Wednesday, October 26, 2005

CULT TV Blogging: Logan's Run: The Series - "Pilot"

"Two hundred years have passed since the nuclear war raged to an end and the computers took over what was left of the world, sealed it off from the outside, and made it perfect. Now, in the domed city of this year, 2319, living is unending joy. Every wish is granted. Every sensual dream is realized. And all the world is young, for in this perfect society, nobody is allowed to live past thirty..."

That's the opening narration (or rather a chunk of it,) that starts off the CBS series from 1977-1978, Logan's Run. The series was an adaptation of William F. Nolan's highly successful (and literate) novel about a future society in which citizens lived in bliss, but only got twenty-one years to do it. The TV show came after the movie, which meant that many of the modifications of the 1976 feature film starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter were also translated to the weekly show. For instance, the original book did not feature "Carousel," the public ritual wherein denizens of the City of Domes watched their brethren "renew" (or not...) in a blaze of energy. But the TV series retained that concept. In fact, the costumes, props and much stock footage from the popular film were all recycled into the TV series. So the Logan's Run series felt twice removed from the Nolan novel, if that makes sense...

The idea for a Logan's Run TV series came while Nolan was on the set of the film, developing a 40-page treatment for a sequel with writer Saul David, Mr. Nolan told me during an interview a few years back. His preference was actually to produce a trilogy of films, but CBS wanted a TV series and paid nine million dollars for the rights to one. Nolan was offered the position of story editor, but wasn't thrilled with the series' concept. "Their idea," he told me for the Cinescape piece, "was to run Logan around in a car every week and encounter new societies underground. After solving their problems, he would return to the surface, get in his car and drive away. I felt that wasn't the way to handle the concept." (John K. Muir, Cinescape: "The Running Man," 2000, page 63.)

Logan's Run: The TV Series thus became a "civilization of the week"-style sci-fi TV series, partly inspired by the concept of Star Trek (exploring a different culture on a different planet every week) and partly by the post-apocalyptic film and TV craze of the mid-1970s, which included the Canadian Starlost, the popular Planet of the Apes films and the short-lived 1974 Apes series. Where the Apes film and TV series dealt with the concept of race and racism translated to a future universe, Logan's Run primarily concerned overpopulation, the idea of an unquestioning and easily-controlled populace, and an overreliance on machinery (computers). The proverb "never trust anybody over 30" - so popular in the 1960s and early 1970s - was made literal in Logan's universe. In the City of Domes, you were either young, or you were dead, and the result was a callow population, unconcerned with anything but its own pleasure (enhanced by drugs and lots and lots of sex). One also senses in this theme an understanding about the "youth culture" dominating Hollywood and the film industry, an age-ism that is even more prevalent today in the heyday of the WB. Their motto seems to be "never cast anybody over 30."

"Logan's Run was dropped in our laps because there was a big problem about how to make this into a TV series," said executive producer Ben Roberts in a Starlog interview back in the seventies. (David Houston, "Ivan Goff & Ben Roberts, Executive Producers of Logan's Run," Starlog # 9, October 1977, page 42.) "When you're faced with Star Wars, or even Logan's Run as a movie, you're talking about nine to ten-million dollar projects. Here we're dealing only with hundreds of thousands of dollars..."

The ninety-minute Logan's Run pilot aired on September 16, 1977, with credits indicating a teleplay by William Nolan, Saul David and producer Leonard Katzman. The effort was directed by Robert Day, and like the movie, opens in the City of Domes as a young Sandman (police officer) in the City of Domes named Logan (Gregory Harrison) watches citizens "renew" at Carousel, the mandatory ritual undergone by all citizens at age 30. Although Sandmen are taught not to question, Logan wonders about Carousel and asks his partner, Francis 7 (Randy Powell) if he has ever actually seen anybody renew. After this conversation, Logan and Francis are called back to duty to terminate a "runner," a citizen who has shunned Carousel and is attempting to escape the closed city for a promised land called "Sanctuary."

Logan meets Jessica (Heather Menzies), a revolutionary who is helping runners escape the city, and after Francis murders the runner in cold blood, Logan clocks him and teams up with Jessica to flee the City of Domes for Sanctuary...somewhere outside, on the surface that Logan had once believed to be barren and poisonous. Meanwhile Francis is summoned to the Domed City's "White Quadrant One," where he meets a Council of Elders...the real power behind the metropolis. All the Council Members are old men - well beyond thirty - and Francis is shocked to learn of their existence. "You're looking at old age," one of the Council Members (Morgan Woodward) informs him, and then offers Francis a position at his side if - and only if - he can capture Logan and Jessica and return them to the city to renounce their heretical beliefs about Sanctuary. So Francis heads off after his former friend...

