I’ve been on a big Stephen King kick for the past year, and I’m in the process of devouring anything King related. Because of that, I started reading The Bachman Books, which consist of four early books by Stephen King: Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork and finally, The Running Man. As you’ve probably already guessed, today I’m focusing on the movie adaptation of The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, released in 1987.
THE YEAR IS 2019.
Television is now ruling people’s lives. The most popular “audience participation” game is “The Running Man”-where convicts can win pardons instead of “parting gifts” by defeating murderous henchmen known as “stalkers.” The stalkers haven’t had much of a challenge lately…until Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) comes along.
First, let me tell a bit about the story for the novel version of The Running Man – no spoilers.
The year is 2025, and Ben Richards is coming down on hard times. He has no money, his wife is turning tricks, and his 18-month-old baby is dying of a curable disease. What’s a man to do but go on a reality TV show and earn some much-needed moolah.
Ben Richards gets signed to star on The Running Man series, a show that forces a contestant to stay alive for an allotted amount of time, while Hunters seek them down. Each hour he stays alive, he earns money. Also part of the game is the chance for bystanders to get involved, either by reporting him or helping in his death. Everything is done for the dollar, dollar bills y’all.
That’s the general gist of The Running Man book by Stephen King. Doesn’t sound very much like the movie does it. That’s because the film takes the general concept of the book and turns into something completely different and unique. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story, but damn, do I love the movie a lot more.
The Running Man movie, which takes place in 2017/2019 is about Arnold playing Ben Richards, a government pilot who is wrongly convicted and escapes prison. He eventually gets caught and is placed on the hit show The Running Man, hosted by Killian, played wonderfully by Richard Dawson (the word is, he wasn’t really acting). The point of The Running Man is to stay alive as long as possible, but that is made difficult when you are being chased down by Stalkers (replacing Hunters in the book). Each Stalker has his persona and a deadly arsenal of weapons. It’s all extremely over the top, but the people love it!
Of course, this is an Arnold movie, so we know he is going to be the one to come out on top at the end, but the journey there is what makes this movie so damn fun. We have those crazy Stalkers chewing up the scenery, either with deadly hockey sticks, chainsaws or lighting powers. Don’t forget Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom. The man knows how to sell a workout video.
As previously mentioned Richard Dawson is the one that steals the show with his over the top portrayal of a game show host who is in it for the sweet, sweet ratings. It’s just unfortunate that he messed with the wrong man!
Speaking of the wrong man, Arnold does his usual hokey acting job that we have all come to love. He spews one-liners all over the place, and I can’t help get a boner each time he says something so damn catchy.
Speaking of boners, Maria Conchita Alonso is in this movie and let me tell you, any woman who works out in black lingerie is A-Okay in my dirty little book. Mmm, Maria Conchita Alonso. Can she act? Not really, but hot damn is she damn hot.
The Running Man was made to be a fun, sci-fi action flick and that is exactly what it delivers. It’s consistently entertaining you with over the top action while churning out one-liners and some sweet synth heavy tunes by Top Gun composer Harold Faltermeyer. How can you not love this cheesy flick?!? Well, I guess you could probably find some faults with the plot holes that are numerous (how did past contestants win if no stalkers have ever died?).
Unfortunately, the same positives can’t be said for Lionsgate lame Blu-ray release. Okay, the movie looks pretty darn good, and the audio is through the roof loud, that at times hisses and distorts, but the real crime comes into play with the special features. Who thought to throw on a 24-minute documentary on 9/11 that has nothing to do with The Running Man? At least the other feature about Reality TV relates to the film and gives us the beautiful Sarah Jones to fawn over (perv note – she appeared in Playboy). The only saving grace for this Blu-ray is the two audio commentaries, the first with Director Paul Michael Glaser and Producer Tim Zinnemann and the second with Executive Producer Rob Cohen.
Supposedly the newer Olive Films release (2013 release) of The Running Man is slightly better in both the audio and visual department (although, the Olive transfer seems to have retained some dirt and debris, as somewhat evident in the pictures below. It’s possible that DNR was involved in the Lionsgate release, but I didn’t notice any heavy use). They also scrapped the pointless features.
The Running Man is to me one of Arnold’s better films from the 80s. Fans of the book will probably scoff at the changes, but if you can get over that, you’re in for a pretty wild and hilariously cheesy action filled ride. My vote is to skip the Lionsgate Blu-ray and go straight for the Olive Films one instead.
Lionsgate Special Features
Audio commentary with Director Paul Michael Glaser and Producer Tim Zinnemann
Audio commentary with Executive Producer Rob Cohen.
Game Theory Featurette
Lockdown on Main Street Featurette
Olive Films Special Features
Feature Commentary with Director Paul Michael Glaser