Back in 1976 when I first saw this movie, my 30th birthday was still some years off. Now with I’ve nearly doubled that milestone I have come to appreciate this film in different light. Imagine a world that is a paradise of pleasure. There is no war, no poverty and no hunger. There is one catch. Upon attaining your thirtieth birthday you are sacrificed in a government sponsored, mandatory spectacle called ‘Carousel. The hope that keeps the population in check is simple. There is a possibility that you will come back again through a process referred to as ‘renewal’. An increasing number of people have lost their faith in the procedure and choose to break the law. Rather than blindly submitting they opt to run in hope of finding some place of safety. To deal with this the government created an elite group of enforcers called ‘Sandmen’ whose function it is to hunt down those that would run. Since the person is already mandated to die exceptionally broad and lethal powers are granted to these officially sanctioned hunters. This is a brilliant and classically constructed dystopian story that aptly demonstrates how science fiction can shroud biting social commentary under the guise of a tale of fantasy. This is one of the oldest and best ways a Sci-Fi writer can express controversial topics without overtly stating a position that those in the mainstream might find objectionable. It’s been awhile since I have revisited this personal favorite but as is occurring with greater frequency the re-release in high definition has provided the perfect incentive. This Blu-ray edition brings new life to the film and provides the resolution to notice details previously not noticeable. As is the case with many Blu-ray releases it gave me the sensation of watching the film for the very first time; something I have not felt in some thirty five years.
The civilization of the 23rd century was much different than the one it replaced. The remnants of humanity live in a domed city that is governed by an all powerful computer. Natural resources are exceptionally space so in order to provide an idyllic life for those that remain tight controls are placed on the one element the computer find simple to control, the population. This was the rationale used to instigate Carousel and warrant the creation of the Sandmen for enforcement. This is taking something that is occurring now to an extreme, sacrificing fundamental human rights so that a select few may enjoy prosperity. In this case the government has undermined the most basic right of all, living. Another common element of the dystopian societies is incorporated here; the caste system. In the dome the population is segmented along the lines of age easily identified by mandatory clothing color. Green is worn by those of the youngest age, yellow by those approaching their final year and red is reserved for the candidates of Carousel. The Sandmen get a sinister black and silver ensemble perfect for the ‘peacekeepers’ of a totalitarian government. This system is echoed by a jewel imbedded in the palm of the hand shortly after birth. The society further dehumanizes it members by eliminating family names replacing them with a first name and number such as Holly-13. These are classic means of demonstrating the government’s intrusion into our private lives. When the film was first released there was a resurgence of this paranoia surrounding a ‘Big Brother’ spying on individuals. Some of this was not irrational as the FBI of the time did maintain extensive dossiers on prominent protesters. There were also the beginnings of concerns over our ecological future as demonstrated by the inauguration of the annual ‘Earth Day’ celebration. A world so toxic that we are reduced to dwelling in domes was the frightful extension of that fear.
The computer has calculated an increasing number of people are escaping Carousel and finding refuge outside the dome. The place of safety is called Sanctuary and the possibility of its existence raise red flags with the computer. A bright, aggressive Sandman, Logan 5 (Michael York), is assigned to discover if Sanctuary exists and if so where is it located, the gem in his hand is turned red, effectively removing his remaining life expectancy. Ostensibly this was to give him a cover in his search for Sanctuary but the promise of restoring his correct color designation ensures his compliance. Logan’s run brings him into contact with a beautiful young woman about to run, Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter). Together the set out on a decidedly non traditional road trip outside the dome into the uncharted countryside.
One of the other thematic aspects familiar to the mid seventies was the generation gap. This film takes the expression’ don’t trust anyone over thirty’ to an extreme. Here a culture of complete hedonistic pleasure is possible since every aspect of life is controlled even to the exact date that you die. It is the ultimate benefit the few on the backs of the many concepts brought to an uncomfortable extreme. At first Logan is a true believer in the system. After all, as a Sandman he was at the top of the food chain. Able to kill the runners that he felt superior to in all aspects. When Logan meets Jessica for the first time he sees a runner as a human being. He is assigned to follow her to discover the place these runners go he finds his lifelong friend and fellow Sandman Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) hot on his trail. More importantly Francis represents a baseline to drive home to the audience the changes going on with Logan.
The cast does an excellent job in presenting realistic characters in a setting that is unfamiliar to the viewer. York is able to bring the audience long with his journey of self discovery. Agutter was perhaps one of the most underutilized actresses of the seventies. She plays off a juxtaposition of innocence and worldliness that comes across as endearing to the audience. Director Michael Anderson knows his way around creating novel worlds on the screen. With such films as Millennium and Doc Savage under his belt he can provide an environment for his cast that permits them the freedom to create something believable to the audience, making them think and entertaining them at the same time.
The Blu-ray is exceptional. The original TODD-AO aspect of 2.25:1 is rendered to perfection with a color palate that pops in high def. The cinematography garnered an Academy Award nomination for good reason. This is a visually stunning movie where the bright primary colors in the dome are contrasted with more muted palate once they get out to the real world. The audio opens up once the dome is left behind providing a broad sound stage making excellent use of all eight speakers. Even if this classic is already in your collection this new edition is well worth the investment.