Ultimate Sci-Fi Smackdown: “Logan’s Run” vs. “The Island”
I’ll preface this commentary by stating that I choose not to recognize the phoney-baloney homophone “SyFy,” even if there now exists a basic cable network by that name. Sci-fi is not the offspring of “syence” and “fyction,” and for as long as the green blood courses through my six hearts, I will never call science fiction “sy-fy,” even if it means we won’t be able to get a few more girls to read it. It’s sci-fi, dawg! Forged by Asimov and Clarke, handed down to Stephenson and Butler! All the nerds in the house say “Grok!”
Over the coming months, I’m going to pit a classic sci-fi movie against a modern “sy-fy” movie in deadly, laser-tipped combat. Matte paintings will slug it out with CGI, rubber masks will slug it out with … even more CGI, and the party won’t stop until one movie stands supreme at the center of the universe. For our first match, Michael Anderson’s 1976 film “Logan’s Run” will battle Michael Bay’s 2005 film “The Island.” In the name of Zardoz, let’s get ready to rumble!
ROUND ONE: PLOT VS. PLOT
Logan’s Run: A controlled population of pretty young people live in blissful ignorance inside an enclosed city. One day, a man and woman escape to the outside world, and in the process they discover the city’s dark secrets and the truth of their own existence. In the film’s third act, they return to the city and liberate the rest of its inhabitants.
The Island: Um, that thing I just said.
ROUND TWO: THE SUAVE EUROPEAN LEADING MAN
LR: An English stage and film actor with a handsome face and a mellifluous voice, Michael York plays Logan Five as a purring libertine who subdues his enemies with his inborn English politeness. As the film progresses, he yells a bit and even gets his hair mussed.
TI: Scotsman Ewan MacGregor — actor, motorcyclist and Jedi — plays Lincoln Six Echo as an eagerly inquisitive man of action who doesn’t know his friends from his enemies – until, suddenly, he does. (Michael Bay’s films aren’t known for their character development.) In the course of the story, Lincoln is shot at, beaten and even passes tiny robots through his urinary tract. His expression is always scene-appropriate.
Winner: Ewan MacGregor, “The Island.”
ROUND THREE: THE COSTUMES
LR: The women wear flouncy mini-dresses that look like they were appropriated from the dressing room of a Bay Area fern bar, circa 1975. The men wear black jumpsuits with a fat gray stripe across the breast; they’re so basic that anyone with a seventh-grade education in home economics can sew one up for a cosplay event in less than a day. The producers of “Logan’s Run” were so taken with the film’s costumes that they invited Bill Thomas — who would go on to design the bland jumpsuits and Nehru jackets for Disney’s “The Black Hole” — to provide commentary for the “Logan’s Run” DVD.
TI: Nearly everyone in “The Island” wears white unisex jumpsuits with black accents. Designer Deborah Lynn Scott, an Oscar-winner for “Titanic,” could probably have done better work here if she’d cared. The principals look as if they’ve wandered in from the set of a yoga DVD.
Winner: “Logan’s Run.”
ROUND FOUR: THE CHASE SCENE
LR: Logan and his companion, Jessica Six (Jenny Agutter), escape capture by fleeing through “The Love Shop” — a kind of slow-motion Studio 54.
TI: Lincoln and his companion, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johannson), escape capture in a high-speed highway chase that’s punctuated by the bell-like sounds of gigantic train wheels falling off the back of a flatbed truck. Never mind that earlier in the film, the trains of the future are shown to hover on magnetic levitation tracks and have no wheels. Hey, it’s my fault for asking, right?
Winner: “The Island.”
ROUND FIVE: THE COMIC RELIEF
LR: Peter Ustinov, in doddering-old-fool mode. His performance is a graceful and charming triumph of character humor. He’s bringing his A game to a C-minus movie, and he doesn’t mind. Also: Roscoe Lee Browne provides the voice of “Box,” a walking, talking Frigidaire.
TI: Steve Buscemi, in Steve Buscemi-taking-a-action-movie-paycheck mode. He’s played the same pop-eyed dweeb in several such movies — “Armageddon” and “Final Fantasy” among them – and while I’m almost always happy to see Buscemi at work, he really needs to stop taking these scripts and let Jeff Goldblum have a chance.
Winner: Peter Ustinov, “Logan’s Run.”
ROUND SIX: THE IT GIRL
LR: The late Farrah Fawcett has a small part as Holly, the receptionist at a cosmetic surgery clinic. She gave as credible a performance as one can give under such circumstances, and she looks amazing.
TI: Scarlett Johannson pretty much phones in her performance as Jordan Two Delta. She probably had a head full of Tom Waits songs during shooting. Still, she looks nice.
WINNER: Farrah Fawcett, “Logan’s Run”
ROUND SEVEN: THE BAD GUY
LR: The late Richard Jordan plays Francis Seven, Logan’s best friend. He loses his cool when Logan goes rogue. Jordan appears to have a great time in “Logan’s Run,” though he also seems to realize how patently ridiculous the film really is.
TI: Sean Bean is Dr. Merrick, the city administrator. Bean made his name playing calm, refined English villains, and he’s so good at it that he scarcely needs to read the scripts anymore. All he needs to do is say things like “Don’t worry, it’s painless” without losing his bemused smile.
ROUND EIGHT: THE CLIMACTIC “I AM” SPEECH
LR: “NO! Don’t go in there! You don’t have to die! No one has to die at 30! You could live! LIVE! Live, and grow old! I’ve seen it! She’s seen it! Life clocks are a lie! Carousel is a lie! THERE IS NO RENEWAL!”
TI: “It – it’s just… all right, Tuesday night is tofu night, and I’m asking myself ‘Who here decided that everyone likes tofu in the first place, and what is tofu anyway?’ And why can’t I have bacon? I line up every morning, and I’m not allowed any bacon for my breakfast. And – and tell me – let’s talk about all the white. Why is everyone wearing white all the time? It’s impossible to keep clean…”
Winner: “Logan’s Run”
LR: To paraphrase Roger Ebert, the performances aren’t directed so much as they’re curated. The visual effects are horrible even for their time. And a good chunk of the movie was shot inside a Houston shopping mall. It’s got a 6.7 rating on the Internet Movie Database, and I think at least a full percentage point of that score can be attributed to Jenny Agutter’s fleeting nude scene.
TI: I don’t care if the action sequences are exciting, the visual effects impeccably executed or if MacGregor has a lifetime of goodwill banked with me thanks to “Trainspotting.” “The Island” is a more-or-less direct ripoff of “Logan’s Run.” Watching “The Island,” you can’t help but think, really? They’re doing this? Really?
Winner, and match champion: “Logan’s Run.” Logan! You renewed!
Tune in next time, when Jack Smight’s 1977 “Damnation Alley” rolls against Roland Emmerich’s 2004 “The Day After Tomorrow.” Are Volkswagen-sized Madagascar hissing cockroaches any match for deadly “super-cooled air?” Who would win in a George Peppard/Dennis Quaid sneer-off? Find out!