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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Running Man (1987)
(2019 Reissue)


Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Dawson
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £12.99


Certificate: 18
Release Date: 24 June 2019

Arnold Schwarzenegger portrays Ben Richards, who is falsely imprisoned by the totalitarian state. The year is 2017 and Richards is made to perform on top-rated game show, The Running Man which pits convicted criminals called 'runners' against gladiator-esque 'stalkers'. If he defeats all of these brutal killers, Richards can choose one of three prizes: a trial by jury, a suspended sentence, or a full pardon...

It's a little frightening to see that 1987's The Running Man predicted, quite accurately, the state of mass media entertainment in 2017... but then, as one of the audio commentaries on this disc reveals, TV show American Gladiator was sold to the network by showing clips from The Running Man, with the producer pitching: "We’re doing exactly this - except the murdering part". So it could be argued that The Running Man kick started the very thing it was predicting.

I remember watching this movie back in the '80s and really enjoying it. While it might not be one of big Arnie's greatest movies, there's a lot here to enjoy. In fact, it was surprising to learn (again from the audio commentaries) that it won an award for most violent film of the year (a negative award meant to bring shame on the production), which just goes to show how quickly the stakes have been upped. Not in your wildest claims would you state that this is a violent film. It's worrying how quickly we become desensitised to violence through the media.

The film is loosely based on a Stephen King (writing under the name of Richard Bachman) short story. King himself has stated that the Ben Richards in the film is about as far removed from the character in his story than you could possible get.

The movie is notable for featuring a number of famous sports personalities of the time. Jim Brown (Fireball) was one of the greatest players in NFL history, Jesse Ventura (Captain Freedom) was a professional wrestler and became elected governor of Minnesota 1999-2003, Erland Van Lidth (Dynamo) a wrestler and operatic bass-baritone and Professor Toru Tanaka (Subzero) a professional wrestler and boxer.

The movie has aged surprisingly well. Okay, Big Arnie's one-liners are truly, truly awful - some don't even make much sense, but the primary colour palette and fashion design still makes it appear to be set in the near future. And the plot is very relevant to a modern audience.

Extras include two audio commentaries; Lockdown on Main Street (28 min, 37 sec feature that explores how the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 changed the civil rights of Americans. The passing of The Patriot Act is explored); Game Theory (20 min, 15 sec look at how reality TV shows have evolved); and Trailer (1 min, 26 sec).

The first audio commentary is conducted by producer Tim Zinnemann and director Paul Michael Glaser. The second is with executive producer Rob Cohen. By far the most interesting is with Cohen, as he sets out all of the issues (and there were many) that the production had. In fact it's a miracle that the film was ever completed, let alone that it's as good as it is.

If you haven't seen this for some time, it's well worth picking up. You'll be surprised at how well it's aged.


Darren Rea

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