Logan’s Run Is Somehow Both Fabulously Dated and Weirdly Timeless

They're gonna fly...and then they're gonna die. (Image: MGM)
They're gonna fly...and then they're gonna die. (Image: MGM)

Logan’s Run was released in June 1976. That means, according to the rules of the movie’s gleaming utopia, it expired 14 years ago — since ageing past 30 is simply unheard of. And while certain aspects of the sci-fi classic are indeed outdated, other elements feel as oddly relatable as ever.

The basics of the story — adapted from the 1967 novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, which even more ruthlessly capped life at just 21 — are instantly familiar, even if you haven’t seen the movie before: a futuristic society run by an AI keeps its population in order by stressing conformity and supplying easy pleasures, while also giving its elite police force free rein to “terminate” anyone who steps out of line. Why so strict? Because there’s a huge lie at the heart of everything, of course.

The main character, Logan 5 (Michael York), is one of those enforcers, a “Sandman” who feels just jolly about zapping his rebellious peers because he believes so strongly in the system. The main tenet of said system is that everyone who goes through a bizarre ceremony called “Carrousel” when their “life clock” (indicated by the colour-changing jewels embedded in their palms) hits 30 will be reborn.

We know, of course, that all this mythology is smoke and mirrors standing in for population control; the shiny, dome-enclosed city is just a dystopia in disguise, with gaping cracks in the foundation that would be obvious if anyone dared to look for them. It is a story sci-fi fans have seen before (and they will again, especially if that much-discussed Logan’s Run remake ever gets off the ground), and it’s obvious from the beginning that Logan — whose crisis of faith leads to some uncomfortable yet liberating truths — will be the guy who eventually opens everyone’s eyes to reality.

Jessica wears an ankh, a symbol of Sanctuary, with surprising boldness. (Image: MGM)

The reason the film has endured is, at least in part, because it’s still so visually striking. The Oscar-winning special effects obviously look pretty primitive next to what we’re used to today, but they suit the film’s aesthetic and you can appreciate how advanced they were at the time. Even more impressively, the Oscar-nominated production design somehow embodies both the 23rd century and 1976: sets were cleverly constructed inside real-life locations like malls and nightclubs; the colour-coded costumes look disco-ready; and Farrah Fawcett, who had her Charlie’s Angels breakthrough that same year, pops up to remind us that her iconic feathered hair transcends time, space, and all media.

That’s not to say there aren’t some problematic aspects to Logan’s Run. Its version of the future is very, very white — the only person of colour in the main cast is Roscoe Lee Browne, who voices the friendly yet murderous robot Box and therefore doesn’t actually appear on camera — and even though the AI has a woman’s voice, all the Sandmen are, well, men. Still, in a world where the idea of “family” doesn’t exist, men and women appear to be on relatively equal footing. In the “sex teleport” scene described below, Logan meets Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) and assumes she must prefer women to men when she resists his advances; it’s a tossed-off, casual observation that feels pretty remarkable for 1976, as does the fact that he doesn’t force himself on her to get what he wants. (Eventually, of course, they fall in love — a novel concept for them both.)

Jessica is a budding rebel who’s fascinated with “Sanctuary,” a rumoured safe haven for “runners” who flee when their appointment with Carrousel looms. When the city computer artificially ages Logan’s own life clock four years, allegedly to help him infiltrate the runners with an eye toward destroying Sanctuary, he panics and realises his only option is to become a real runner himself. One might suspect the computer wanted the city’s secret to be discovered, otherwise why light such a blazing fire under this guy’s very determined arse?

The old man (Peter Ustinov) (Image: MGM)

The real reason, obviously, is so Logan’s Run can follow Logan and Jessica’s flight from the city, where they soon realise the time clock is a bunch of malarkey, stroll through the ruins of what was once Washington, DC, and meet a man who is 30 twice over (Peter Ustinov), if not older, and is living in the former U.S. capitol with what appear to be dozens of cats. His existence is as surprising to Logan, Jessica, and Logan’s fellow Sandman, Francis (Richard Jordan), who’s furiously tracked his former BFF through the wilderness, as theirs is to him, though he’s been alone so long his memory is cloudy, and he’s not really able to explain much about his history.

No matter; even more than in the city scenes, the production design does enough heavy lifting so the script doesn’t need to address it. Without any human population (other than the old man), the planet has been renewing itself all along — really renewing itself, unlike the aged-out denizens of the sealed-in city, who willingly go to their deaths believing their return is guaranteed. When Logan and Jessica return, bringing the old man as proof that Ageing Is Possible, Logan’s revelations cause the computer to have a total meltdown, and he easily takes out all the Sandmen who get in his way.

It’s a happy ending, as long as you don’t stop too long and wonder how these youth-obsessed, depth-challenged people who aren’t used to doing anything for themselves are going to fare, now that they’re totally liberated. (Hopefully, everyone will get at least one pet cat; seems like there are plenty roaming around.) Logan’s Run may immediately conjure visions of ominously blinking jewels, skimpy polyester outfits, and Carrousel’s jaw-dropping high-wire act, but its question-your-reality message still feels surprisingly universal… if you don’t mind a huge dose of 1970s flair to go with it.