Science-fiction movies and TV shows with something to say are a dime a dozen, but ones that actually say something are infinitely rarer. The reason for this is that the ideas behind them are intriguing, but seldom are those successfully explored or executed; for every District 9, there are a dozen movies like The Box that just never manage to capture an audience's attention, much less the essence of their core concept, in a way that resonates, much less entertains.
For my money, Logan's Run is one of the genre's revered "classics" that's terminally guilty of being a great premise with some of the worst possible execution; Hollywood evidently agrees, which is why a number of filmmakers have tried in the past several years to remake or reinvent it for contemporary audiences. Now that Logan's Run is being released on Blu-ray, we decided to revisit it to see precisely what it is that's so potent in its mishmash of cultural commentary and futuristic fun, and consider what it is (other than obvious legal entanglements and such) that keeps a reimagining from coming to the silver screen.
The original film was adapted in 1976 by David Zelag Goodman from William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson's novel of the same name, was directed by Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days) and starred Michael York and Jenny Agutter. The story takes place in the 23rd century and follows a "sandman" named Logan (York) who becomes a fugitive, just like the people he once hunted, after he is assigned to find Sanctuary, a mythical place where people over the age of 30 survive instead of subjecting themselves to "judgment," or termination, at a ceremony called Carousel.
Enlisting the help of a young woman who allegedly knows the secrets of Sanctuary, Logan flees from the idyllic pleasures of the futuristic, domed city where Earth's survivors dwell and embarks on a dangerous and shocking journey to discover the truth about the world outside.
What seems most ready to be revisited about Logan's Run is its idea and examination of a youth-based (if not -consumed) culture. Suffice it to say that contemporary pop culture thrives on youth and cannibalizes anything perceived to be old or out of date, which is why creating a story about the cost of celebrating that young and inexperienced life—such as the wisdom to understand it, the maturity to appreciate the value of it or even the ability to preserve it—could be so powerful. Framed by the media saturation that consumes and obsesses over every aspect of youthful indiscretion and immaturity, the population of this futuristic society could almost literally be paralyzed by their fascination with the shortcomings of others, writ large via technology that brings it into every aspect of their lives.
As a result, Logan and Jessica would essentially be battling the infantilization of their own society, attempting to force it to advance and evolve beyond the ongoing gratification of our most base desires, and their fleeing from it would be an initial step away toward achieving greater understanding of themselves and the world around them. If the story followed even part of its original narrative, Logan and Jessica could ultimately stage a revolt against the voluntary terminations of Carousel and use the wisdom and experience of older members of their society to help rebuild a new world that uses their available technology instead of being used by it.
Further, in the film, the world in which Logan and his fellow survivors live is post-apocalyptic, which one supposes is intended to explain why humans now live a life of pure hedonism—a collective psychological response to the horrors of nuclear war, perhaps. But in the book, the world became overpopulated, and as a result people voluntarily subjected themselves to termination in order to maintain equilibrium with the planet's resources. While the idea of a culture responding to terrible acts with wanton escapism is certainly not far afield of reality (look at post-9/11 America, for example), the conception of a new film focusing on these same story elements could revisit them from a more fertile and interesting perspective, either by (in a way similar to Wall-E) showing how indulgence of our laziest tendencies results in our intellectual and physical atrophy or using the post-apocalyptic setting as a wake-up call for the damage we're inflicting upon our planet.
Interestingly, the closest successful contemporary counterpart to Logan's Run is probably Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, which also focuses on a man falling prey to the system that he has sworn to enforce, and that film examined some interesting ideas while also loading the film with more aggressive and exciting action. Even if the film's ideas were simply a foundation, there seem to be countless opportunities even among the scenarios in the original film to enhance the action, and ultimately the energy, of a remake. The initial pursuit of a runner, which shows not only the "process" of the futuristic world but Logan's complicity within that structure, could be a spectacular, pre-credits pulse pounder; Logan's own escape from the domed city could be a series of chases through various areas of the world, including (as is the case in the original film) locations even Logan is unfamiliar with.
Overall, it seems that short of creating a personified villain, rather than the original's godlike use of technology, a new film would similarly need to eventually become a rally for the people to reclaim their lives and escape the shackles of a life half lived, in this case literally. In which case there might not be a classically bombastic set piece at the end, but for a film about the ways in which we focus on the frivolity of youth culture instead of the reality of our own lives, offering a more thought-provoking finale might be thematically and narratively more cohesive.
Finally, there are, of course, the special effects, which even allowing for the primitiveness of mid-'70s technology are in desperate need of an upgrade. While the miniature sets are expertly navigated by director Anderson, most of the other effects are subpar, including guns that seem to fire only about half the time and human-sized sets and locations that, reality aside, need more depth and detail. Personally, I'd be happy if they just went back and redid or completely removed Box, the "ice robot" that is really a man in a refrigerator box; even for the time, the effects on his makeup and mobility simply did not work, and they're all the more egregious now.
Ultimately there is hope for a remake; at last report, Tron Legacy director Joe Kosinski will tackle a version written by The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. But even as a failure itself, either at the time or particularly in retrospect, there's surprising value in science fiction tomes that don't work, because they often inspire as much as the ones that do. Logan's Run is no different, and the release of this Blu-ray provokes thought precisely because it offers as much cultural and social relevance to today's audiences as it did in 1976, even if it sadly doesn't offer the same entertainment value.