The Running Man (1987)

runningman_1987_poster
The Running Man (1987)
  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Action | Crime | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Paul Michael Glaser
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, Maria Conchita Alonso

Storyline:

A parody within an action thriller. Ben Richards is an innocent man who is sentenced to the Running Man game show, a futuristic audience participation capital punishment television show. While Ben is running from champions with chainsaws and sharpened hockey sticks, the host is busy with calls to the network about ratings.

2 reviews

  • Science-fiction action films with hidden undercurrents are difficult to make in a number of ways. They’re job in some respects is to not only entertain but also relay a certain message to its audience about the current culture that is going on around its viewers. This kind of balance has to work evenly in order for the audience to take away that subtext simultaneously while enjoying the movie. A number of sci-fi films have accomplished this like Minority Report (2002), Blade Runner (1982) or even Total Recall (1990). All of which entertained while also having “a say” on their own specific area in science and technology. For actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would not be until Total Recall (1990) that he would prove to be in a real engaging sci-fi thriller with such a clear message. That’s not to say this film doesn’t have that but it certainly is not as effective getting its message across.

    Schwarzenegger plays Benjamin Richards, a wrongly convicted helicopter pilot who was framed for the mass murder of innocent people looking for food in an apocalyptic future earth in the year 2017 (a little too soon I think). After escaping prison with a couple of fellow convicts, he attempts to flee to Hawaii with a run-in played by Maria Conchita Alonso. To Richard’s dismay, he ends up getting caught and shoved into a live death battle show called “The Running Man” hosted by Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). This also happens to be the most watched TV show at the time. There he must fight his way out or be killed trying to be free, meanwhile billions of viewers watch. The writing, which was handled by Steven E. de Souza, has its positives and negatives. The best thing about his screenplay is that he included plenty of good dialog for Schwarzenegger to spout out to other characters. Since that is one of Schwarzenegger’s strong points, it’s good that de Souza was able to maintain that. It should not have been too hard though since he also wrote for Schwarzenegger’s Commando (1985) as well.

    What de Souza does not accomplish is an intuitive and original script. All characters including Schwarzenegger’s role are pretty much exactly as they are portrayed to be. The only actors who get away with it are Schwarzenegger, Alonso and Dawson because they are the characters focused on the most. Aside from Schwarzenegger and his one-liners, Alonso at least will capture her viewers’ attention with her thick Hispanic accent and some close hugging costumes that she wears. I do question the costume design color and texture though. The look of it resembles that of the strange DC comic superhero known as Metamorpho. Richard Dawson is also convincing in his role as the power hungry and slimy TV host. He really makes his character unlikable in a good sense.

    Audiences will be able to figure out quite quickly who will live, who will die and which character will be developed further. It’s unfortunate too because their are other credible actors like Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura and Toru Tanaka. This kind of mediocre execution is also notable when director Paul Michael Glaser is in charge. Being that he directed a slew of other unfamiliar, unpopular and unknown films like The Air Up There (1994) and Kazaam (1996), it’s surprising that this one gets more attention. But then again it’s probably because of Arnie. The action (which is usually obligatory in a Schwarzenegger flick) satisfies however. It’s by no means over-the-top or inventive but it does keep the movie going. Pacing is an important part in storytelling so that’s a plus.

    Sadly, this does not make up for the cinematography and music. This time around, there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot to talk about. Thomas Del Ruth was the director of photography for this project. Considering he also shot frames for The Breakfast Club (1985) and Stand By Me (1986) prior to this movie, you would think there would be something to say. It’s not like it’s bad camerawork; there have been far worse examples. Yet, there’s nothing to really highlight here. Other than maybe a couple of nicely choreographed dance numbers, the rest of the movie is just too much the same for every shot. Even more disappointing however is composer Harold Faltermeyer’s musical score. Two years later Faltermeyer would compose his all out cheese fest of a score for the buddy cop action flick Tango & Cash (1989), which was beyond catchy with its main theme. Here, Faltermeyer also has a main theme but it is so weak by comparison that it disappoints more than creates a memorable listening experience.

    It has its moments with Schwarzenegger one-liners, consistent action and competent acting by its main actors. However, the rest of the components aren’t exactly the most original. A lot of the supporting characters are predictable, the music is forgettable, the cinematography is bland and its story, which tries to have a culture related undercurrent, doesn’t speak its mind enough.

    Points Earned –> 5:10

  • Sandcooler

    There’s a lot I don’t understand about the movies (see other reviews for proof), but why do sci-fi movies always have to talk exact dates? Why does this have to be set in 2019, rather than just some unspecified future where they somehow still have 80s fashion (it’s still got three years to return)? You know the details are going to look stupid, even though the basic story doesn’t seem far off: we are being lied to, privacy is becoming a privilege rather than a right, and TV shows are getting more tasteless in a desperate (but effective) search for ratings. What I appreciate most about “The Running Man” though is that it doesn’t cram in the social commentary, it’s prime goal is entertainment. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the best perfect lead here, and the villains are just hilariously weird. You know Arnold is going to get rid of every opponent they send him, but it’s still satisfying to see it done. The ending is a little rushed and requires a really sloppy kind of totalitarian government, but I wasn’t into this for the realism.

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