The Running Man (1987)

runningman_2Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Erland van Lidth, Marvin J. McIntyre, Gus Rethwisch, Professor Toru Tanaka, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Kurt Fuller

Directed by Paul Michael Glaser

Expectations: Super high, this is one of my favorite movies.

fourstar


As with Commando, I’m unable to give The Running Man anything less than a full and total endorsement of four stars. I’ve seen this film more times than I could ever remember; at this point it almost seems like I was the one who escaped from prison and got roped into a sadistic, future game show when the girl I kidnapped ratted me out. But my love of The Running Man isn’t blind, and now that I’m tasked with sharing my thoughts, I’ll do my best to relate why I think it’s such a great movie.

The film began its life under director Andrew Davis, who was just coming off of the Chuck Norris movie Code of Silence and would later go on to make such films as Under Siege, The Fugitive and Collateral Damage. Davis was fired after one week of filming, and Arnold is on record saying that this hurt the film because the replacement director, Paul Michael Glaser, shot it like a TV show. I love Arnold, but I have to disagree. The Running Man is gorgeous, and the look is one of the main reasons it succeeds. The film bursts with colors, from bright neons to dark blacks and blues. Thick fog and dirty mists swirl around our characters, filling many of the shots with a level of intoxicating cinematography usually unseen in genre fare like this.

runningman_1The Running Man is also a futuristic film that is unafraid to fully embrace the ’80s and its excesses. In The Running Man people and places look pretty much as they did in 1987, giving the film a familiar, near-future quality. The film also boldly uses ’80s elements such as choreographed dance, rock music (including a searing guitar solo over the Arnold/Buzzsaw confrontation), and quick, visual storytelling like Arnold carrying a gigantic steel girder over his shoulder to show us just how strong and formidable a hero he is. These elements surely date the film as one from the ’80s, but I would argue that overly designed future clothes and the like would date it even more. The choice to use ’80s aesthetics grounds the film and adds to the experience. This particular vision of the future is one of pure amoral excess, something the ’80s were all about for a lot of people.

Another key to the success of The Running Man is the cast. Of course, Arnold is there kicking ass and droppin’ great one-liners as always, but The Running Man also boasts Yaphet Kotto, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Maria Conchita Alonso. The biggest boon — by far — is the use of Richard Dawson as the host of The Running Man. His acting is superb, but it’s his experience and familiarity as a real game show host on The Family Feud that allows the audience to instantly buy into his role (provided they are old enough to remember his days hosting the show). He is the perfect string-pulling, smiling villain mastermind, doing whatever it takes to control the population and raise his ratings.

runningman_3The Running Man also very effectively illustrates how powerful editing is, and how destructive and manipulative it can be in the wrong hands. The opening scene shows Arnold refusing to fire on innocent civilians, but this footage is later edited to incriminate him as an unflinching mass murderer. In the years since The Running Man, TV has obviously gone in directions similar to the title show (and another show featured briefly in the film, Climbing For Dollars). Editing is crucial to reality TV as it constructs the storylines out of days and days of raw footage. There is also crafting of characters going on, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with this in a reality TV setting, I feel like the public is so accustomed to this style of programming that we could easily see something like the fabricated “Butcher of Bakersfield” footage and not even know what was happening. That is, if it hasn’t happened already. Or am I being too paranoid? In any case, check your sources and be an informed citizen. With news outlets willfully and purposefully spinning stories to their party lines, the public has to remain educated so that the future depicted in The Running Man does not come to fruition.

On top of all that, The Running Man is just a whole lot of badass fun. Arnold runs around, taking on comic book style, over-the-top gladiators of the future? If you can’t extract a bucket full of entertainment from that I can’t help you. And yes, I realize the irony of gaining pure entertainment from watching “my guy” kill the other guys, just like the show’s audience in the movie. Hmm… perhaps I’m part of the problem. I guess I’ll just have to watch the movie again to check. The Running Man is a satirical, dystopian, ultra-violent, testosterone-fueled masterpiece of ’80s action. If you haven’t seen it, walk run to your local VidRent unit and spend those credz!

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger is a film that I only saw once as a small child: Red Heat! See ya then (which won’t be for at least two weeks because we have something special in store starting next week)!

8 comments to The Running Man (1987)

  • Another eternally-quotable Arnie flick, and also one of his best! Remember watching this with my mum as a kid and her just LOL-ing through all of the cheese and quotes.

    I think this stands the test of time, because it’s to true to the time in which it was made. Need to see this again soon!!!!!

    • It’s definitely one that stands the test of time. I’ve been watching it since I was a kid and it still holds the same amount of entertainment and delight, no matter how many times I see it. I’ve always wanted to read the book and see how they’re different. I love Stephen King, but I imagine a good amount of what I like about this movie is just in the movie.

  • Dan

    Yippee! A film I’ve seen!

    Great review Will. This is just all kinds of fun. I do think the “game” works better in the earlier rather than latter period but overall this is one of the highlights from Arnie’s early career.

    • Hahahaha, I think that’s a common sentiment around here: joy at finding a movie you’ve seen. Sorry to have so many reviews of obscure movies! My goal was always to get people to read about these movies they’ve never seen and will never see.

      The Running Man game definitely degenerates towards the end, but that’s by design. Arnold is shaking the pillars of destiny, man! I think it’s fine as is, but I also agree; it’d be a blast to see The Running Man game running full steam ahead without Arnold subverting it.

  • Stephen

    This one was a blast. At some point I ought to have an Arnold marathon and rewatch all his old films to refresh my dusty half forgotten memories. Shame that trailer you linked was dead on arrival.

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