In 2274, the last humans live in a sealed city beneath geodesic domes, run by a computer that controls everything, including human reproduction. Life is hedonistic, but to prevent overpopulation, everyone must die at 30 by a process called Carroussel. Everyone is implanted at birth with a life-clock crystal in the left hand, which changes color as they age and begins to blink at the end. Some who don’t want to be renewed, as they call it, sometimes become runners. Elite policemen called Sandmen pursue and terminate them.
Logan 5 (Michael York) and Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) are Sandmen. Logan finds an Ankh among the possessions of a runner they have terminated. When he meets a girl named Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) wearing an ankh, he learns that it stands for eternal life and a secret society to help runners get to Sanctuary, a mystical place where they can live to old age.
Logan learns that the Sandmen have lost over a thousand runners to this group. He is told by the computer to find and destroy Sanctuary, and to this end, his life-clock begins to flash, and he must become a runner. He meets Jessica and they run together. The ankh is actually a key to an exit-door. Pursed by Francis, they make their way to a frozen cave where a robot named Box (voice of Roscoe Lee Brown) has been freezing runners for years as stored food. They escape and destroy the cave.
Outside, their life-clocks fall off. They see the sun and the city of Washington covered in vines and jungle foliage. In the Senate Chamber, they find the first old man they have ever seen (Peter Ustinov) and his many cats. From what he says, they realize that Sanctuary is a myth. Francis finds them and is killed fighting with Logan. Jessica and Logan take the old man back to show him to the people. Sandmen capture Logan and Jessica, and the computer interrogates them, but is unable to process what Logan has learned and crashes, shutting down the city. The young people wander out into the world and discover the old man.
The film was directed by Michael Anderson from a screenplay by David Zelag Goodman, based on the 1967 novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. It won a special Oscar for visual effects and six Saturn Awards. The music was by Jerry Goldsmith. George Pal had tried to do the movie in 1969, but the plan fell apart. Then there was a script by Stanley R. Greenberg, author of Soylent Green, in which the Carroussel was created, but those plans fell through. The film cost nine million dollars by the end, mostly because of the sets. It was a hit, particularly with young audiences, and helped MGM recover from debt. It didn’t get much love from critics and today it primarily serves as a commentary on the Seventies, but the image of Washington smothered in jungle foliage remains iconic.
Farah Fawcett’s role is small, but she had become famous, and she is prominently mentioned in the credits. Michael York saw her at a friend’s house and recommended her to the director. A relaxed sexuality is prominent in the underground city. One can dial up anybody of any sex to appear at your apartment. Jenny Agutter was unhappy about the skimpy outfit. For years, she refused to go to SF conventions because so many girls would come up to her wearing the costume. For some reason, in the film, the color of her panties changes from scene to scene. Despite the costumes of the female cast and some nude scenes, the film got a PG rating. PG-13 did not exist at the time.
In the book, everyone dies at 21, but they made it 30 for the movie because it would be easier to cast. Still, nearly every actor in the film was older than thirty. The waterfall at the end of the movie is in Fort Worth, Texas. Everyone in the city is white. The only black person in the cast is Roscoe Lee Brown, and he is hidden inside a robot costume. Peter Ustinov improvised most of his dialog in the movie. He recites a good part of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot. After the success of the movie, William F. Nolan wrote a number of Logan Books. There was a Logan’s Run TV series in 1977-1978 and some comic books. Several tries had been made to remake the movie, but it hasn’t happened.