Meanwhile - outside - Logan and Jessica find a bomb shelter in the grown-over remains of "Greater" Washington D.C. (more stock footage from the MGM movie...). They locate a solar-power hovercraft and use it to begin their quest for Sanctuary. The first society they encounter is one where pacifists hide underground from malevolent, tyrannical "Riders" on horseback who use them as slaves. Logan and Jessica teach the sheep-like underdwellers that some things are worth fighting for, and subsequently defeat the Riders and free the slaves.

Next up, Logan and Jessica run across the Mountain City, a paradise run by robots Siri (Lina Raymond) and Draco (Keene Curtis). Their only wish is to serve Logan and Jessica...permanently, since their Masters are dead. Logan and Jessica realize they have stumbled into a gilded cage, and with the help of the city's advanced android repairman, REM (Donald Moffatt), escape in the hover craft for greener pastures, and hopefully, Sanctuary...

In a nutshell, that's the pilot. I haven't seen it in a few years, and I must say that I enjoyed it quite a bit...more than I expected. I had always remembered the series as an interesting and pleasant failure, but the pilot hits some interesting and successful notes. The three part structure (Domed City/Riders/Mountain City) keeps the story moving at quite a clip, and there are some moments of depth here that I didn't recall. One of my favorite scenes occurs after the escape from the Domed City when Logan and Jessica settle down for the night in a bomb shelter from a time before "the Great War." They're cold and they use bundles and bundles of American dollars (as well as top secret "classified" Defense papers") to stoke their fire. The money and the government documents are totally worthless in this culture, a relic of the past, and Logan and Jessica neither recognize these items as important, nor pay them any mind. This is almost a throwaway moment, but I found it one of Logan Run's most powerful: the idea that a nuclear war would render our currency, our secrets, our very way of life absolutely meaningless. Unlike some other points, this isn't accomplished in heavy-handed fashion, a big preachy moment. It just happens, and the characters don't even comment on it.

Perhaps it's my post-September 11th mentality, but also I felt that the pilot actually covered the idea of an uninformed, distracted populace rather well. An unquestioning people is a lot easier for a government to control - and lie to - isn't it? "Don't question the order of things" is a theme that keeps re-appearing in the early portion of the episode, and I found it particularly noteworthy. I didn't remember this much social subtext was present in the TV show. I know that many people and fans don't like the inclusion of a "Council of Elders" here (and the City of Domes was run by Computer in the movie and novels...), but again - given today's context - it works. A group of corrupt men, a "cabal" if you will, making damning, corrupt policy for the rest of an in-the-dark population is something that our world and our nation is all too familiar with today. I half-expected Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to be charter members of the Council. The Elders may have been a corruption of Logan's original concept, but oddly enough, I think it works in terms of "human nature." Especially now.

Some other aspects of the first show are not so welcome, however. The interlude involving the Riders, for instance, is the weakest element of the pilot. Why? Well, as always, TV has a way of making pacifism equal to cowardice. Here, Logan and Jessica teach the peaceful denizens of a bomb shelter to fight back against their overlords, rather than cling to their beliefs about not spilling blood. "Look what bloodshed has brought to this world!," one pacifist decries...and he's absolutely right. But when he finally fights, he quickly changes his mind and tells Logan that he "feels like a man again." Ugh!
American cowboy values dictate, apparently, that TV shows always hold strong to the belief that there are some things worth fighting for...to the bitter, bloody, apocalyptic end. I wonder if that wasn't the cause of the Nuclear War in Logan's Run...a stubborn, insular belief that our Christian values are alwaysunquestionably the correct ones and we must defend them with violence and destruction. Anyway, I found it particularly distasteful that this portion of the pilot concludes with Logan victorious for the simple reason that he wields a more powerful weapon (the Sandman 'flare' gun...) than the Riders. Brute force beats brute force. This is a mixed message, given the rest of Logan's anti-war message (and the visual of the burned cash on the fire...unrecognized and unimportant).

Getting to the characters: Logan and Jessica are fine; though Jessica is a little insipid somehow. Logan is a nice guy, a more conscientious citizen of the City of Domes than many, though one wonders how he came to be more introspective since he went through the same training regimen (since birth!) that Francis did. I did miss the sexual component of the movie - where Jessica and Logan were casual lovers - and hated to see "family values" creep into the series here. Logan and Jessica hardly make eyes at one another in the pilot and instead are defined simply as "good friends." Kinda like brother and sister. I would have preferred an adult, romantic relationship.

