The Running Man
Film Length: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)/Open Matte (1.33:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX, DTS-ES 6.1
Retail Price: $19.95
In the year 2019 America has fallen apart due to the poor economy and stuff such as food, gas and shelter are a thing of the past. The government has taken over network television and they tell the people how to think and how to act. A lot of this is done by a famous show called “The Running Man”, which features convicts trying to earn their freedom by fighting various gladiators. If the prisoners can escape without being killed then they are free to go. To date, no one has survived and the show’s host (Richard Dawson) wants to keep it this way.
At the start of the film cop Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is flying his helicopter around the city when he is ordered to fire at a group of people protesting in the streets. Knowing that they are unarmed, Richards refuses but the government goes ahead with the attack and later tells the public that Richards lost his mind and did the killings without their permission. Once in prison it takes no time for Richards to make an escape but soon he is caught and taken back to prison. Before that can happen however, the game show host, wanting higher ratings, offers Richards the chance to appear on his show. If he can make it out alive, he will be free. If not, the government has killed another innocent person.
I’m a firm believer that the 1980’s destroyed everything good about films and while all that blame certainly doesn’t go towards The Running Man I think this film shows off everything bad about the decade. What we’ve got is a big, loud and obnoxious action movie that doesn’t take anything serious and I’m sure the producer’s thought the viewer wouldn’t either. There’s a political message going on within the film but this here just gives Arnold another reason to beat someone up. The Running Man has a brilliant idea but everything is so watered down that in the end I couldn’t help but be disappointed in the final film.
The idea of network television being ran by the government who is using it to brainwash the public is a wonderful setup and the second story dealing with the actual show is also interesting. Originally Christopher Reeve was to play in the film and I can’t help but think that had he done so then we would have gotten a more serious science fiction film in the vein of something like Planet of the Apes or even a more cult-ish item like The Omega Man, both staring Charlton Heston. With Schwarzenegger on board director Paul Michael Glaser is left with a bunch of stunts while the story of the government is put on the back burner.
I guess it’s really not fair to bash the film too much for not being more serious and since it is going for a mindless action film, on that level, it succeeds somewhat. There are many action scenes scattered throughout the movie that try to top the previous one so the attempt for something entertaining is certainly here. At the start of the film we get a silly fight scene with Arnold taking on several guys while screaming his hero talk, which is able to get a few good laughs. The prison escape is probably the best moment in the film as we get some silly gun action as well as a head getting shot off, which without a doubt should get the viewer howling. When we finally get to the game show your head should already be aching but the action here is rather entertaining, although I must admit that the drama on American Gladiators is a lot more thrilling.
Another thing that really takes away from the film is the performance by Arnold, which in my opinion is one of his worst. I certainly think this action star is capable of giving a good performance when the material is right for him but that’s not the case here. As I stated earlier, Arnold was brought on at a later date and the script was changed around for him so the only thing for him to do is beat people up and afterwards scream silly one-liners that are all incredibly embarrassing especially a homage to The Terminator. Even when Arnold is trying to play it serious, like in the opening scene, I couldn’t keep a straight face. His there’s women and children down there speech as well as his political talk is all misguided and forgettable.
Jesse Ventura is also on hand but delivers very little in a boring role that not even he could do anything with. The one saving grace in the casting is veteran television host Richard Dawson best known for his work on Family Feud and Match Game. I’ve always loved watching Dawson who came off these shows looking and acting like the sweetest, most caring person in the world and it’s a lot of fun watching him here playing a total scumbag. You can tell Dawson is having a lot of fun playing the bad guy and he keeps the show and movie alive with his wonderful comic timing. The rest of the cast is pretty much forgettable in thankless roles that require them to fall down and punch people.
With all the negativity I’ve said about The Running Man, I must admit that in the end I did have a good time watching the film. It’s one of those film you enjoy while watching it yet five minutes later you really can’t remember too much about it. While I think the movie could have been a whole lot better, what we’re left with is mindless action with one of the biggest stars in film history. I’m not sure the producer’s were going for anything other than what we got so with that in mind, I’m sure The Running Man will entertain most as long as you don’t take it too seriously, not that anyone would.
VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. You never know what you’re going to get with these Artisan re-releases but they’re telling the truth here when they said we’re getting a new transfer. The previous release was pretty poor with all sorts of problems but this new transfer is certainly the best I’ve ever seen the film. This is a very bright and colorful film and most will see that for the first time here on this DVD. The bright, lush reds look incredible and really give you a reason to show off your television to family and friends. There’s also some lovely blues used in one of the game show sequences, which looks quite remarkable especially since all the dirt has been removed. There is some minor edge enhancement but all the dirt, speckles and scratches have been removed. An open matte version of the film is included on disc 2.
AUDIO---Two new audio tracks include a Dolby Digital EX Surround 5.1 and a DTS-ES 6.1. I listened to both tracks and could hear very little difference in the two. I compared various scenes to one another using both tracks and nothing from either track stepped out to make one or the other the clear winner. I know there are many fans of DTS who will naturally take that track but those going with the Dolby Digital won’t be missing anything. The dialogue is crystal clear and packs a nice punch but that’s not what the track is here for. The real fun starts with the various action scene, which are full of wonderful, loud and vibrate detail that you can’t help but feel you are right there playing the game. The gunshots bounce around from your left to right speaker in such a fashion that you feel in the middle of the action not knowing where the next shot will be coming from. The Surrounds are perfectly used throughout the film with every punch, shot and even the spitting of blood comes off sounding wonderfully realistic. The best thing about the tracks is the wonderful music score that sounds remarkable. You can tell a lot of trouble went into mixing this thing up and all speakers get a full workout bringing this thing to life.
EXTRAS--- Disc one features the start of our extras. Up first is an audio commentary with director Paul Michael Glaser and producer Tim Zinnemann, which is somewhat interesting and frustrating at the same time. Both men are talking throughout the track and deliver some nice information about various things including the movie being threatened with an X-rating. The problem starts is that it appears the director was brought in a couple weeks after filming started so he pretty much knows nothing about how the casting went or anything dealing with pre-production. The producer on the other hand also doesn’t seem to remember much and neither know how Dawson ended up in the film. A second commentary track with executive producer Rob Cohen is also included. This track is a lot more interesting because the man can remember a lot about the pre-production and production so there’s a lot of information given here. However, there are some errors that I really don’t understand. At one point Rob says that they hired Andy Davis because he liked Under Siege but that film was made after this one. Finally we get a 25-minute featurette called Lock Down on Main Street, which tells the story of how the government is trying to spy on us since the 9/11 attacks. This here seems like a high school kid trying to come up with a conspiracy theory and that’s how the thing plays out. We get various interviews from “professionals” telling us that the government is coming after us.
Disc 2 contains the film’s theatrical trailer as well as the rest of the extras. First up is another featurette called Game Theory, which takes a look at the reality television craze that is sweeping the nation. Various people, including the film’s director, are interviewed about how the film turned out to be “true” when it comes to the public wanting to see real people and their troubles. Up next we get “Meet the Stalkers”, which is pretty boring and useless at the same time. In this section you can choose your favorite stalker from the film and get to see his weight, height and other personal information. There’s also an easter egg included on this disc. When you are in the “Meet the Stalkers” section, when you select Damon Killian’s name, you’ll get what appears to be an outtake or a deleted scene with Dawson doing a commercial.
OVERALL---If you’re a fan of the film you’ll certainly want to pick up this new DVD since Artisan has gone all out in the audio and video departments. Even those, like me, who aren’t that fond of the film might want to buy it since the retail price is low and the sound is so well that you could certainly use the disc to show off your speakers. As for the extras, most of them will be interesting only to die-hard fans of the film. I’m sure fans will get some entertainment out of the audio commentaries but the two featurettes are pointless and really aren’t about the actual film. Since the retail price is low, this here is a bit of a nitpick but I guess when Artisan says “2-disc Special Edition” we really shouldn’t get that worked up. Everything here could have been put on one disc so the “two-disc” is nothing more than mere hype. I guess Artisan didn’t want to release two versions, a widescreen and a full screen, but trying to make the package look better than what it is is getting rather tiresome.
Release Date: March 16, 2004