Sunday, April 18, 2010

Logan's Run, or Why Lot's Wife Turned to Salt

Running Man - Hanson (mp3)
Last Way Out of Here - Paloalto (mp3)

You can never go home again.
Don't look back.

I disobeyed both rules -- one literary, one biblical -- and stayed up until 1:30 a.m. a few nights ago to watch, in its painful entirety, LOGAN'S RUN. It's the first science fiction movie I can remember seeing, and I'm almost positive it's the first time I ever saw bare, live-action boobies. In fact, I started watching the film because I wanted to be sure my boobies memory was accurate, but who was I kidding? Boys never forget their first boobies.

I first saw the 1976 movie on HBO when we first got the service in 1982. It was on one evening when my parents weren't home and my brothers were "babysitting" me, which really meant they were in the rec room smoking pot and playing pool with friends. Although I can't be certain, I suspect there were moments when my nose actually made contact with the glass on that television, I was so intent on absorbing the energy of that completely verboten movie.

A few years later, as I started understanding that my parents didn't really care much about what I did or didn't watch as long as they didn't know -- a family-sized version of Don't Ask Don't Tell -- I watched it a few more times.

Because hyperbole and indefensible opinions seem to be popular in the 21st Century, I'm going to take a shot at both:

LOGAN'S RUN represents everything I hate about '70s moviemaking and about the '70s in general.

Here's a super-quick summary. Everyone lives in a domed civilization with limited resources. At 30, people are "renewed," which really means they walk like lemmings to their own deaths, thinking they'll be reborn. Some people run. Logan and his black unitard-clad "Sandmen" are tasked with killing the runners. The HAL of Logan's Run, voiced by Farrah Fawcett to give the machine intellectual gravitas, tells Logan to flee and find "Sanctuary," where runners have successfully started an independent and aging colony. Logan and his dial-a-date girlfriend escape and journey through many climates and cheesy settings to discover the truth that only a bearded Benny Hill could offer. And then they return and share the good news.

If the '80s was obsessed with being overly clever, '70s films were obsessed with being artistic. Midnight Cowboy, widely hailed as a stellar film, has some of the trippiest, most completely useless and random moments captured in film. Across the Universe, a film that actually tries to emulate some mixture of The Wall and the worst parts of '60s and '70s moviemaking, succeeds in emulating those shitty Midnight Cowboy moments in that a lot of it totally sucks ass or looks like it was stolen from a failed Monty Python "revisioning."

What is considered "artistic" in the '70s was heavily influenced by acid. And pot. And, it would seem, some very wild parties, the kind of parties my nigh-Victorian Generation X crowd can't quite even believe existed. I remember when rumors first started circulating about middle schoolers having "Rainbow Parties" -- and we're not talkin' Rainbow Brite here -- and there were Baby Boomers from the Key Party generation whose reaction was, like, "Well geez, that's a little extreme..." And we're like, "A LITTLE?? YA THINK??" And they're like, "Well.... it's not like they're out murdering people and playing 'Helter Skelter' or anything. In the end, it's just a few blowjobs."

I remember a party some 10 years ago where a lot of my coworkers and myself jumped into a hot tub with only boxers or minimal undergarments. It's considered one of the most scandalous moments of my career here. Meanwhile, the Boomers who were there kept wondering when any of us were gonna start screwing one another. They chuckle thinking that what was scandalous in the late '90s involved no bodily contact and no drugs beyond alcohol. As they should.

Logan's Run clocks in at just over two hours. For roughly 45 minutes of that stretch, almost nothing happens. An Adam and Eve character go on a road trip without cars or sunlight. Take the worst parts of The Wizard of Oz, a film which is heavily referenced, and watch them in slow-motion, without Pink Floyd in the background. Stevie Wonder could have done a better job of choreographing the fights, and the "lay-zer" guns they use make Star Trek's 1966 phasers look like Avatar. There are moments I thought I was watching CATS. (Technically a product of the '80s but clearly written during and inspired by the '70s.)

Ironically, the fashion sense and awful special effects in Logan's Run was the clear precursor to the Buck Rogers TV show. I was also a huge fan of Gil Gerard and Erin Gray. Watching that 20 years later was the only compelling argument I've encountered for why TV shows on DVD is a terrible idea, because every wonderful childhood illusion I had about Buck Rogers was blown to smithereens by the third episode.*

Many of Logan's Run's ardent fans seem to defend it with claims of It's A Great Idea. Without question, the concept behind the movie has great potential, and I'll poop on my own head if we don't see a remake in the next decade. But to defend a movie solely because it was based on a cool or interesting idea is to defend George W. Bush solely because Democracy in the Middle East would be wicked awesome. Great ideas poorly executed is the movie equivalent of "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." And the '70s seemed full of great ideas poorly executed.

Here's one thing about Logan's Run that didn't totally suck: Jenny Agutter. Other than her name, which could have been improved if she'd married me, that gal was just about perfect in my eyes. She would have been helped with a Miracle Bra or some other kind of support, but yet again the '70s fails us by encouraging that "Free Falling" breasts look. Ms. Agutter didn't need much acting skill, so I can't say she was good or bad. I can only say her non-threatening hotness gives off a glow in my direction even today.

It was also cool how she meets Logan. He basically has a ChatRoulette teleporter, where random people looking for sex show up when he changes channels. His first reject is a very flamboyantly happy guy. I'd say he was gay, but nothing he did or said suggested he was any less gay or straight than the rest of the movie. It's the future where we're all young, horny, and stuck in terrible outfits.

My point is, critics can complain 'til they turn blue in the face and become one of the Na'vi about how contemporary movies have lost creativity or the '70s spirit of the greats like Woody Allen and Scorcese.

But to me, the entire '70s is one big blinking palm whose LifeClock was dying on the day it was born. The movie is the perfectly imperfect analogy for the decade.


Bob said...

Billy, your comments about the 70's taken as a whole are the kind of overgeneralized overreaching that I normally expect from me.

Any short list of the best American movies is likely to draw heavily from the 70's. Musically, at least in terms of rock, it would have to be considered the pinnacle of the genre.

Logan's Run, in terms of its cast, anyway, seems to be a B-movie at best,or a racy TV movie, which might explain some of its "qualities."

cinderkeys said...

Some friends rented Logan's Run for me the day I turned 30. High-larious. The special effects didn't get me nearly as much as the sets. Apparently in the future, we all live in a big shopping mall.

Billy said...

I was being totally unfair to the '70s, Bob. It's no more fair to say that the entire '80s can be summed up with a Twisted Sister video. Sure, there's a hint of truth in it, but reality is plenty more nuanced than Dee Snyder's "more expensive than John Edwards'" hairdo and leather regalia.

@Cinder -- It would make great fodder for MST3K, no doubt. I don't know if I could handle some of those slow parts, however, even in a jovial group setting. I look forward to the day I'm proven wrong! (The sets, the exploding people, and the pathetic layzer gun explosions... OK, I gotta go rewatch now...)

Anonymous said...

FYI, Farrah Fawcett did not provide the voice of "the HAL of Logan's Run". Instead, I believe it was Laura Lindsay providing the voice. Laura also played the woman runner who was terminated by Francis in Cathedral. So there! :-)