When thinking of 1970s science fiction, it is hard not to think of Star Wars first, at least for those of us of a certain age. Star Wars was a phenomenon that overshadowed many of the other genre movies and television series that came out just before or soon after the 1977 release Episode IV: A New Hope. George Lucas, being a visionary in the field of visual effects, most of these productions lacked the same polish and dynamics that Star Wars brought, but many of these forgotten gems have their own charm and personality. In this article, we will examine two such stories, Logan’s Run (the movie and the television series) and Quark.
Logan’s Run (The Movie) – In a distant cataclysmic future, humanity lives a hedonistic live style, protected from the outside world by several domes. They seem to live in a utopia where there every need is provided to them by the computer that governs the city. To keep the population in check, everyone must be renewed (a type of reincarnation) by going through Carousel when they reach the age of 30. Carousel is almost like a religion, the masses are taught from birth that they will only live until they are 30, but will be renewed, coming back as a new baby. Everyone’s names end in the number of their renewal. But from time to time, some do not believe in renewal and want to live past the age of 30. An underground group has formed that believes there is life outside the dome and a place where they can live out their lives in peace called “Sanctuary”. These people are known as “Runners”, and an elite police force known as “The Sandmen”, hunt and kill runners. Logan 5 (Michael York) and Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) are Sandmen and do not question their lives. But when Logan finds an ankh on a runner he has killed, his life gets turned upside down, being given a secret mission to find “Sanctuary” and destroy it. To do this, the ruling computer, updates his timeclock, a crystal on each person’s palm that blinks red when it is time to renew, moving his age up four years and causing him to become a runner. Accompanied by Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), the two escape the domes and journey outside to the vast wilderness that is now Earth.
The film is based on a 1967 novel of the same name by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, but only the basic premise and theme seemed to be captured in the movie which premiered on June 23, 1976, almost a full year before Star Wars. The film met mixed reviews, with most of the negatives complaining about the uneven tone and lack luster script, but it did win a Special Academy Award for Visual Effects and six Saturn Awards, including Best Science Fiction Film. The themes of the dangers of relying too much on technology and the underlying effects of ageism, are explored, and some of the script is quite intelligent but often a bit corny. The action is good, but compared to today’s movies, the story moves quite slowly.
Even with the slow campy story, I still really enjoy this film. It has its own charm and personality that reminds me of the simpler era of movies. The visual effects for its day were quite brilliant and as a child I can remember running around the house with my toy gun yelling “Halt Runner”, the basic Sandman call when they would track down a runner. It is a product of the 70s and it definitely shows in the costume, hair styles and basic characteristics of the cast. A remake of Logan’s Run has been bandied about in Hollywood for about the last 25 years. I’m sure sooner or later it will get made but probably won’t have half the charm of the original.
Logan’s Run (The TV Series) – With the general success of the movie it spawned a television series with a slightly different story. The general premise remained, but Logan 5, now being played by Gregory Harrison, does not get a special mission given to him by the governing computer system, but doubts the validity of Carousel and the idea of Renewal. And when he meets Jessica 6 (Heather Menzies) while tracking down a runner, he attacks his friend Francis 7 (Randy Powell) and becomes a runner himself. The two easily escape to the outside world, where they encounter several different civilizations while they search for the mythical Sanctuary and the other “Runners” from the Domed City. They are joined by new character, Rem (Donald Moffat) an android they encounter in the pilot. Francis 7 is the one that is given the mission, not by a computer, but by a council of elderly men, who are the ones governing the Domed City. With the promise of Francis becoming a council member, he is sent, with other Sandmen, to bring Logan and Jessica back to make them discredit the existence of Sanctuary. The story shifts from mainly being about the Domed city and its inhabitants, to more of an “New Colony of the Week” episodic storyline.
