As the dawn’s early light spackles through your window, warming your American Flag bedspread, you reflect upon your freedoms. You put on your blue socks, your red shorts, and your white tank-top and pull out a pair of white New Balance sneakers, perfectly lined with stars and stripes. You start walking outside your safe neighborhood, privately patrolled by the co-op’s security guards, and you say to yourself, “Self… I love ‘Murcia!” It is a perfect dream, is it not? Yet, what if down the road came a gargantuan behemoth in a yellow leotard, ready to take away your freedom, one bad pun at a time? As they take this scum to be executed you think “there should be a show where I can see this girthy riff-raff die!” Thanks to the network gods, who gave you a free-vee, you will be able to see the yellow Big Bird fight for their life at 7 p.m. on The Running Man!
Ah, the 80s, when pretty much every Friday night there would be an action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering Oscar-worthy lines like “Here’s you Sub-Zero… now plain zero!” or “I’m not into politics. I’m into survival!”. I see a lot of youngsters these days wearing clothes from the 80s and I want to say to them (“Get off my lawn!”) “If you only knew what a wild time it was!” Think about it in terms of this movie. Take a hot Stephen King book (Richard Bachman, actually), rip it apart from page one, and construct a crazy Action/Adventure/Science Fiction dystopian world in which people think they can beat Arnold! That was the 80s in a nutshell, man.
The plot is simple (because you’ve seen it a thousand times before): in a world where everything is controlled and no one is free (even when they make you think you are), there is a game show called The Running Man where massive criminals called ‘runners’ compete for survival against professional killers. The Governator, Sophia Vergara’s 80s doppelganger cousin, and a few brainiac criminals do their thing and save us from bad reality television. Simple enough, but what’s more fascinating than the plot is how much Arnold is just there to smoke cigars and say bad lines. If you are a King fan and read the book, you know Arnold is the furthest thing from the Ben Richards of the book. Yet, I must take a stance on this: I don’t care!
I love Arnold’s bad puns! I love Arnold’s banal reactions to what happens to him! I love Arnold has one of the best villains he has ever faced in Richard Dawson (second only to Vernon Well’s “let off some steam” Bennet in Commando). If you picked up the VHS of this movie and expected Arnold to be a William Faulkner character, then I offer my deepest condolences. If you were like me and picked it up with a zeel fever of anticipation, then the 80s were cool for you and we can be friends. My point is The Running Man will most likely end up on lists of bad film adaptations and I say fye on these critics! They are right, but this movie never pretends to be anything other than an awesome 101 minutes of pure Arnold butt-kicking and you should respect it for this!
The director of this 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, Starsky himself Paul Michael Glaser (who went on to give us classics like Kazaam [not with Sinbad] and Band in the Hand), wants to know what is more important to us: A world where freedom is left to the individual or a world where control is important to maintain a civil society? To viewers looking for deeper meanings, the film predates our notion of reality television and how impulsive we are to follow them. Think of the plot of the movie and are we not getting closer to just killing someone every time we create a new America’s Got Talent or Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
Like most Arnold movies, you can find this in any format or any streaming service. The Special Edition DVD from 2004 has a plethora of features dealing with the connections to current (or at least then) reality TV trends and how they predicted the wave. They are great theories, but the one thing missing is an Arnold interview on how much he loved making this movie. That I would have come back for!
Like most red-blooded Americans, I want my freedom to eat a musty dirty water hot dog on 5th avenue while wearing a pair of crocks. I shouldn’t go to jail for this, and if I do, I hope the yellow jumpsuit won’t give me a wedgie!