Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Running Man

Title: The Running Man
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Released: 1987
Staring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Marvin J. McIntyre, Mick Fleetwood, Professor Toru Tanaka, Gus Rethwisch, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown, Erland Van Lidth, Dweezil Zappa

Plot: After being framed for a massacre he tried to prevent Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger), escapes from prison with two members of the underground resistance William (Kotto) and Harold (McIntyre). Plotting to escape the country he soon finds himself drawing the attention of Damon Killian (Dawson) who soon is pulling the strings to line up Ben and his friends as the latest contestants on his hit show “The Running Man” were they will be given a change to win their freedom, providing they can survive that is.

Review: Made at the tail end of his action films period before he moved onto more lighter subject matter, “The Running Man” for one reason or another seems to be frequently forgotten when fans reel of their favourite Arnie movies, which is a shame as it has all the trademarks of his Golden years I.E: One liners, cigars and a healthy dose of OTT action sequences, all of which are present and accounted for here, as well as the usual excuses for Arnie to show off his super strength. So if it ticks so many boxes why then is it so frequently overlooked? Sure that I was rating it so highly, due to the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia clouding my opinion I knew it was time to revisit what I honest belive is an underated classic.

Set in the near future of 2025 America, the film has the look of the majority of the 80’s post apocalyptic movies and when combined with a dated electro score by Harold Faltermeyer who with his synthesiser soundtracked some of the most iconic movies of the 80’s and it’s that same period were the score along with so many of this film keeps it firmly as a piece of classic 80’s nostalgia, while furthering the myth that the 80’s were better than they actually were. Still the idea of reality TV pushed to the extremes being explored in the film, feels only all the more relevant now, than it did upon the films release, with reality shows in recent years seeing contestants living on a rubbish dump as well as seeing who can stay awake for a week without sleep and with producers only continuing to scrape the barrel for ideas and push the boundaries of good taste, so how long is it before we see convicted criminals being executed for general entertainment?

It would seem that aswell as reality shows in 2025, society has also become a lot more obsessed with violence not only with the titular game show but also in a brief scene from “Climbing for Dollars” in which contests climb a rope to grab easy cash, while attack dogs jump eagerly directly below them, while a framed poster in Damon’s office advertising “The Hate Boat” only further emphasises the general mood of this alternative America, with TV being used as a general distraction from the failings of the government, giving TV Executives like Damon a power comparable to that of the government, as they essentially tell the masses what they should think and believe, even more emphasised by his audience shouting out their declaration of love for him at the start of the show and showering the audience with prizes to only further reinforce their material love for him. Still the casting of Dawson as Damon is an inspired piece of casting comparable to that of casting Jerry Springer in “Citizen Verdict” (2003), especially with Dawson being best known as the host of “Family Feud” and “Family Fortune” with his game show host persona jacked up to another level here, as Dawson is clearly having a blast playing Damon, as he plays the audience with smiles while having a truly ruthless side off camera, aswell as being the only baddie to have a comeback for Arnie’s trademark “I’ll be Back” in which he calmly responds with “Only in a rerun” which could honestly be one of my favourite moments of the film.

Plot wise the film rumbles along at a quick place, soon becoming a two thread story, as the action shifts between Ben and Co. as they make their way through the zones, facing off against the various stalkers, with the second main thread concerning Damon and his production team as they struggle to maintain control on the show, especially when Ben takes on a cult status with the audience who are soon backing him to win, rather than backing any of the shows stalkers with Ben inspiring the masses to fight against the brainwashing media and start thinking for themselves.

The cast outside of Arnie are all pretty much cult actors, with the majority of them getting their most recognisable roles, before slinking back into obscurity as is the case with the majority of the “Stalkers” with the only two perhaps recognisable for the more cult obsessed movie goer as is the case of Tanaka (still no idea what he is a professor of though) and more the more noteworthy Van Lidth, who is probably most memorable as the monstrous leader of “The Baldies” in the frequently over looked “The Wanderers” (1979) and here turns up as the opera singing Dynamo and who also seemingly drew the short straw when it came to costuming seeing how he is essentially a walking Christmas tree, while the other stalkers all get costumes more suiting of their personalities from Sub Zero’s (Tanaka) Psycho ice hockey gear, complete with razor sharp hockey stick to the road warrior Esq. get up of the chainsaw obsessed Buzzsaw (Rethwisch).

Gore wise it is surprisingly light, with only a couple of graphic deaths via barbed wire as well as an exploding head and while most of the gore is implied it still remains satisfying even if it’s holding back on some of the more gruesome moments, yet manages to convince the audience that they aren’t being short changed at the same time, which isn’t the easiest of things to pull off, especially when you consider how enthusiastic 80’s cinema was and even more so when it came to gore and violence.

It might bare much of a resemblance to the source novel, but the same could be said for “The Shining”, whose adaptation by Kubrick is frequently named amongst the best adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, unlike the more faithful and Stephen King approved adaptation by Mick Garris and here Glaser makes the smart choice of reeling in the scope of the novel for a more tight and restrained feel and all the more to max the talents of the assembled cast, while making the stalkers more like Gladiators with celebrity status, helps keep the action easy to follow especially with each of the stalkers having their own unique personality, it helps keep the action scenes fresh with each stalker posing their own challenges, unlike the novel who only had the one named hunter aswell as its gung-ho ending which now has unintentional echoes of 9/11.
It might lack subtly but didn’t all the best films of Arnie’s career and it might be more of the same, but it’s certainly not the worse and should definatly be ranked amongst his best, even if it doesn’t have the same cult following that some of the other key titles in his back catalogue have, one thing is clear and it's that everything else pretty much sucked about the 80's atleast they could make a decent action movie as this clearly proves.


  1. One of my go-to movies that I can put on at any point in life ever. Since getting it on DVD, I think I've watched it 5 times (and I got it maybe 6 months ago?).

  2. I can totally understand that Emily. I would rank this my third favourite Arnie movie after Predator and Terminator 2 and it's the same sense of fun that Predator has, which make this such a great film.


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