I've got good news and bad news. In the future, everybody lives in a giant shopping mall. Getting laid is as easy as surfing the net. Getting high is as simple as bug-bombing the house. life is one continuous rock concert.
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There's just one catch: When you hit thirty, they kill you.
That's the world of Logan's Run, a futuristic sci-fi action/thriller that has been finding bits and pieces of itself in films from Demolition Man to Judge Dredd, and from Minority Report to this summer's The Island. It's a film about a man who believes in the system - and takes part in its oppression - only to fight against it when the system tries to take him down.
Logan 5 (Michael York) is a Sandman, one of the few authority figures in a post-apocalyptic world of pleasure. He's the guy who chases down "runners" who fail to show up for carrousel, where 30-year-olds are "renewed" so they can come back as babies. Think of it as a cross between Cirque du Soleil and trap shooting. Every group is born with a birth number - and a color-coded crystal embedded in their palm. As they progress through life, they go through a rainbow of colors, the last of which is red.
When the crystal in your palm starts blinking, your life is over. It's time for Carrousel and "renewal." Fail to show up and the Sandman will come and blow you away. You end up a spill on aisle six, to be va-poo-rized.
One day, Logan pops a "runner" and comes back with various trinkets, including a small Egyptian ankh, the symbol of a resistance whose "hidden rebel base" is called "sanctuary." The very scan of the item freaks out the computer, which immediately gives Logan the following assignment: Infiltrate the runners, find Sanctuary and destroy it. But how, asks Logan, is he going to get any runner to trust a Sandman? Before he can kick himself for asking, this oversized ATM machine sucks up all his life credits, leaving Logan with a blinking red crystal in his palm. Logan 5 is now a runner - whether he wants to be or not - because that "damned machine just took my quarter."
If this were Minority Report, Tom Cruise would be heading out the door, or flushing himself down a giant toilet with a mutant on his back, yelling, "Ruuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnn!!!!"
Logan grabs a buddy, Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), a bad computer date whose agnosticism about "renewal" had been a real turn-off. Now, she's his first choice as he seeks out Sanctuary. She doesn't LOOK like Janene Garofalo, but hey, anyone who talks like Daria must know SOMEBODY on the run.
As it turns out, she does have contacts, none of whom are anxious to take in a Sandman. After all, who's to say he's not just going undercover to infiltrate their network and destroy Sanctuary? If Jack Bauer could do it on Season 3 of 24, they know not to trust this guy. After all, these people are from the future. They've already seen every episode of 24 on DVD, probably in high-def.
In the meantime, Logan's old partner, Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) tries to put them down for being "runners" - though technically, Jessica 6 is still packing credits and Logan 5 wouldn't have to run except "that damn machine stole my quarter."
Along the way, we bump into some interesting characters. Farrah Fawcett (bubble-headed Cupie-Doll star of Charlie's Angels) plays Holly 13, a bubble-headed Cupie Doll who works in a same-day cosmetic surgery clinic (New U). Listening to her babble on is like reading transcripts from the Michael Jackson trial. Peter Ustinov also makes a brief appearance, as a guy who is obviously older than 30. In fact, his character's actual name is The Old Man. Catchy, huh?
Those who've seen Fight Club may notice a scene from Logan's Run that evokes the imagery of a "happy place" with pengins sliding on the ice. I won't explain any more than that, but keep your eyes open. Once you see it, you'll be able to tell your friends, who will immediately call you a flickerati.
In terms of special effects, Logan's Run has not aged well. What was way-cool, the day I saw it during its theatrical release, now seems a little cheesy. The domed city looks like somebody's train set. The costumes are as funny as if Ed Wood had shot this flick and called it Grave Robbers from Space. There's a scene, when Logan goes surfing on the internet (and gets a real girl, not just somebody's picture) that would be cooler if it didn't look more like a puppet show. And yet, we have to remember this was the state of the art before digital effects. Judging it on that basis, it's a tour-de-force. There's actually a lot of thought put into the logic behind those costumes, and the set design (while not quite what we'd go for today) is an amazing investment - including the giant turntable designed for Carrousel and the life-sized pods used for shots of the actors in a futuristic tram.
Then again, next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of this film, forcing it to "do Carrousel" or "die." I suspect that "renewal" is coming up, by way of "The Island," which is also a story about young people who've put their trust in a government that has lied to them, and intends to turn them into dogfood.
"Run, Forrest, ruuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!"
What's valuable about this story - enough to scavenge it for parts - is its cynicism. Released after Watergate and the Fall of Saigon, its young people reflect a generation whose orgies became a way of shutting out the cold, hard reality that their government was lying to them - and likely to ship them off to a foreign land, to be butchered in pursuit of a geopolitical abstraction.
A generation raised on Dr. Spock, whose parents had worked hard to shield their children from the horrors of World War, would see half a million young people called up for a ten-year campaign that would leave 58,000 dead, a couple of thousand missing, and more than 150,000 wounded.
By today's standards, that would be a catastrophe, making today's War on Terror look like a bloody nose.
The Pentagon Papers showed the government was lying about the scale of the war - and its intention to "shut down the sausage grinder." In "Four Dead in Ohio," Crosby Stills Nash and Young make a case every bit as damning as Watergate, the Nixon Pardon or the Fall of Saigon. In memorializing the Kent State Massacre, they sing:
Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'.
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin'.
Four dead in Ohio.
Gotta get down to it.
Soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her and
Found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?
Logan's Run reflects a healthy skepticism, a skepticism lost among the Britney Generation. Coddled by gizmos, gadgets and the comforts of "the system," there's a spooky, sheeplike complacency amongst those most likely to be called up in the next draft. They're like a bunch of Eloi, sunning themselves by the water, as the Morlocks come out to feed - and they don't even know it yet.
But they will.
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