The Running Man (1987)

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The Running Man (1987)

Post  BoG on Thu Apr 08, 2010 6:45 pm


MARIA CONCHITA ALONSO  Like a Star @ heaven  YAPHET KOTTO  Like a Star @ heaven  and RICHARD DAWSON

Based on a quickly-written story by Stephen King (under his Richard Bachman pseudonym), this became a very loose adaptation once Schwarzenegger was enlisted to play the main character. The intent was to convey the perverse attraction of TV bloodsports to a mass audience, a modern-day recreation of the popular coliseum of the old Roman Empire. However, with the muscular action lead taking center stage, the main point to me was that once you plug in an extra-tough, superior fighter like Arnold, the game falls apart. This film first recalls Rollerball (1975), but other famous takes on this include the old Star Trek episode Bread and Circuses from 1968 and Death Race 2000 (1975). There are also scenes similar to Westworld (1973), with contestants running around some ruins which function as a real world game board, while a staff sits behind-the-scenes monitoring the events.
In the plot, Arnold plays a helicopter cop in year 2019 who refuses to shoot unarmed civilians. He's framed for the mass murder anyway (hey, didn't I just see this again in Demolition Man/1993?) and sent to prison - seems like a very corrupt society. He escapes but ends up on this crazy TV contest show in which condemned citizens run against a gauntlet of costumed 'Stalkers' - muscular, big men dressed in colorful costumes, armed with lethal, unusual weapons. These celebrity assassins are played by big actors, like Prof. Toru Tanaka, Erland van Lidth and ex-footballer Jim Brown. With Arnold around to fight them, this turns into an ideal gladiatorial contest, as the hero takes on differently-stylized antagonists one-by-one.  Jesse Ventura plays an ex-Stalker who eventually takes Arnold's side (Jesse became governor of Minnesota later, while Arnold then became governor of California; it figures). The entire contest is played out on  20 x 20 square blocks of ruins, the remains of an earthquake that hit L.A. in 1997.
The one who steals much of the film, however, is Richard Dawson, playing the host and enabler of this horribly violent show. Dawson, at that point, was best known as the host of the game show 'Family Feud' on TV, which had just finished a successful several-years run. Dawson merely plays a wicked version of himself and it works; he's the ultimate smarmy villain here and, many feel, the best thing about the film. Strangely, no further film career resulted from this (I guess there were no roles revolving around game shows in Hollywood then). It's also amusing that the downfall of Dawson's character is mostly based on the fact that he just annoys everyone quite a bit. However, details of this future society, such as about the government which is obviously very corrupt, are severely lacking, turning this into a violent comic book. Paul Michael Glaser was hired on as director after Andrew Davis was fired and 3 other directors failed, so it's surprising that this film has any success at all. Other recent films with similar dystopian themes are The Condemned (2007) and Death Race (2008). BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10

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