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The Philosophical Science Fiction Psychological Thriller ... of the 1970's

Discussion in 'Film' started by Jayson, Oct 31, 2019.

  1. Jayson

    Jayson Resident Lucasian

    Dec 24, 2015
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    @Angelman messaged me, after seeing my favorite films list, and asked how it was that I liked Logan's Run, because Angel found it rather boring.

    I could have just wrote, "That's because it is boring", and wrapped it up at that, but I felt that this wouldn't entirely explain why I like the film, nor what's special about the film.

    The reason for the admiration, all these years later, is related to a larger topic of what I love about a subset of film within a small pocket of time.

    Before I get into this, firstly, there's an element of "rose tented glasses" here because I was a kid when I first watched the films from this topic, so even if they are horribly deficient, I would still rather enjoy them.
    That said, I do actually think that these films, and the family they belong to, do accomplish something rather a bit unique. And Star Wars actually has a relative in this topic.

    I'm want you to think of three films: Soylent Green, Logan's Run, and Altered State.
    From these three films we can cover from the early 70's (Soylent Green - 1973) to the death at the end of the 70's (Altered State - 1980), and the peak when it began to play itself out (Logan's Run - 1976).

    There are other films which belong, and I'll bring up a few others along the way, but I'll mostly focus on these three because they are a good set of representatives.

    What I am going to discuss isn't just science fiction films from the 1970's, but a subset that I've come to refer to as the Philosophical Science Fiction Psychological Thriller.

    It's a really long genre title, but each word has its meaning applicably.
    Let me break these words and my meaning down...

    These films are slow moving. They have action in them, but these aren't fast paced films, nor are the camera shots incredibly intimate. Instead, they are distanced a bit, and pose a philosophical concept to think about, but don't necessarily answer.

    Interestingly, they are somewhat related to Star Trek in this regard, which originally was a show (at least in the first two seasons) which didn't answer questions that it posed. Instead, it tossed up philosophical conundrums and then had Kirk (usually) go through the vexation of the situation with (typically) Bones and Spock pulling on his emotional and logical reasoning, usually in opposite positions, and by the end, the audience was left with what Kirk decided, but not what the they (the audience) should think - instead, the audience was more compelled to talk about the issue. This is a bit different from previous TV shows which were moral plays which told you what was right morally by the end (Andy Griffith, Bonanza, Leave it to Beaver, etc...).

    Contrary to these moral plays, you had the anti-moral sitcoms: All In The Family, The Jeffersons, M*A*S*H, etc...
    Unlike Star Trek, these shows responded to the 60's moral plays by purposefully muddying the waters and clashing different moral positions against each other, usually over a hot topic of the time, and they also had an interest to attempt to better represent "reality" (to a degree) than the 60's moral plays.

    These would couple with the film industry being taken over by anti-moral films. Films which were very focused on a character's psyche, and unapologetically "real" (in the eyes of the filmmakers).

    We're all used to these films because Star Wars is repeatedly discussed within the context of being a liberation - a breath of optimistic fresh air - from such dark and dreary films like The Godfather, Serpico, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, All the President's Men, and several others.

    So Star Trek was itself a bit odd and unique because it didn't fall in line with the anti-moral trend of the 70's, because it came out in the late 60's a bit before the anti-moral movement began. In some ways, Star Trek can be considered a transitional show with one foot still in the moral play safe zone by being a philosophical play, and one foot out away from that safety net of not telling people what was right or wrong with its show's messages.

    Star Trek would itself join the ranks of this film genre in 1979, and horribly flop (for many reasons).
    As a result of that failure, Star Trek films would never again use this approach of the philosophical psychological thriller.

    Star Trek: The Motion Picture, like all of the others of this genre, moved slow. Very slow.
    These films give time to think, plenty of time to think. The audience also gets plenty of time to take in everything on the screen, and what's on the screen tends to be wide open shots with gentle camera movements more often than extreme angles, tight shots, and lots of camera motion. This is exactly contrary to the anti-moral movement of films, which preferred cameras slung on shoulders and shot nearly guerrilla style - "in the trenches", as it were.

    So we are given a film which meanders, seemingly, through its settings and gives us some abstract philosophical vexation and relies on the thought of what's being discussed in the film being the element that exhilarates the audience rather than the camera blocking, tracking, cinematography, and editing being the way to exhilarate the audience (as the anti-moral movement would employ).

    The other thing these films would do, in regards to being philosophical, is work more like a painting than a film.
    A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey are extreme examples of this, as Kubrick is renowned for making films that work like moving oil paintings. Eyes Wide Shut is probably his best achievement in this art.

    The first two of these are definite entries into the catalog, and there is an argument that could be made that 2001 lit the fire to the entire genre, but my personal opinion is that it's more a whole movement that was just a relative to the time and place than it was an instance of everyone copying a film's language.
    That said, there is a surprisingly strong relationship in form between 2001 and Star Trek The Motion Picture (the two most extreme ends of the period).

