The Running Man, 1987.
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jesse Ventura, Mick Fleetwood, Richard Dawson, Jim Brown, Dweezil Zappa.
In 2017 a TV show host seems to hold sway over what happens in America – yeah right!
Viewing The Running Man in 2019 is a very strange experience for many reasons, one of them being that the film is set in 2017 and we are now past that point in time. Another reason is that in the ‘future’ that the film is set in, America seems to be controlled by the media and a TV host with an inflated ego seems to have the citizens of the USA in the palms of his hands as people are hounded, tortured and killed in the name of entertainment – as if that would ever happen! It is also weird that Arnold Schwarzenegger went into political life to hold some influence over his adopted countrymen and women, then returned to the entertainment business and took over as host on a TV show that used to be hosted by… oh well, you get the drift.
But enough with the political and social commentary (for now, at least) because, thanks to Fabulous Films, The Running Man is making its debut on Blu-ray in the UK and for a generation of action movie fans it remains one of the staple movies from what is arguably Arnie’s most prolific period, coming as it did between the contractual obligation of Raw Deal and the breakout success of Predator. Back in 1987 the idea of a then-hot Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in a movie version of Stephen King’s (writing as Richard Bachman) story was a very tantalising one, and even though the screenplay deviated from the book in several ways the pairing of Arnie and a brutal King story set in the future seemed like a perfect fit.
By this point in time there is very little need for a plot rundown as this movie is pretty much ingrained in modern pop culture, and even a cursory glance at the trailer tells you all you need to know – Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) is an innocent cop framed for a mass slaughter and sent to prison, where he escapes, is captured and is then given the chance to avoid being sent back to prison by Damon Killian (real-life TV host Richard Dawson), the host of The Running Man, the most-watched TV show in history where contestants have to make it through a huge battle arena where ‘stalkers’ are ready to fight them to the death.
And that really is all there is to it, or rather, if you were watching it in 1987 that was all there was to it. Yes, there are subtexts about consumerism and how TV is invading homes and taking over our lives to the point of desensitisation when it comes to watching people getting killed on-screen in the name of entertainment, but that was all a twinkle in TV executives’ eyes back then, and audiences just wanted to see Arnie kicking the life out of the stalkers who were pursuing him, which he does whilst dropping some admittedly awful one-liners (“Here’s Subzero! Now… plain zero!”, which makes no sense whatsoever) but that is all part of the fun. Arnie is joined by familiar faces like Yaphet Kotto (Alien), Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2) and Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood (nope, no idea) playing what appears to be a futuristic version of himself, and his Predator co-star and also future politician Jesse Ventura shows up as Captain Freedom, the stalker with the most kills.
Of course, Killian is corrupt and will stop at nothing to keep the ratings up, so when Ben Richards turns the heat up and gives the stalkers a proper challenge the host gets desperate and manipulates what is really happening out in the arena to go in his favour – a bit like an evil Les Dennis falsifying the results in Family Fortunes – and in a year when there have been deaths linked to reality television in the UK you really have to marvel at how accurate The Running Man was in its foreshadowing of the way social behaviour and entertainment have become almost indivisible, and when put into context with the current state of politics in the US then the movie does take on a whole new perspective. Interestingly, the two featurettes in the special features are not to do with The Running Man specifically but what it represents in its social context, one of them being about the post-9/11 Patriot Act that many saw as encroaching on their freedom and the other about how reality television has changed the landscape of mainstream TV over the past two decades, referring to The Running Man for its comparisons.
As a Blu-ray release this edition of The Running Man pales into comparison with the recent German special edition in terms of extra content but if you’re not that bothered about bonus documentaries then this HD version is a notable upgrade from previous DVD releases in terms of colour grading and picture quality. A decent sound system is also required to get the full benefit as the constant crowd noises, loud bangs and explosions all help with the immersive experience, and given that television is pretty much heading that way nowadays you could fit in a viewing of the film on a Saturday night between game shows and it is doubtful whether anybody would notice the difference. In any case, The Running Man remains as much fun to watch as it was back in 1987 and thanks to a perceived drop in social standards it is more relevant now than it has ever been. No doubt a remake will be announced anytime soon, if somebody is smart.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★