Settling down to watch Michael Anderson’s 1976 sci-fi classic Logan’s Run, I was struck by an acute awareness of two things. One was that I felt intense relief having escaped existence in a future age where skin-grafted polo-necks are mandatory. The other was a brutal awakening to the comparative squalor of my surroundings. Logan (Oxford alumnus Michael York) might be forced to run from the governing computer’s distinctly ageist machinations, but the running is done safe in the sanitary comfort of endless reams of gleaming corridors and white, varnished tunnels. More than this, there is a distinct lack of anything recognisably homely; furnishings are utilitarian and usually pod-shaped. No wonder 23rd century entertainment relies on sex.
Whilst to some, the achingly 70s aesthetics might seem bizarre, it is undoubtedly an Obsessive Compulsive’s utopia, with not a speck out of place. This theme of exterior cleanliness covering internal corruption pervades the look of many films of a futuristic ilk. The realm of the similarly tyrannous computer Hal, is the chalky caverns of the spacecraft in the fantastic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here the stark backdrop glares in an incessant spotlight that provides no shield from Hal’s unblinking, one-eyed surveillance.
It is a terrifying brilliance mirrored in Danny Boyle’s more recent Sunshine, which, though an altogether uneven film, is most successful when pronouncing its indebtedness to Kubrick. The awesome presence of the sun is kept on the peripheral, until glimpsed in flares and agonising moments of fear, paralysed in the glare of white light. Again, the action is trapped within a cold, white shuttle. The presence of earth and dirt is a reminder of nature and home, and a relief to the eye from all that whiteness.
Journeying into the future becomes a kind of cinematic equivalent to the medieval morality play; they both ask the audience to reflect upon reality, having been exposed to the fictitious consequences of bad choices played out. Costumes and scenery, even down to basic representative colors, are used functionally, to aid interpretive tracking through the morality tale. The ‘futuristic’ use of white suggests and signifies clinical sterility, and by extension an absence of humanity. A tradition of dystopian worlds blanketed in snowy white-wash has been established in films ranging from A Clockwork Orange to I Robot.
If suspiciously clean surroundings, then, are used as warning bells to send chills down our radar, the leading man must stand out from this bland uniformity. Casting Ewan Mcgregor in The Island seems risky when his natural facial fuzz and characteristic mole denote irreverent grit, unbefitting of the perfection of his white onesie.
However, it is exactly these imperfections that distinguish a sci-fi hero as ‘the man against the system’, translating into wholesomeness and trustworthiness. With Ryan Gosling recently announced to star in a Logan’s Run remake, all that is left to discover is how to make him less than perfect.