April 20, 2012

LOGAN'S RUN: A Cow's Life

Starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Peter Ustinov, Farrah-Fawcett. Directed by Michael Anderson. (1976, 119 min.)

If you could be reincarnated as any animal, what would it be? 

I've had this conversation on numerous occasions in the past, with my kids on long drives to grandma's house, or during my college years, hanging around the dorm on weekends with chemically-altered friends. My answer has always been the same.

I would come back as a cow.

During those hazy college days, someone would inevitably scoff and say, "A cow? But they're stupid, smelly and live just to be slaughtered." Then they'd try to convince me of the awesome life of a predator like a shark or wolf, or a majestic creature like a whale or elephant, or a housepet living in a loving home. But it was always easy to point out why those choices suck.

First of all, most predators are also prey. I'd hate going through life knowing that each day there was a good chance of ending up in another animal's mouth. And even if you’re a wolf or the biggest Great White in the ocean, you have to deal with gung-ho poachers or pissed-off farmers avenging their sheep, not to mention your life depends on a steady diet of smaller animals to catch and kill, many of which are usually faster than you.

A majestic animal? Sure, we all love whales. But do you really think they swim around basking in the knowledge of how wonderful they are? Then there are the whalers worldwide looking to shove a harpoon up your ass. No thanks.

Yeah, on the surface, being a pampered pet sounds like an awesome life, until you realize the first thing your owners usually do is whack your nuts off. You get no say in the matter. And it would be even worse if you were a dog, because you'd spend most of your life waiting...waiting for food, waiting for walkies, waiting to pee, waiting for master to return home. It's that last point which kills it for me, especially after I recently read an article by a veterinary expert who writes that the reason dogs are so excited to see you again is because, each and every time you leave them behind, they think you are never coming back. Dogs suffer from permanent separation anxiety. Since reading that article, I'm plagued with guilt every time I head off to work, seeing my dog Murphy peering out at me through the window with eyes the size of the moon.

Come back as a dog? Fuck that.

No...a cow's life is the life for me. A short life, to be sure, but during my time on this mortal coil, I'd have absolutely no responsibilities. I wander around a field all day and someone else gives me all the food and shelter I need. Granted, I'd be clomping around in my own filth most of the time, but hell, I do that now anyway. All cows generally do is sleep and eat and make more cows. Sleep, eat and mate...aren't those the very activities a majority of people enjoy the most? Why not condense them into just a few glorious years of real living? And absolutely no mid-life crisis!

What's that you say? Time for slaughter? Well, let's see...I've roamed the meadow a thousand times, tapped every female in the herd at least once and gorged myself every day at feeding time my entire life. Yep...I guess I've done it all. Bring on the bolt pistol.

My argument even managed to convince one of my college friends, a new-age chick who enjoyed listening to CDs of whalesong, that life as a cow would be far cooler than life as a humpback.

By that same reckoning, according to Logan's Run, our future’s gonna be cool, too. You live in a massive domed city, protected from the outside world. You get to hang around in your pajamas, dial up free sex with your remote control, indulge in mind-altering chemicals and basically have fun your entire life while a super-computer does all the work. For further entertainment, you can go to an arena to watch other people explode. Sure, you’re about as educated as the average cow, but so what? Do you really care about the meaning of existence when you can get your wing-wang squeezed whenever you want?

Of course, the population must be kept in check, so you must die when you turn thirty. But, like the cows oblivious to their own mortality right up to the moment when they're tagged in the head at a slaughterhouse, the blissfully stupid inhabitants of this paradise have no concept of death; they think they’re being 'renewed' in a fiery ritual called Carousel (where the aforementioned human combustion takes place each day). Personally, I wouldn’t care if there was no renewel. If you got to spend thirty years of your life indulging in your every whim, isn’t that better than 80 years of working your ass off, only to end up in a nursing home with no control over your own bowels?

But some of the folks in Logan’s Run want to turn 31 and try to run away. That’s when guys like Logan (Michael York) step in. Logan is a Sandman, whose job it is to track down and kill runners (if I were Logan, I'd be a little pissed to be stuck with an actual job while everyone else gets to spend their days getting high and banging each other). A few runners have managed to actually escape over the years, so the central computer instructs Logan to pose as a runner, seek out and destroy a place called Sanctuary, a refuge for runners which allegedly exists outside the dome. Accompanying him is Jessica (Jenny Agutter), who still has a lot of years left, but is so charmed by Logan she doesn’t want to leave his side (I’m not sure why, since Logan’s an egocentric douchebag through most of the picture). On their trail is another Sandman, Logan’s former buddy, Francis (Richard Jordan), who’s trying to kill them every step of the way.

Once outside the city, Logan and Jessica make their way to the ivy-laden ruins of Washington D.C. (an improvement over how the town looks today). It's here they meet an old man (Peter Ustinov, actually billed as 'Old Man') and realize it's possible to grow old and spend the rest of your life with someone you love (yeah, because getting old is so fucking awesome). Suddenly enlightened, they decide to go back to the domed city and free its citizens of a horrible existence of recreation and endless sex.

I know we‘re supposed to root for Logan and Jessica, but at this point I really wanted Francis to blow them away. Instead, after Logan is captured, the central computer taps into his mind and becomes so confused the whole city starts to explode. Supposedly, it’s because the computer can’t accept there’s no Sanctuary. It certainly isn’t because of Logan’s own brainpower, since he doesn’t demonstrate an iota of smarts during the entire movie. Maybe the poor computer stumbled upon the previous nauseating scene when Logan and Jessica learn what marriage is and suddenly decide to be married. Still, whatever the reason, it doesn’t explain why a whole city would go up in flames. I've done a lot of things that confused my own computer and not once did it try to burn my house down

Logan's Run is a silly big-budget bastardization of William Nolan’s and George Clayton Johnson’s much darker novel. Despite the unique premise, the script is on par with a rejected Star Trek episode - these people really are stupid, as demonstrated during an awful scene when Logan and Jessica see the sun for the first time and don’t know what the hell it is. Plus, the romantic chemistry between these two is as engaging as watching otters mate. Most of the effort is put into the admittedly great production design, as well as an elaborate miniature set of the city itself. It still looks like a model, but it’s fun to take in all the details, the same way it’s fun to marvel at doll houses. The filmmakers must have been proud of it, too, because when the story calls for the city to be destroyed, they just can’t bring themselves to do it. Instead, we see strategically placed showers of sparks, along with holographic effects superimposed over scenes of people running in panic. We never actually get to see anything crumble, topple or explode. The visual effects won an Oscar, but not even a year later, Star Wars came along and made Logan's Run look like Plan 9 from Outer Space.

In the end, thanks to Logan, everyone is free from their living hell of non-stop luxury and can now fend for themselves, like a once-loved housepet that owners unceremoniously leave behind when they move away.

Just one more reason I’d rather be reincarnated as a cow.

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