And then there's REM. Donald Moffatt is a splendid actor, and he's Logan's Run version of Mr. Spock. Instead of saying that plot developments are "illogical," he notes that they "do not compute." Almost every science fiction TV show in the 1970s had its own version of the inquisitive, peaceful half-Vulcan Spock, the resident outsider -- not always an alien -- who could comment on humanity and its confusing ways from a super-advanced or at least highly-intelligent viewpoint. Space:1999 (Year Two) had Maya. Planet of the Apes had Galen. The Fantastic Journey had Varian (a man from the future), and Land of the Lost had the Altrusian, Enik. I guess it's just par for the course, and as far as Spock-copies go, REM is just fine. I notice that Star Trek returned the favor by featuring an intelligent, pacifist Android in its next incarnation, one not named REM, but rather Data.

In all, I rather liked this hour-and-a-half introduction to the world of Logan's Run. I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories of new societies starting over from the ruins of an old culture, I guess. I'm always fascinated by the idea of an "old" civilization leaving behind its artifacts and religions and technology...only to have them subverted and misunderstood by those who come next. Growing up, I was fascinated by Mad Max, Planet of the Apes and, yes, Logan's Run. Perhaps because during my adolescence the specter of nuclear war seemed very real. In some senses, these programs (and programs like Genesis II and Planet Earth and Strange New World) offered a strange sense of hope. Yes, mankind destroyed himself, but he got a second chance. And this time...this time, things could be different. We could fix the mistakes that plague our overpopulated, war-weary world.

Logan's Run is a particularly interesting example of post-apocalyptic entertainment because Logan and Jessica come from a flawed society themselves. They are innocents who don't live in a utopia (like the characters of Star Trek), so it will be interesting to see how they confront other cultures that are misguided. They can't lead by being examples of a "shining city" on a hill, and as I watch the series again, I hope the creators remembers that fact.

5 comments:

  1. Do you have any suggestions for where I could find old episodes of this show? It sounds interesting.

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  2. Logan's Run (the series) isn't available, is it? Didn't I sign a petition at some point to release to DVD? Anyway, I remember the series, having read both the book and seen the movie. (Earlier, when talking about sexy gals in scifi, I wanted to mention Jenny Agutter, but you narrowed the field to TV only...) I liked the addition of Carousel to the movie, although the book served up a far more interesting ending (that demanded sequel).

    Haven't seen the series in a very lonnnnnng time. That it was on during the mid-70s antiviolence movement. I recall that the sandman's weapon had to be less lethal in intent and execution on the series (as opposed to the movie) to placate the network censors. I found that to be a cheat. LR the series was a bit too post-apoclayptic in the new planet... er... culture of the week, because we left the domes behind (and the domes and the movie were cool, but too much dr*gs and s*x to give the censors fits (again)). And, Heather Menzies was proof that a pretty face and body wasn't enough. But I agree with you that the Logan and Jessica characters weren't given the opportunity to practice relationships (casual sex) the way that their society did.

    Having said all that, I tuned in dutifully tuned in every week and loved the show (just because I found flaws didn't mean I didn't find reasons to tune in!) And I just realize you said "as I watch the series again" --- Does that mean someone has actually released the show to DVD? Time to google... Nah, I don't see anything. You must have a private stash or connections. Lucky guy. D*mn you ;)

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  3. Logan's Run the TV Series --- hmmm, you might be able to locate some episodes say, by, uh, checking out E-Bay. Might be something there. May not be official, but it's something...

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  4. Please sign the petition for The Fantastic Journey DVD release:
    http://www.petitiononline.com/TFJDVD/petition.html

    Please upload the link at your websites wherever appropriate. Pass it forward! Thanks!

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  5. Anonymous11:41 PM

    I watched the series in the late 70's (good old b&w, by the way) on TV. I was 15-17 years old by then, and I was certainly fascinated by it as much as just by a few others like "Wild Wild West" or "The Prisoner". Some of my favorites no doubt, of that pre-Twin Peaks, pre-Sopranos television era.
    Now recently I was lucky to find most of the episodes with a P2P program, and I must say that I've enjoyed very much. No matter of the prehistoric xeffects and so: it was a great series. To my taste, even better that the film on some aspects. Like Mrs. Menzies' legs...

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