Action Adventure Classics: “The Running Man”

Welcome to the Everything Action segment called Action and Adventure Classics (A2 Classics). With all the amazing special effects driven action movies today it can be difficult to objectively evaluate the older, less flashy action cinema. Nonetheless, some of the most amazing, suspenseful, enthralling and just plane bad-ass action and adventure films were made well before CGI. There are two types classic: there are the classic that have withstood the test of time (That is to say, an older movie that is pure bad-ass), and your instant classics — say, a movie made in recent memory, so immediately good that it becomes a classic. Whatever the case may be, just make sure you pop some popcorn, grab a taste beverage and kick on a classic.

The Running Man Poster
Tell me, what do you think would happen if today’s reality television craze got out of control? Well I have to tell ya, Hollywood had their prediction down pat 20 years ago in the form of an film that was equal parts action and adventure. The second A2 Classic of this week will be the late 80’s film accurately known as The Running Man.

Directed by Paul Michael Glaser, this 1987 futuristic sci-fi film stars none other then the great “Governator” himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger as former police officer Ben Richards. In the year 2017, the world economy has collapsed. The great freedoms of the United States are no longer, as the once great nation has sealed off its borders and become a militarized police state, censoring all film, art, literature, and communications. Even so, a small resistance force manages to fight the oppression. With full control over the media, the government attempts to quell the nation’s yearning for freedom by broadcasting a number of game shows on which convicted criminals fight for their lives. The most popular and sadistic of these programs is “The Running Man,” hosted by Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). When a peaceful protest of starving citizens gathers in Bakersfield, California, a police officer named Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) is ordered to fire on the crowd, which he refuses to do. Subdued by the other officers, the attack is carried out, and Richards is framed for the murder of almost a hundred unarmed civilians. Following a daring jail break months later, Richards is captured once again and forced to appear on “The Running Man” with three other convicts, friends who also escaped with him. With their help, he fights his way through a cadre of sadistic slayers hunting them down through the ruins of a Los Angeles earthquake, but not before promising Killian that he’ll return to settle the score when the show’s host double-crosses him. In the meantime, Richards and the other contestants must search through the ruins for the resistance in the hopes of finally broadcasting the truth about the government.

Richards on stage before Launch

Before I begin to talk about this film, I would first like to bring it to your attention that the screenplay was created from a story written by the great Stephen King under his pseudonym Richard Brachman. it was a 214 page tale with the tag line “Welcome to America in 2025 when the best men don’t run for president, they run for their lives.” Though the film is “loosely” based upon the book, it still owes most of its creative inspiration to the mind of King, who was therefore given a writing credit.

So with that basic frame work laid out for you, picture a film, where the setting is in a destroyed then re-inhabited LA. Throw in, that at the time of the films production, the story takes place 30 years in the future and you have a great recipe for an amazing setting. I give the art director and production designers so much credit for how this film turned out. In a decade where black lights and neon is all the rage, they take it to the next level and manage to create a set that is so tacky and futuristic that you cant take your eyes off of it and strangely it looks like what you imagine it would if you just tacked 30 years on to the 80’s.

I cant bring up the production design without looking at the costumes and weapons now can I. The baddies in this film are decked out with the most hilariously terrifying outfits one could imagine. Spandex makes a very heavy appearance in The Running Man, which I suppose can’t be helped. The ones hunting the contestants, or Slayers, have a wide range of ridiculously evil implements ranging from a dirt bike and chainsaws to a LED covered electricity shooting suit and a dune buggy. The range of props and FX in this film are pretty out there, but it all comes together to give the movie an fantastic, yet believable future vision.

See the Spandex?

The cast of this lovely futuristic action adventure is pretty grand as well. While Arnold obviously leads the cast, he is supported by a plethora of beautiful and/or famous folks of the time. The leading lady of The Running Man is the beautiful and fiery Maria Conchita Alonso who was the former Ms. Venezuela. In contrast to these to protagonists is Richard Dawson who gives a fantastic performance as the host of this sadistic game show. Supporting them is a crew of famous or formerly famous athletes, musicians and cult favorites playing parts key to the success of this picture and doing a good job of it. Most notably are the people playing the Slayers within the game including; Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Erland Van Lidth.

Ventura vs. Governator

Another thing that makes The Running Man such a great film is that fact that it appears that King and the writers of the screen play might have been predicting the future of our society’s television consumption. Look at how man reality TV shows are out there now and how ridiculous they are getting. It went from watching people in a house, to watching former stars in a house to getting people married and now they are simulating putting people in a life and death situation for entertainment. Now what would be the natural progression from that point in entertainment? Yep, you guessed it, either this Running Man style of game show or a Gladiator or Death Race style of show. Sad, true, but the masses must have their entertainment.

In any case the flick is semi predictable and yet entertaining as all hell. The plot is unique and creepily accurate to the way things are going for reality tv in our generation. The cast, while not as recognizable to most people of our age, are perfectly suited to bringing in the crowds to the movie theaters during the time of the films release. The set work and overall design are fantastic and beautiful and the direction was not half bad. Well the film is showing its age, it is till one of my old standby films that I can watch over and over. In short, I suggest if you haven’t seen it, you might want to get on this ride and enjoy the mayhem that is The Running Man. Check it out at your local rental joints as well as Netflix. Stay frosty my friends and remember that every once in awhile you need to kick back and enjoy a classic.


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