The series premiered in September of 1977 and only lasted for fourteen episodes concluding it’s run in February of 1978. I remember watching the series as a kid (I was 8 when it premiered) but recollect very little about the actual story, so in preparation I rewatched the extended length pilot. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was fun, and I enjoyed both the leads, possibly even liked them a bit more than the originals and felt the two had good chemistry. The idea of two people who have been sheltered their entire lives coming across humanity in different stages of development in the rebuilding of civilization was intriguing. The problem I mainly had with the pilot is the storytelling. The episode felt rushed and tried to pack in too much. We barely see what Logan’s life is like in the Domed City, before he becomes a runner. There is no real lead up to this. In addition, they encounter two different groups of survivors in the pilot, where each one should have been their own episode. The pilot, I feel, falls into the classic blunder of trying to give us too much exposition to quickly, which makes the dialogue feel stiff and disingenuous. Not having the big budget that the movie had, the special effects are a bit lackluster by today’s standards, but par for the course for a 1970s television series. But honestly, it was still a lot of fun to watch, and since the entire season is available on Tubi for streaming, I may try to watch the whole thing again.
Quark – Very much like the Logan’s Run series, I have a strong nostalgic feeling about Quark, but remembered very little about the specifics. So I rewatched the pilot and the second episode. Commander Quark (Richard Benjamin) is the captain of a garbage collection spaceship, that has a giant front opening door that resembles something like a hippopotamus. Banking on the success of Star Wars which came out just months before, Quark, is an “Airplane” like parody of the “Space Opera” genre. The crew consists of Commander Adam Quark, Betty and Betty played by Cyb and Patricia Barnstable real live identical twins who are the navigator and pilots. One is the clone of the other, but the joke is, that they argue over which one is real and which one is the clone. Engineer, Gene/Jean (Tim Thomerson), who is a “transmute” a humanoid with a complete set of both male and female chromosomes, causing a type of split personality which consists of an overly macho male persona and the docile stereotypical female. Ficus Pandorata (Richard Kelton) the unemotional science officer who is also a “Vegeton”, basically a human looking plant. And Andy (Bobby Porter) a neurotic and cowardly box robot. The crew who, in general, is thought to be a bunch of screw ups, end up saving the universe time and again from the Gorgons, the sworn enemies of the United Galaxy.
Unlike Logan’s Run, after watching the first two episodes of the show, I realized it just did not hold up well to the test of time. The pilot which premiered in May of 1977, was borderline offensive, especially on it’s depiction of Gene/Jean, who when he/she was in the female personality, was played more as a stereotypical gay man, than an actual woman, it also included jokes and comments about being uncomfortable around a “Transmute”. The actual series was a mid-season replacement starting in February of 1978. As is often the case, In the time between filming the pilot and the actual series several changes were made for the better. The character of Ficus was added, the costumes and makeup were updated and the female ½ of Gene/Jean seemed to be voiced by someone different, although I cannot find any credit to this, which made the character much more believable. I personally think that they should have had an actual woman play the female portion of the character, with the two actors shifting at the most inopportune times. I also loved the character of Ficus. Richard Kelton did a wonderful job of remaining unemotional, and still delivering his lines in a deadpan humorous way. Unfortunately, Richard passed away of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, just months after the series was cancelled.
The series was only lasted for eight episodes, with the last one airing on April 7th, 1978. Buck Henry, the creator of the series, was the co-creator of one of my all-time favorite shows, the spy spoof Get Smart, which was infinitely more entertaining and humorous. Quark’s music seemed a direct rip off of Star Wars and the plots were satirized versions of many genre productions including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lost in Space, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in addition to Star Wars. Even with its failings, once past the pilot, the show was somewhat entertaining, with some good chuckles here and there, but besides Ficus, the characters were really well developed and the casting played more for laughs then believing in their characters, which can often happen in farce. It did garner one Emmy nomination for its costume designs.
For some of us, the 1970s was a magical time, it was like watching the birth of modern science fiction, transitioning from the 50s and 60s to the more visually stunning 70s and 80s, which then usher in the computer animation era. I remember the anticipation of waiting each week to watch these shows or seeing the films in the theater, and there was something just special about it. Looking back on these productions now, they seem a bit dated, but the feeling of nostalgia is still strong and, to me at least, they are still really entertaining.