The Running Man: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

While “The Running Man” might seem like a somewhat dated action/adventure movie from the 80’s, there’s no denying that it eerily predicts the future in ways we didn’t really expect. Consider, if you will, the fact that the movie is dominated by a sadistic game show that’s controlled by the government. The name of the game show? The Running Man, of course. At the time when it was released, this was just another “Arnold” movie, albeit a good one. Movies like “The Terminator”, “Predator” and “Commando” were already under his belt and though the film seems campy and dated today, “The Running Man” was a modest success at the time. Now back to the “eerily predicting…” part. The game show has criminals running from bizarre men with weird weapons. Granted, that hasn’t happened yet. But, when you think about it, how different is that fictional show than, say, “Fear Factor”? This show might even be worse than the one in the movie, as these people are doing it voluntarily! We watch on week after week as people (usually “beautiful” people, at that) risk their lives, eat pig intestines, they let snakes crawl over their skin, etc. – all for money. Correction – all for the chance of money. Are we crazy? Or has the world really changed that much in the seventeen years since this release that we don’t know it?

Whatever the case, “The Running Man” was based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, though he was writing as Richard Bachman then. We see Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as a member of the military. He’s witnessed a food riot and is ordered to kill all 1500 civilians. Directly disobeying that order, he’s sedated by his crew and is then forced to live on a penal colony for the next eighteen months. Richards and some others manage to escape and it’s not long that he’s the most wanted man alive. This is until Killian (Richard Dawson) sees him and wants him to be a contestant on The Running Man. The show is already at the top, but Killian figures to improve upon that. Richards is coerced to “volunteer” for the show and two of his friends, Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) and Weiss (Marvin McIntyre) show up as well. It’s then that the chase begins. The blood-hungry crowd wants Richards dead, but after killing a few of the “stalkers”, the tide begins to turn. Weiss and Laughlin have a different agenda, though, as they want to break into the satellite system and get the underground movement some new life. Will Arnold and company lose or will the evil stalkers win out and the government will continue to rule the world?

Hmmm…I wonder.

While “The Running Man” certainly isn’t the best of Arnold’s movies, those belong to the “Terminator” movies or the first two anyway; it’s a look back at a time when he was still on top. Again, he is teamed with Jessie Ventura, though on opposing sides. I couldn’t help but laugh as the two wrestled to the death. Now the funny part is that these two guys are (or were) Governors of our states! Let me repeat that. Two actors, one a former bodybuilder and the other a former wrestler have governed two of our states! Why is that just now sinking in for me? For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed “The Running Man”. Director Paul Michael Gleason also helmed one of my “guilty pleasure” movies, “The Cutting Edge”; a romantic comedy about figure skating. And while the movie seems dark and dated, it was really ahead of its time when it came out. The use of the word “database” had me giggling a bit as that’s what powers this site; so either they have changed or the term was used out of context (I’m guessing the latter). Any way you slice it, sit back and enjoy Arnold in a late 80’s movie that has more to it than meets the eye. Campy villains, an ex-game show host playing a game show host and the Governor of California in yellow spandex. What more could any movie fan possibly need?

Video: How does it look?

Originally released as a non-anamorphic bare bones release in the wee days of DVD, the image has been significantly improved. The previous version was a horrid 1.85:1 widescreen release that has been replaced by a new digital 1.85:1 transfer. The result is amazing, though it’s certainly not reference material. The majority of the movie is dark and murky, with most of the movie taking place at night or in the “quad”. There are several shots that show off how good the new transfer looks, most notably Dynamo’s outfit. The level of detail has also been pumped up, too. I noticed things I’ve never seen in this movie before and it’s purely a result of the new digital transfer. The two disc set also includes a full-frame version; compare the two and see how much better the anamorphic transfer is. It’s hit or miss with some of these re-masters, but this new transfer more than warrants a look, if not a purchase.

Audio: How does it sound?

The sound has been given a facelift as well. The old version was a Dolby Digital 2.0 track whereas this features a 5.1 Dolby Digital EX track and a 6.1 DTS ES track. Now this might look impressive, but the sound isn’t all that great. Yes, it’s a lot better than the predecessor, but compared to some movies with these tracks; it’s just not the same. I found dialogue to be noticeably better, more defined and rich. The majority of the action takes place in the front speakers with plenty of stuff blowing up. The surrounds do make their presence known from time to time, but I feel that the ES and EX might have been a bit wasted here. Still, the audio is a vast improvement over the existing version.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I’m a bit confused as to why this is a “Two Disc Special Edition” as I’ve seen far more content than this on one disc. Perhaps it’s the inclusion of the full-frame version that allowed for the second disc. Or maybe marketing-wise it sounds better? Who knows. The main draws here are the audio commentaries, Schwarzenegger isn’t present as he is running a state, but Director Paul Michael Glaser and Producer Tim Zinneman do make for a fairly interesting commentary. The two talk of the shoot, who was supposed to direct (Andrew Davis of “The Fugitive” fame) and many details about the cast. Far less interesting is the second track with Executive Producer Rob Cohen. Being a solo track, he doesn’t have a lot to say that the others didn’t cover. He points out some rather obvious things, but it’s still better to have than have not. This leaves us with the rest of the supplements; essentially three featurettes. First up is “Lockdown on Main Street”, which takes a look at the current state of privacy after the 9/11 attacks. Privacy is at the heart of the world now, much unlike the world depicted in the movie. Supposed “experts” tell us how the government might be spying on us in order to protect the United States and such…interesting, but it takes itself a little too seriously. Next up is “Game Theory” which explores the phenomenon of the reality TV and its effect on society. Just think, it all started with “Survivor”. Though a bit shallow, this does make some valid points and is a recommended watch. Lastly, we get the inside scoop on all of our favorite stalkers. “Meet the Stalkers” gives us the skinny on Sub Zero, Buzzsaw and the rest of the gang including Jessie Ventura himself. Also included is the theatrical trailer. All in all, this is a great new addition; leaps and bounds better than the original. For those who love Arnold or just like some intriguing movies, this might be for you. If you’ve never seen it, though, it’s worth a rental at the very least.

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