Monday, April 23, 2012

Logan's Run to Star Wars

Over the weekend TCM showed some 1970s science fiction movies including Logan's Run. I think that the theme was actually science fiction dystopias because they also showed Westworld (robots go crazy) and Soylent Green (the land and oceans are dead so humanity is reduced to eating people). Logan's Run is interesting because it came out a year before Star Wars and because it won an Oscar for special effects.

In Logan's Run, the world's population is confined to a single city (or appears to be at the beginning of the movie). To prevent overpopulation, people are expected to go to an arena and try for renewal (actually all of them die). Some people try to avoid this. They are known as runners. A group of special police, called Sandmen, hunts down the runners.

Logan is one of the best of the Sandmen so he is given a special assignment. It seems that some runners are unaccounted for so he is to go undercover and try to find their sanctuary. Everyone has a "life crystal" implanted in their left hand that shows their age group. Logan's is sped up so that he appears to be 30.

Along the way Logan picks up a girlfriend named Jessica who is part of the underground. After surviving a mad surgeon and some feral teenagers, they find what appears to be Sanctuary. It turns out to be a food storage facility run by a robot named Box who freezes everyone who passes by.

They escape from Box and explore a ruined Washington DC. Eventually they meet an old man who lives in Congress and quotes T. S. Elliot. They return to the city and bring it down.

The movie made money and inspired a TV series in which Logan and Jessica keep going from settlement to settlement looking for Sanctuary. It is never explained why they didn't settle with the first people they encountered. Maybe that's why is only lasted 14 episodes.

So, how do the special effects hold up? To be honest, they weren't that good when the movie came out. The grand special effect is the city. It is a miniature filmed to look like an actual city except it didn't fool anyone. It looks empty and antiseptic.

There are some shuttle cars that look like remade golf carts (which they were). The guns were kind of neat. They had some flame come out around the muzzle. They were not convincing, though. A Sandman would point his gun and fire it and something in the general direction of his muzzle would explode. There was no sense of a projectile or energy beam.

Box is an interesting comparison with C3P0. Box is a multifaceted, mirrored box with arms and a head. You can see the actor inside moving his mouth when he talks and he looks like he could never get up if he fell over (which was true of the actor inside the costume).

The movie saved money by using some existing buildings as sets - mainly malls. It shows. It also has a failing of science fiction movies at the time - everything is too clean.

One reason that Star Wars was so big when it came out the following year was that it was so different from science fiction to date. The production values looked expensive. The sets looked real. No one would mistake Luke's speeder for a golf cart and no one looked at a the Death Star and said, "That looks like a miniature."

But only a year separated them.

One thing that Logan's Run did have was casual nudity. At best, Logan's girlfriend, Jessica, wore an outfit that looked like a short nightgown. It was short enough that you can see her underwear (which changed colors at unlikely times). Occasionally she shucks off her nighty completely. In addition, Box stripped his victims before freezing them in chambers that were transparent from the waist up. This gives a nice view of a couple of actresses painted white.

Prior to Star Wars, science fiction movies were a niche production and made on the cheap. This was one of the last of these movies.

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