Speculative Fiction Saturday: The Running Man

The_Running_Man_2_68252Okay, is this actually the first time that I have reviewed an Arnold Schwarzenegger film? Well, besides Batman and Robin, the answer is no. Oh, there was that 2012 Total Recall movie, and you can’t mention that bad remake without mentioning Arnold.

The Running Man is one of those films that feels like it could have been intelligent, and some, such as Series 7, actually are. It feels like dystopian future death sport films are pretty much a sub-genre of speculative fiction film. The premise is easy to explain, as Ben Richards appears on a game show where he is given a headstart and then must start running before Hunters kill him.

This is based on a book by Stephen King, when he wrote under the name of Richard Bachman. Certain there are horror elements in this premise, but put Arnold in it, and it becomes an action film. This was back when Schwarzenegger was doing rather unintelligent action films with modest budgets.

The thing about this film is that time has not been kind to it. In fact, the opening text crawl states that the world kind of went to hell in a handbasket in around 2017. Apparently, the government keeps people entertained with a game show, sort of like how Ancient Rome used the Coliseum.

I’ve only read a summary of the book, but the premise was a lot darker, involving a world where the players of “The Running Man” game are in it for a 1 billion dollar prize. In this film version, the contestants are convicted criminals evading their sentence.

The set up is that Arnold’s character, Ben Richards, is a cop who refuses to open fire on protesters, and so they turn him in. Eventually, the game show spins the video so Arnold looks like he did open fire. By the way, the book has a darker ending that I don’t want to reveal, but I will say that if you were going to remake this film, they wouldn’t show it.

Well, Richards is put on “The Running Man”, which is hosted by a man named Killian (Real life Family Feud host Richard Dawson of all people, which is great casting). Once Richards is sent out, a series of Stalkers are sent out after him, and they are costumed like pro-wrestlers. It feels like an addition to the movie.

There is one Stalker named Sub-Zero, and after Arnold takes him out, he has this line of “Sub-Zero, now Plain Zero”. Wouldn’t “Absolute Zero” be a better line? Ah well, Arnold has a lot of really bad catchphrase one-liners in this.

What is interesting is how Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, who eventually became governors, are in this film. Considering that The Running Man is a warning of politics intersecting with entertainment, I’m not certain what is supposed to be said here. I could probably use that phrase to describe the theme of this movie.

The way this film illustrates what the eighties thought a dystopian future is hysterical. All the computers look terrible, and the ending theme just screams “eighties”.