Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Running Man (1987)




















Probably the first Arnie vehicle I ever saw as a kid and even then I thought it was average. Yes I know this could be seen as heresy but I must confess to never thinking a great deal about this film despite being a life long Arnie fan.

We all know the score with this film by now. The plot is based loosely on a Stephen King novel which is all about America being a police or totalitarian state, huge divides between the rich and the poor and of course death and violence being a popular much watched sport on TV. So basically a futuristic view on the ancient Roman civilisation and their bloody culture.

If you think about it its the perfect role for Arnie and various other muscle men just like many other Arnie films, this film pretty much started that craze. Today this kind of story is completely unoriginal but back then it was almost the first of its kind. To be fair its a videogame adaptation all the way, Arnie's character must face each 'stalker' one by one, each has their own unique skill or weapon and they all have their personal 'level' or stage as it were. Guess what Sub Zero's stage looks like?

The stalkers are pretty cliched and generic now when you look back, Fireball Sub Zero Dynamo Buzzsaw and Captain Freedom, not hard to figure out what they all do...accept for Freedom perhaps. A pumped bunch to say the least, Ventura looks full on steroids with his silly wig whilst Brown has a ridiculous wig himself (I think). The other stalker cast members aren't as famous accept for Charles Kalani Jr. perhaps but 80's female action sidekick regular MarĂ­a Conchita Alonso alongside Yaphet Kotto hold their own.

Of course the film is made by the excellent performance of Richard Dawson who takes a creepy direction on what was his current job at the time as a gameshow host. Not only does Dawson ham it up nicely but he adds a very eerie, sadistic, two faced approach to the role. Its actually quite fun to watch him crawl and grovel to the audience. A real slime ball deviously charming the gullible live audience, whilst virtually blackmailing them for their trust and ratings by lavishing easy prizes upon them with seemingly genuine generosity. It did make you wonder if this was how real gameshow hosts behaved behind closed doors but I imagine that was the goal.













The film does look pretty cheap, it did even back then. Sets are not much more than big empty spaces with stark lighting effects and piles of rubble everywhere. Hell even the costumes look like they've been handmade by the cast themselves. Lots of spandex, a basic ice hockey uniform, lots of leather n chains for background thugs and the most bizarre concept for Dynamo who is covered in what looks like Christmas tree lights stuck on transparent plastic body sections. Why does he sing opera? judging by his helmet its a homage or calling to Ride of the Valkyries and the character is clearly trying to impose fear and terror on his pending victims as he rides his buggy thing into battle. Doesn't work too well though huh.

Quick one for you, who on earth knows what Captain Freedom's outfit was suppose to do or be? looked like something out of He-Man.

There's a lot more hinting at moments than actual visual sequences but there is the odd classic moment. I'm sure everyone recalls the infamous head explosion sequence, the ultra fast toboggan thing that transports Arnie down to the gauntlet game zone and Arnie slamming a pen into some scrawny pen pushing suits back...wince moment, ouch!.

Its your classic dystopian futuristic 80's action flick obviously, with the classic update of gladiatorial battles for the blood thirsty masses. Many have copied it but clearly this borrowed from other sources also ('Escape from New York' visually). Jammed packed with all the Arnie one liners you could want, dancing big haired blondes, some good bloody moments and a perfectly sleazy performance by real ex-gameshow host Dawson as the manipulative gameshow host Killian (nasty sounding name also).

Predictable of course but its fun to watch the audience and viewers slowly get behind Richards as he defeats the stalkers one at a time. Watching Killian and his yes men squirm as they know Richards is coming to get them. A bit silly how this one act of rebellion seems to bring down the whole corrupt system as the resistance starts to broadcast the truth and everybody just believes it straight away but hey...its an Arnie film.

'I told Killian I'd be back. I wouldn't want to be a liar'

6/10