    Science Fiction
    This doesn't take any explanation, terribly much. Though, it is important to note that "Science Fiction" in this use (the way I use it here) doesn't mean that it has to do with space or the future.
    It has to do with "academic". That is, things which challenge, or expand upon, a scientific notion to supply a philosophical vexation.

    For example, another film which just enters into this set is at first glance an odd addition to most folks: Rosemary's Baby (1968 - same year as 2001).

    This seems a very strange addition because it's a supernatural film that has nothing to do with the future or space. This is very true, but science fiction at this moment in time wasn't restricted to the future, other planets, aliens, or space like it heavily is today.
    It was quite literally SCIENCE fiction, and the topic of the supernatural was a topic of science in common society of the time. Keep in mind, psionics was REALLY popular and a wealth of the population firmly believed it was possible - so did the U.S. military; or at least, they took it seriously enough to invest in its research and development.

    So the idea of paranormal being a Science Fiction form was very much on-par, even though today we wouldn't quite class it this way.

    Psychological Thriller
    This means that the focus is on unrest more than pure horror.

    This is where Alien departs from the rest of the crowd. What made Alien so incredibly terrifying is that it used the same model as a psychological thriller, but instead pushed it to pure horror with terrifying moments peppered about the film; employing the tropes of the psychological thriller to build and build the quiet tension before popping a horrifying moment.

    A psychological thriller builds slowly and ambitions to make the mundane unsettling.

    This is probably the most critical element of this genre; its heartbeat.
    Soylent Green, Logan's Run, Rosemary's Baby, 2001, A Clock Work Orange, Altered State, West World, Andromeda Strain, Planet of the Apes, The Terminal Man, THX 1138, ....

    They all build and build an underlying tension by overly emphasize the complete normality of the benign around a center that is disturbed, and unwrapping itself to being more and more disturbing as the film progresses. However, they never leap out and metaphorically yell, "GOTCHYA", like Alien does.

    If anything, these films are more likely to build that tension to an incredibly height of unrest and then right as the music climaxes and the camera slowly pans in and hangs ... where Alien would suddenly burst in your face with something grotesque, these films would cut to an entirely different scene of normality like the previous paranoia never happened.

    In some of these films, you really could feel the character's insanity.

    A fantastic modern ancestor to these films is the Netflix mini-series Maniac. If you haven't seen that, do. It's a RARE treat of a film in today's market.

    The employment of this psychological thriller element intends itself to drive the philosophical concept that's being discussed - to make it seem topsy-turvy and to underpin the philosophical paradox or vexation of the film.


    You'll notice that little thing called THX 1138 in there. Yeah. Lucas was definitely part of this culture when he first stepped onto the stage. It's why Star Wars is what it is, rather than JUST a romp of a good time. It has a philosophical thrust buried inside of it that makes it far superior to Buck Rogers or FLASH, even if you had grabbed better actors, and special effects for either film.
    Those are glitzy and fun science fiction films, and even possibly a bit of fantasy tossed in, but Star Wars is a fairy tale because at its core, it is governed by a moral and philosophical discussion.

    And that was squarely in Lucas' mind and styling right at the beginning in THX 1138.


    So this is what's meant by the label. Now on to the discussion. Which, I promise gets around to Logan's Run.


    Today, there's few of these films in popular existence. I can only truly count one.
    But these films inspired a whole set of children films.

    Things like The Matrix, Fringe, The Cell, Aeon Flux (film), and even the reboot of Westworld are all examples of inspirations from this niche genre.

    They all went very differently than the original genre with the ideas and methods, but they are still spawns of this ilk.

    The first season of Stranger Things is arguably also an addition, but I think it tips a bit more towards a more John Carpenter-eque horror thriller than exactly a pure philosophical science fiction psychological thriller. However, it does use a ton of the methods developed in the original genre.

    For these reasons, I called to your mind the three examples of Soylent Green, Logan's Run, and Altered State.

    When you think of these three together, it's hardly any great leap to relate them to the previous list of The Matrix et. al.

    I want to take a moment to highlight Maniac again. This film series is breath taking in ambition.
    It's insanely brave to make such an authentic homage to the genre in this day and time. The show's success is a testament to the genre's core methods; that they still work if employed carefully and by talented hands.

    I hope to see more, but I am not overly optimistic as the genre is quite the antithesis of modern cinema; lacking principally in speed, visceral-ness, dynamics (complex blocking, tracking, editing), and often feared to be "too complex" to the general audience to obsessively consume in large volume.

    In short...these aren't the style of film you would expect to make much money these days.

    With that out of the way....


    Logan's Run is interesting.
    By today's standards, it's boring as all heck. It's just so dang slow, and the payoff at the end of the film is so overly played by today that the idea of a big reveal of societal deceit spawned from an apparent resource scarcity is a bit benign, nor is the idea of synthetics vs natural all that interesting these days.

    These are horses which have been beat more than to death by this point.

