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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: The Running Man: Special Edition

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#1 of 63 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted February 26 2004 - 11:23 AM

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The Running Man

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Studio: Artisan/Republic
Year: 1987
Rated: R
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
Subtitles: Spanish
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

#2 of 63 OFFLINE   Aaron Gould

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Posted February 26 2004 - 11:56 AM

Thanks for the review! I'll definitely be buying this one. Call it a guilty pleasure I suppose. After hearing about the horrible quality of the first release way back when (not to mention that fact it wasn't anamorphic), I held off on picking it up. Nice to know Artisan give it some proper attention!

#3 of 63 OFFLINE   Shawn_KE



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Posted February 26 2004 - 03:36 PM

Great review. The movie is cheezy fun, just like Commando. I'll be picking it up Posted Image

#4 of 63 OFFLINE   PaulP



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Posted February 26 2004 - 03:47 PM

Happy to hear the video is so great. For the low price it's a must-buy. They could've ditched the 1.33:1 transfer and made it a single-disc release, perhaps making it even cheaper then.

#5 of 63 OFFLINE   Harminder


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Posted February 26 2004 - 04:12 PM

Excellent review. Definitely going to grab it when it's released first day. Posted Image

#6 of 63 OFFLINE   Raymond_H


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Posted February 26 2004 - 04:40 PM

I am definetly getting this movie. This was one of the movies I watched and re-watched as a kid. Guilty pleasure indeed! Raymond

#7 of 63 OFFLINE   Ric Bagoly

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Posted February 26 2004 - 06:26 PM

"You can't be the first, and you'll never be the last, but baby, you can ALL be next! Woooooooo!!!"

#8 of 63 OFFLINE   Evan M.

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Posted February 27 2004 - 02:49 AM

With classic lines such as....."Sub Zero...now just plain ZERO!!" and "He had to split!!".....why would anyone not want to own this film Posted Image. Like what other said and Michael said it is a guilty pleasure and is fun to watch. I may buy it or may not......but it is an enjoyable film to see when you are lounging around and do not want to get "involved" in a movie.

#9 of 63 OFFLINE   Shawn_KE



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Posted February 27 2004 - 03:10 AM

Yup, some great lines. I love the:

"I'll be back"
"Only in a rerun" Posted Image

#10 of 63 OFFLINE   Frank@N



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Posted February 27 2004 - 03:11 AM

I'm guessing this will street for $15, but as a marginal title I almost wished they'd dropped the 2nd disc and streeted for $10. Some movies don't really need a 2nd disc. I'll wait for the markdown.

#11 of 63 OFFLINE   Chet_F


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Posted February 27 2004 - 03:31 AM

Don;t remember all of the lines but my fav was:

"What happened to ???"

Arnold "He had to split."

Posted Image Cheese factor five, ENGAGE!!!!!!
"If you’re lucky, people like something you do early and something you do just before you drop dead. That’s as many pats on the back as you should expect." - Warren Zevon 1993, R.I.P.

#12 of 63 OFFLINE   Sean Moon

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Posted February 27 2004 - 03:31 AM

Cmon, there are better lines in the film than that. Such gems include: "Well I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I am going to ram it into your stomach and break your GD spine!" but the moment that gets the best laughs in my house are when Captain Freedom is doing his workout tape. Funny stuff.

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#13 of 63 OFFLINE   Matt Stone

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Posted February 27 2004 - 03:56 AM

I love this film, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

...okay, maybe just a little Posted Image

I've had it preordered at DDD for months, but it's great to read a review. I can't wait to check this disc out.
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#14 of 63 OFFLINE   MarcusUdeh


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Posted February 27 2004 - 04:09 AM

Why because of franchises such as Police Academy, Nightmare on Elm St. and any movie with Whoopi Goldberg as the star excluding Spielberg's love letter to being sentimental "The Color Purple"? I hate eighties movie bashing with a passion because it's like people were living under a rock and then one day they discover they're under a rock. Come now please unless you're a child of the eighties and your taste have matured then great happy for you. I happen to appreciate this decade period.

#15 of 63 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted February 27 2004 - 04:13 AM

Marcus, That's a very good observation. Movies were pretty damn awful during the 80s. May I also agree that there waaay too many bad Whoopie Goldberg films after "The Color Purple."


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#16 of 63 OFFLINE   James L White

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Posted February 27 2004 - 04:18 AM

I agree Marcus,. a stupid statement to make,compared to the over CGIed garbage of today the 80s were great yeah it saw a lot of cheese but it also saw many great films ( ie Raiders, ET, pretty much anything directed by Spielberg or Zemeckis Posted Image )
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#17 of 63 OFFLINE   Devin_C


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Posted February 27 2004 - 04:26 AM

hmmm, 8 paragraphs of summary/dissing the film before we get to the quality of this long awaited remaster. Posted Image There are far worse action flicks around. At least it was somewhat tempered towards the end, and I'm not certainly going to let it scare me away from buying the film - a fun action flick doesn't need to be pretentious and deep; it can just be a ride. If one's looking for deep, pick up the Richard Bachman Stephen King book; you'll get more out of that - it explores the theme in a less... frenzied pace, shall we say, since it takes place over a longer period of time. Posted Image

#18 of 63 OFFLINE   Francois Caron

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Posted February 27 2004 - 05:02 AM

Ouch! Posted Image

#19 of 63 OFFLINE   Jerome Grate

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Posted February 27 2004 - 05:24 AM

Boy, I can't count how many times I picked up the original release to ad to the Arnie collection and put it down hoping for a new release. Good thing I did.
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#20 of 63 OFFLINE   johnbud



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Posted February 27 2004 - 07:18 AM

Every decade has its bad movies but why pick on the 80s? Some of the best action movies came out in that decade - Raiders, Aliens, Die Hard, Predator, First Blood, Lethal Weapon to name several.