A Life in Film is a project where I’m writing about a movie from every year I’ve been alive.


Logan’s Run (dir. Michael Anderson)

Oh, Logan’s Run; a perfectly sort-of-adequate movie that accidentally serves as a very useful point of comparison to talk about another movie that came out 11 months later.

Logan’s Run is one of those—maybe the archetypal—70s science fiction movies that is basically one metaphorical idea running along on a wing and a prayer. It’s about a future utopia where the population is kept to a manageable size by killing people at their 30th birthday. That’s the kind of thing that works pretty well as a reference (“this fuckin’ bar feels like Logan’s Run!!) but doesn’t really make for all that meaty a movie. It interestingly shares with Zardoz a general theme of “ok, so you say we could have a wonderful society through technology, but what kind of sacrifices would we have to make for that, Mr. Technophile???” and then, even more than Zardoz, stumbles on the question of how to make a gripping story out of that. It’s sort of a Kilgore Trout story that managed to escape out into the real world and get made into a movie.

Keith Phipps notes that Loganplays at times like the film is consciously trying to serve as the source for many future parodies of 1970s science fiction,” and that feels about right; chunks of the movie’s weird take on future hedonism even turn up in Demolition Man (and boy is that a movie I didn’t expect to keep turning up in these writeups). Big chunks of it were shot in a mall and look like it; other parts of it are so stagebound that they look like episodes of original-series Star Trek (which, to be clear: no beef for a 1960s TV show to look cheap; major beef for a 1970s feature film to look that cheap).

So why am I talking about this movie I don’t like very much, going on and on about how it’s kind of boring and looks like shit?

Because we live in a world that is absolutely saturated with Star Wars, to an absurd degree, and I think it’s useful to think about how we got here. And I think it’s extremely useful to observe that of course Star Wars* blew people’s minds in 1977 when they were used to Logan’s Run (and Zardoz, and Soylent Green, and Planet of the Apes and such). I mean: who here are *you* more interested in?

Box, the “scary” robot from Logan’s Run
I assume you know these two.

*yes, we’re just gonna call it Star Wars here, that’s what it was called in 1977 (and, I can report, what we were still calling it on the playgrounds of the early 1980s after the name had been retconned)

It’s easy now to take Star Wars for granted now that it’s so culturally dominant; and George Lucas has been a directorial punching bag since the prequels. But if you line it up next to Logan’s Run (and to be clear, these are absolutely peer movies: production within a few months of each other and comparable budgets; Star Wars’ was a bit higher, but not prohibitively so), you can really see all the things he brought to the table, and all the things that broke his way. An actual story that isn’t just an extended riff on a metaphor! Characters that the viewers actually care about (casting Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher may have been the two best decisions George Lucas ever made, decisions that literally ended up changing American cultural history)! One of the great film scores of all time (Jerry Goldsmith did Logan’s Run and he’s no slouch; but John Williams is yet another of those creators who just seems to be operating in an entirely different realm from even their closest near-peers. Midway, another 1976 film, is absolute dogshit except for its opening sequence where a John Williams score tricks you into thinking you’re seeing something awesome)! Thrilling action scenes that weren’t just dudes running in an abandoned mall!

And yeah, the production design, based heavily on the concepts of Ralph McQuarry’s art. Much has been made of Star Wars’ “used future” look, and comparing it to Logan’s Run really lets you see how much that matters. Both movies have a “meeting an old hermit out in the wilderness” scene. Again: which of these looks more compelling to you?

really makes you think, doesn’t it
Obi-Wan Kenobi begins his campaign of lying his ass off to Luke Skywalker

(quick aside here to note that Lucas’ original cut of Star Wars was considered disastrous, and there’s wide agreement now that his then-wife Marcia saved his ass with an editing job that rescued the film; this is important to keep in mind amid all this praise)

When I first saw Logan’s Run a few years ago, I felt like a giant mystery had been solved; some of my earliest memories are of me and all of my friends in grade school all absolutely living and breathing Star Wars. But as an adult, that felt weird; why had it been such a big deal back then, growing into such a bigger deal now? But watching Logan’s Run, I could see it: because it was so much cooler and more immersive than what came before.

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