    However, for its time, this wasn't the case.
    Logan's Run, in my opinion, is basically THX 1138 converted for a more mainstream digestion. THX was so left-field that it was hard for any audience to really bite into it. It was just this dense wall of art. Too dense.
    Critics greatly praised the film for its style, boldness, and visual storytelling, but equally noted that these same elements were its undoing as almost universally there was a sense that the narrative and character development of the film suffered because of the extreme focus on the visual story telling elements.

    Logan's Run dials that back, while almost giving a nearly same narrative and philosophical conundrum, and setting. The plots, on the larger scale, are very much the same plot.

    However, Logan's Run just goes about it in a very different way. We get more of a movie, instead of a film art nouveau - as we get in THX.

    What's rather interesting to me about Logan's Run at this point is how much is moves its camera blocking and tracking like a much more recent Star Wars film which divided audiences, frustrated the creator, and risked alienating a large portion of the fanbase.
    Nope. I'm not talking about The Last Jedi.

    I'm talking about the Prequels.

    Logan's Run and the Prequels both employ an older style of blocking, tracking, and framing.
    In fact, they even go about exploring their world much in the same ways.
    Wide open long shots slowly panning while characters walk from point A to point B, long scenes of lots of talking and staring at each other, action scenes where the camera never leaves its mounted track and only moves just as much as it has to move to keep things in frame, few pushes and pulls and used for a select few special moments, an interesting juxtaposition of characters expressing extreme emotions while the camera relaxes almost catatonic during the same moment.

    These are just some similarities.

    Watch Logan's Run and then watch Attack of the Clones (to pick one at random - you can pick any of them, really).

    It's a pretty interesting back-to-back experience and you can't help but see the relationship emerge.

    In fact, this is something we also see in A New Hope. It's just even MORE pronounced in the prequels than it was in A New Hope.

    This is what makes the Prequels seem a bit slow and plodding to many folks (even if they aren't aware of it)...because they are very much slow and plodding in camera methods.

    So is Logan's Run.
    This is why I said that the quick answer to Angelman saying that they found the film was boring was, "...it is boring".

    It's boring because the thought that its driven by is no longer a provocative thought.
    Though synthetic vs nature was a HUGE philosophical delimma of the era - one that even Star Wars shoved right into our face with its juxtaposition of the Rebels and the Empire, Jedi and Sith - it's extremely mundane by today's standards.

    And if a Philosophical Science Fiction Psychological Thriller's thought isn't provocative, then the psychological thriller elements used in the camera just come off...well...weird.
    Like someone holding for anticipation about what they bought you, only to reveal that it's a potato.

    It's a sort of, "What? That's it? I don't get it." kind of situation.

    The build up doesn't work right.

    HOWEVER, I find the form in Logan's Run remarkable and breath taking!
    If you watch the film like listening to an orchestra playing a symphony, then it changes your view of this thing entirely.

    It doesn't much matter that the thought is no longer provocative and is now a trope.

    Instead, you can now see it and listen to it for the pattern it weaves in its swells and motions; the world it paints and how it does so.
    The build and rise that it takes time to accomplish; the setting it gives and then slowly erodes.
    The snaps from tension to normality like nothing ever happened.

    The wide open and brightly lit film that is grippingly suspenseful.
    Again, not by today's standards is this film suspenseful, but it was at the time.
    And think about what it's doing...it's doing that suspense in BRIGHT LIGHT.

    It turned LIGHT into a terror. Making light seem sterile and morbid.

    Some ideas are still unsettling. The idea that you can euphemize death into preservation, for example, is such a dark and disturbing idea - one that we aren't entirely free from nearly being discussed in our extreme culture at this time. We're not there yet, but we're not far off from that being a possible idea brought up, and it is extremely relatable that the means of defending the idea would be an apologetic stance which pleas to the emotion of patriotism and preservation.

    That is to say, by turning things which are good into something that is perverse and dark.
    Something that began with good intentions of liberty and openness, but resulted in oppression and paranoia.

    Watching this film is still impressive to this day because the metaphorical message that it is painting is more than just about an out of date idea of deceived resources scarcity following a near-end-of-the-world scenario (*cough* City of Ember is a remake of Logan's Run *cough*).

    It's more than that, because it's also about society, and what we culturally see as good becoming exactly what is our downfall, and what we see as bad becoming our liberation, yet the ultimate answer being entirely unknown - a wilderness without answer.


    Also worth noting...this film won an Academy Award. It was on footing with Star Wars in its voting year (1977). The other film to receive the Special Achievement Award that year was King Kong.
    Logan's Run was nominated for Art Direction and Cinematography as well.

    This film has been preserved at the Internet Archive, and you can watch it freely (and legally) from the following archival link:

    So....that's my long arse answer as to why I like Logan's Run.

    Brew some good coffee. Get a cozy blanket. Turn down the lights. Shut off your phone. Turn on Logan's Run, and just zone out and enjoy!

    #1 Jayson, Oct 31, 2019
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2019
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  2. Rodney-2187

    Rodney-2187 Guest

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    That's a great post!
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  3. Porco Azzurro

    Porco Azzurro Jedi General

    Jul 12, 2019
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    Now I feel like I have to watch Logan’s Run again soon, when I find time!
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