast levels with a considerable amount of fine detail evident throughout. Unfortunately, optical process shots are extremely grainy and even more obvious to the naked eye in 1080p. The audio is unexceptional, with Jerry Goldsmith's score given good representation. But dialogue is never natural sounding and sound effects very strident – obviously inserted into the film’s post production rather than acoustically integrated into the action on the screen.
Extras are restricted to a rather meandering and self-congratulatory audio commentary from Michael York and director Michael Anderson who gush and coo about the film as though it were the futuristic ground-breaking equivalent to Gone With The Wind. There's also a vintage featurette, badly faded and full frame, where star and director once again extol the virtues of their efforts. If there's nothing like a great sci-fi movie to kick off the summer season of blockbusters than Logan's Run is indeed nothing like a great sci-fi movie! It's not even second tier vintage camp. It's just plain awful, two hours of my life I can never get back. Quite easily, this is one of the worst motion pictures in any genre to be financed by a major Hollywood studio.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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