On the occasion of William F. Nolan’s 83rd birthday, we revisit this article written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.
Logan’s Run (1976) was based on the classic 1967 novel by two giants of the genre, Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Unfortunately, their own script was not used, and the final adaptation by David Zelag Goodman, who had no track record in (or obvious affinity for) SF, is considered one of the film’s weakest links, along with the leaden direction of Michael Anderson.
Anderson’s box-office hit Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) was a rare case where the director of the year’s Best Picture did not receive an Oscar as Best Director. This perhaps befits the man responsible for such critically reviled genre efforts as 1984 (1956), Doc Savage—The Man of Bronze (1975), Orca—Killer Whale (1977), and the miniseries The Martian Chronicles (1980).
The novel’s tortuous journey to the screen began with producer Stan Canter, whose final payment was $50,000 short of what was promised the authors, so he promptly tore up the check and ate the signature when they refused it. There were also abortive productions by George Pal, with a surfing-oriented script from James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and Irwin Allen.
The MGM production used various futuristic locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as economical exteriors, and it was scored by the late Jerry Goldsmith, a perennial Oscar nominee who won only for The Omen (1976). Logan’s Run received nominations for its cinematography by Ernest Laszlo, who won for Ship of Fools (1965), and for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
In the 23rd century, humans live in a domed city until age thirty, then try for “renewal” in an elaborate ritual, Carousel; this supplanted the suicide parlors called Sleepshops in the novel, an idea MGM had already cribbed for Soylent Green (1973). Runners who try to avoid their fate are quickly terminated by Sandmen like Logan 5 (Michael York) and Francis 7 (Richard Jordan).
Finding an ankh on one runner’s body, Logan is told by the all-powerful Computer that it is a symbol for Sanctuary, which he is ordered to locate in search of 1,056 runners unaccounted for—not one person has ever been renewed. His life clock, which begins to flash red and black as Lastday (i.e., thirty) approaches, is advanced by the Computer so that he can pose as a runner.
Logan seeks the aid of Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), who wears an ankh, while Francis kills a runner he lets go in Cathedral, a ruined area inhabited by vicious children called cubs. At the New You shop, plastic surgeon Doc (Michael Anderson, Jr.) tries to kill Logan, but dies under his own lasers, and his assistant Holly 13 (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) admits Francis is hunting him.
Accepted by the runners, Logan battles the Sandmen and flees through the bowels of the city with Jessica, as Francis follows. In an ice cave, they encounter Box (Roscoe Lee Browne), a robot who creates ice sculptures and has frozen a number of runners for “protein,” and although the cave collapses as they fight their way out to freedom, they make it through, as does Francis.
Outside the dome, Logan and Jessica find that their life clocks have turned clear, as they are at birth, and in the ruins of Washington, D.C., they meet an Old Man (Peter Ustinov), who remembers life as it used to be. Francis arrives, and after Logan is forced to kill him, he and Jessica decide to return to the city, with the Old Man as proof that life need not end at thirty.
Diving into a pool outside the dome, Logan and Jessica find an underwater entrance to the city and try to tell the people the truth, but Logan is captured by the authorities. When he reveals that Sanctuary does not exist, this causes a malfunction that destroys the Computer, and as the city begins to collapse, the people leave their sheltered existence to meet the Old Man.
Both authors discussed the adaptation with me in separate interviews for Filmfax. Nolan called the script “basically flawed since, by his own admission, Goodman knew nothing about writing science fiction. His version of the novel made no logical sense and even [producer] Saul David confessed that he was not happy with it….The death age [was] moved up from 21 to 30 to allow more mature casting.”
Goodman, added Johnson, chose to “borrow the man with the faceted sides, the mirrored Box, from the North Pole, where [he was] in a prison colony, and put him underneath the city in some kind of a refrigeration laboratory, and swap this justification for that justification, and then when they show up there, there he will be. Ta da! But, where’s the logic of him being there?”
Despite its deficiencies, Logan’s Run contains many splendid visuals, and won a special Academy Award for its effects. It spawned a Marvel comic book and an eponymous CBS series, both short-lived, while Nolan (sans Johnson) wrote an outline for an unfilmed sequel, which later became his novel Logan’s World (1977), and completed the trilogy with Logan’s Search (1980). A remake is reportedly in the works.