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Monday, July 27, 2015

Static Thoughts - Logan's Run 1977

So Logan’s Run was briefly in the news over the weekend when a forgotten planned reboot of the film got new life with the announcement of an actual director attached to the project.  For the most part it isn’t that surprising the Logan’s Run reboot has languished in movie limbo for as long as it has.  The ‘80s work as farm for reboots and remakes because of the unmitigated amount of creativity and cash in the blockbuster scene and the corporate dominated consciousness of animation at the time.  Conversely viable ‘90s reboot properties may be more limited but they’re also more lucrative due to the growing trend of ‘90s nostalgia.
 The ‘70s is much more of a fallow period for rebootable material.  A lot of the stand out pieces of ‘70s cultural were incredibly driven by the auteurship of their maker like The Godfather, Taxi Driver, or The French Connection.  Alternatively projects like Jaws, The Exorcist, or Dirty Harry have become so engrained as classics of their genre a remake would come off as tired and uninspired like 2013’s ill-advised Carrie rehash.  There are some exceptions to this like the upcoming Creed film that looks to reboot/continue the Rocky story and I think Logan’s Run could be such an exception, not because of the film though, but because of the TV show. 

 Logan’s Run the series was a short-lived CBS-TV miniseries from 1977 that’s basically all but forgotten now.  Something to understand is that TV in the ‘70s is actually a boiling cauldron of experimentation and weirdness, which is probably why ‘70s TV tends to get adapted nowadays whether intentionally or not.  The ‘70s was the era Marvel saw major success with their live action Hulk show alongside a Spider-man show, 2 TV Captain America movies, and a Dr. Strange pilot.  It’s also the era when Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel dominated TV screens alongside The 6 Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.  Even the concept of film adaptations as TV wasn’t that strange in the ‘70s landscape, as Planet of the Apes had enjoyed its own CBS miniseries just 3 years earlier.  None of this is even touching on the complete reversal of approach that was hitting the sitcom circuit in this decade.  ‘70s TV is absolutely the perfect test kitchen to produce the kind of structurally flawed but deeply imaginative and engaging material that’s perfect for a modern paint job. 
That’s where Logan’s Run the show comes in.  The series is technically speaking a prequel to the 1976 film adaptation using a lot of the same props and costumes.  In case you’ve never heard of Logan’s Run it’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in a place called the city of domes.  In the city no one is allowed to live past 30, instead being forced into a strange ritual known as Carousel where they are incinerated with a chance of rebirth in the next generation.  Some people try to escape this fate by leaving the city for the unknown wasteland beyond, these people are called runners and are hunted down by the ruthless police force of the sandmen.  The story follows a Sandman named Logan 5 who goes undercover to infiltrate the runners only to learn a terrible secret and join them. 

The show’s pilot basically follows this structure with the added caveat that because the people in the city of domes have a limited number of names we assume this was just a previous Logan 5.  That’s only the pilot episode though; the main series follows Logan 5 and his runner guide/girl friend Jessica 6 as they travel through the wasteland in a solar powered car alongside an android friend they happen upon named Rem.  Like a lot of ‘70s post-apocalypse stories it’s a very different approach to the end of the world than we’re used to.  Where the ‘80s used the end times as a jumping off point for pyrotechnic bombast and the ‘00s loved to showcase human ugliness and cynicism in the face of doomsday, the ‘70s was more about imagination.  The various post-humanity films of the era like A Boy and His Dog, Quintet, and Logan’s Run all emphasize the wasteland as a place of infinite possibility and conceptual freedom. 
In that regard it makes sense that the Logan’s Run TV show hired D.C. Fontana to work as lead story editor.  Fontana was one of the major authorial forces on Star Trek the original series, even bringing several Star Trek authors with her to work on Logan’s Run.  Her experience looms large over the whole production and every episode is greatly infused with a “serious about our weirdness” attitude.  Fontana is one of the most underappreciated women in classic scifi right alongside Verity Lambert (the original producer of Doctor Who) and it’s great to see how she cuts loose in defining Logan’s Run as her own show.  For instance, a big part of the show is Jessica 6 acting as the team’s moral and philosophical compass.  Like any good team dynamic everyone has their roles, Logan 5 jumps into action first and foremost because he’s a hunter, he’s trained to respond with speedy snap decision.  Rem, the android, is the brains of the group, the logical cool head who remains constantly impressed with his own intelligence.  But it’s Jessica who forms the team’s soul, she’s certainly capable of taking action but her biggest addition to the team is keeping them human and grounded in the face of all this weirdness.

Going back to Rem it’s very interesting seeing this approach to a robot character.  Instead of a service drone in the style of C3P0 or a mechanical Pinocchio like Data, Rem loves being an android and in fact takes great amounts of pride in his identity as such.  It’s a compelling characterization given how strange it is to see a non-human character that actually treasures stuff like not having emotions, not feeling pain, or his own mechanical abilities.  It reminds me of Cyborg from Teen Titans Go or, a bit closer to home, the depiction of the holographic Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager.  For his part actor Donald Moffat does a superb job in the role and is a real stand out of the show.  He never goes over into pompous or insufferable territories despite his “along for the ride” mannerisms.  In the first episode it’s suggest by an antagonist that Rem views his companions as pets and that’s honestly pretty accurate but the show doesn’t really make any bones about that depiction, he simply views them that way because it’s the closest thing to a human relationship we can apply to Rem’s feelings. 
At just 14 episodes the show’s a short watch but it’s amazing the breadth of creativity and strangeness the creators were able to fit into those 14 episodes.  They encounter a Kraven style hunter of people who plays like a proto version of Ricardo Montalban’s Khan from Star Trek 2.   There are fear scientists who have repurposed an old insane asylum; time travelers, aliens, ancient survivors, and even a cult of immortal Satan worshippers who survived the apocalypse through black magic.  It also helps that the show looks just gorgeous for the most part.  Logan’s Run was one of the first TV shows to ever integrate CGI into the FX system which means Logan 5 gets to blast Satanists and time travelers with his laser gun every other episode in some really fun sequences.  More than that though, the costume design for the series is just excellent.  Some of the sleekest and best use of minimalist aesthetic combined with color coordination I’ve ever seen.  It’s all in the style of classical pulp scifi aesthetics like Star Trek or Fantastic Voyage but puts both of them to shame.  Seriously, this show is like a master class in color theory and costume design. 

The Logan’s Run TV show did received a DVD release in 2012 so you can watch it if you’re curious and I highly recommend.  I’ve never been a fan of the original film as despite the trippy ‘70s scifi affects and the super cool visual designs it’s pacing is terrible and it can’t really come up with good things to do with its cool ideas.  Logan’s Run the show takes all the things that worked in the film and pumps them up into a great series with likable characters that oozes creativity and imagination from every pour.  Best of all, Logan’s Run the show doesn’t feel limited by things like genre or metatextual hang ups, it’s a show where no idea was turned away because it “wouldn't fit in a scifi story.”  It’s the kind of completely unfettered creativity married to legitimate enthusiasm that the post-apocalypse genre has been so desperately lacking for far too long now.  If this Logan’s Run reboot really is happening again, this is where they should draw from. 

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