Anticipation: 3/5 The Running Man is a film I’m familiar with in name only. I’ve missed many seminal sci-fi classics over the years, so I was slightly intrigued because The Running Man is one of them and it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had become a household name at that point. I was also compelled to watch it because it would make a great addition to my BFF show on YouTube.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5 Everything I love about 80s action sci-fi thrillers was contained in The Running Man. A future that seemed distant when the film was released but is now dangerously close? Check. Technology that is futuristic yet dated? Check. Parodies of contemporary and classic television? Check. Cheesy one liners that only an actor of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s caliber can deliver? Check, check check! I immediately wanted to watch it again. And again!
The Running Man, directed by Paul Michael Glaser, is the story of Ben Richards, a police officer in a helicopter patrol unit, who is sentenced to jail for a crime he did not commit. Circumstances eventually lead him to be a contestant on the most popular game show in the Cadre, The Running Man. Hosted by Damon Killian, the show has criminals fight for their lives in no win situations. With all the odds stacked against him, Richards who is now a Runner, must find ways to survive against trained fighters called Stalkers, who each have their own gimmick. Can Richards survive long enough to finally be absolved?
Why have I never watched The Running Man before? That’s the question I kept repeating as I viewed the movie. What really works about the movie is that it was released in 1987, but set 2017. Because 2017 is right around the corner, it’s fun to see what filmmakers and writers in the late 80s thought the world would look like 30 years on. Unsurprisingly, The Running Man’s version of today has a distinct 80s lacquer over it. Not only in the fashion, but the technology as well. Society has the Internet, yet people still listen to cassette tapes. Identities are loaded onto a credit card system, but big Network Television still dominates entertainment.
While other 80s films in this genre don’t stand the test of time quite well, The Running Man does because of its choice to make most of society seem normal. People are not dressed in super futuristic clothing. The technology is only slightly modernized, but not to the point that it looks unrealistic. The Harold Faltermeyer score fits in well with the time, yet doesn’t sound dated.
Another element that works well are the themes. The dangers of totalitarianism, consumerism, and media manipulation ring throughout the film. Even though we never see the leader of this world, we see the influence of his reign in the way police and military matters are handled. The man in charge seems to be Damon Killian, who is the media, the producer of ICS, and the citizens love him. There is a game called “Climbing for Dollars” where contestants are attacked by dogs while they attempt to grab cash. Citizens are encouraged to turn their family members in for infractions to earn more money.
The biggest theme however, that is closely related to consumerism, is Media predominance in society. When confronted near the end of the film, Killian reiterates how ingrained media is within society. For 50 years, citizens have been told what to like, eat, drink from Television. Because of state enforced product placement, soft drinks such as Cadre Cola are number one, above Coca-Cola. Moreover, citizens of all socio-economic classes are encouraged to bet on the outcomes of The Running Man because the game gives the public an outlet for their anger and frustrations. They can root for their favorite Stalker to take down awful criminals who are labeled dangers to society.
All of the above highlights the aspect that I enjoyed the most in The Running Man: the use of Propaganda. The concept is introduced early on when Richards is labeled The Butcher of Bakersfield for his role in the attack on the food riot, the crime for which he was wrongfully convicted. When Amber Mendez finds the real footage of the riots, the audience comes to understand just how corrupt the media is with its use of propaganda. This is only furthered by Mendez’s discovery of the previous Running Man season’s “winners” and the doctored footage of their battle with Captain Freedom. As an English teacher, I had so many ideas rolling through my mind on how to use selected clips of the film when I get to the unit on Propaganda and Persuasion. It’s clear that The Running Man has influenced subsequent films in the same genre. So many elements from The Hunger Games in particular seem to be lifted directly from here: Dichotomy of rich versus poor, prepping fighters for the games, forcing people to participate in games that will lead to their death, screens in every corridor to display messages from the media, a control center watching every aspect of the game.
The only flaw I saw in The Running Man came at the very end. After Richards and Mendez successfully carry out the Resistance’s plan, they play a pop song called “Restless Heart (Running Away with You)” by John Parr. The characters, who didn’t really have much romantic chemistry between them, embrace and kiss as the song plays. Groan… The lyrics are a little too on the nose with the plot with lines such as “This is no game,” and “Something in your eyes tell me that this nightmare will end.” Lyrics like that take it from James Cameron levels of awesome to John Hughes levels of sap in 0.3 seconds. It’s a trope I’ve noticed in many late 80s movies, so it doesn’t ruin the movie by any means. However, that song took me out of the movie and made me start questioning it, whereas before I had been thoroughly engaged. Just a minor flaw in an otherwise amazing movie.
Despite the song issue, this movie just worked so well. It was exciting and insightful. If you haven’t seen The Running Man, what are you waiting for? Unlike many movies currently in theaters, this is a fun thrill ride that delivers on all levels. It will make you laugh. It will make you think. But most importantly it will make you glad that the Cold War didn’t turn south.
What did you think of The Running Man? Sound off in the comment section below!
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The Running Man trailer