Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.
See also: http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart
My name: Brian Martin
As adaptation: pretty awful.
As filmmaking: seriously flawed.
As science fiction: a true classic.
Combine the last two and you can judge for yourself whether you think you'll like this movie. I like it -- I've always liked it -- because when the SF is good I'm willing to cut some slack on the rest.
It's funny, though: it seems like every time I watch this movie I like something I didn't like before, with the reverse being equally true. For instance, when I first saw it all those long years ago, I didn't care for the parts outside the domed city at all. The last time I saw it (just yesterday) I liked those parts, and was very disappointed in the end, when Logan returns to the city and is interrogated by the computer, a scene I used to love. This, I guess, is what happens when we change and the movies we love don't.
Superficially the movie is very much like the book, with one glaring exception. In the book, the people of Earth are just as scattered over its face as they are in the real world. In the movie, only thousands remain, all grouped together inside a vast domed complex. In both, however, citizens submit to execution at a young age (21 in the novel, 30 here), and, if they don't, they run. They run because everyone has heard the stories of Sanctuary, a fabled place where people can live and die naturally. Also in both, Logan, a member of the elite police force whose duty it is to terminate runners, is charged by the ruling computer to seek out Sanctuary, by seeming to become a runner himself, and destroy it. But all this, of course, is premise. And beyond the premise lies a very different story in each. Unfortunately, these are core differences and to talk about them would be to throw out one spoiler after another.
The really important constant is the science fiction. Though the filmmakers put it under a dome, they retain the futuristic feel of the novel, as well as some of the specifics. There's the Love Shop, for example, which is slightly toned-down version of the book's Glass Houses, where men and women go for sex. And there's the New You, where men and women can alter their appearance, marginally or entirely, with the aid of a scary, many-armed machine. The book's Maze Cars get pulled from underground into the domes, where they shoot through long tubes like so many deposits at a bank drive-through. Other elements are added, the best of which has to be the ritual of execution, cleverly presented to the people as a chance for "renewal." And it all still looks pretty darn good, even almost 40 years later.
Outside the domes, Logan and Jessica meet an old man played by Ustinov, who lives in the United States Senate chamber along with a multitude of cats, each of whom, he proudly states, has three whole names. Maybe I'm just getting older myself, but as I say, this time I enjoyed this section of the film. And it made me wonder if perhaps George Lucas' decision to pursue Alec Guiness for Star Wars the following year was influenced by Ustinov here. An accomplished, mature actor can add a lot to a cast of young talent.
And it's an attractive cast: Michael York (Logan), Jenny Agutter (Jessica), Richard Jordan (Francis, the Sandman pursuing Logan), and, of course, Farrah Fawcett-Majors. Farrah really has no business being in this list -- she's only on screen 5 minutes at most -- but she was a major draw -- just look at how prominently she's featured in the poster. This role came just after her famous poster (a poster, I confess, I never owned) and provided the final thrust for her ascent to stardom. I preferred the British Jenny Agutter, who was not only pretty to look at but also fun to listen to. They all do good work here, and York delivers one of my favorite lines when Jessica suggests that Sandmen don't run: "But this time it's me!" he cries. Isn't that the way of it?
Michael Anderson must have had a few annoying moments over the years. Evidently, after a few test screenings, many of the scenes were shortened or cut, and now that footage appears to be lost. He could have made a mint with a director's cut.