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The Running Man(1987)
The year is 2019. Television is now ruling people's lives. The most popular reality show is called "The Running Man" featuring convicts who compete to defeat murderous henchmen known as "stalkers" to win pardon. The next contestant on the show is Ben Richards, a prisoner wrongly convicted of murdering hundreds. When Ben faces off against four of the most brutal stalkers, he begins the fight of his life and leaves the entire country glued to their television sets.
For more about The Running Man and the The Running Man Blu-ray release, see the The Running Man Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on February 18, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Writers: Stephen King, Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Erland van Lidth
» See full cast & crew
The Running Man Blu-ray Review
Bring the pain!
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, February 18, 2010
1987 was a busy year for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Given his meteoric rise into the ranks of Hollywood's action elite, he accepted the opportunity to play the leading role in two science fiction films within the same year (Predator and The Running Man). The themes and setting couldn't have been more distant, yet they both garnered widespread acclaim, and helped bolster the former bodybuilder's career. I've always felt Predator is a superior picture to The Running Man (and imagine most sci-fi fans would agree), but when it comes to pure mindless entertainment, this is the disc to reach for.
By the year 2017, freedom of speech has been replaced by the domineering hand of the government, and society has become a dystopian wasteland of conformity. Among the government's pawns in this evolving police state is a helicopter pilot named Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who's tasked with keeping the peace using whatever means necessary. One night, his peacekeeping mission takes a turn for the worst, when he's ordered to fire on a food riot consisting of unarmed civilians. Refusing the order, he's quickly imprisoned in a factory work camp and used as a government scapegoat for the very massacre he tried to prevent. Months go by, and the public becomes enamored with a televised game show called Running Man, which pits the lowliest criminals against a series of unique warriors. This reality show has taken society by storm, and effectively pacified the masses with violent displays of gladiator-style combat. Ben knows nothing of the morbid sport while in prison, but soon becomes the target contestant handpicked by the show's creator/announcer Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), who's desperately in need of the ultimate contestant to boost stagnate ratings. After a brief taste of freedom following a prison escape, Ben falls into Killian's hands, and finds himself an unwilling participant in the deadly game show. On the run through various levels of combat, Richards proves himself a capable opponent for the menacing "heroes" tasked with delivering his head, but the thirst for blood among viewers becomes an ever-increasing challenge.
Every review of The Running Man inevitably treads over the increasing relevance of the "reality TV" element of the film, and in many ways the foreshadowing is one of the more appealing aspects of the production. However, despite my appreciation for any dystopian glimpse of a futuristic society, I'm not one of the individuals willing to suggest we're headed in that direction. After all, reality TV (in its present form) is often a pre-scripted form of selected storytelling, hell-bent on sensationalizing our base desires (money, romance, or fame). I love "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" just as much as the next guy, but I have to believe I'd draw a moral line between watching people stab each other in the back over money, and the literal depiction of someone being stabbed in the back (as in The Running Man). Therefore, let's turn our attention away from the reality television implications of the story, and break down the elements that make the film such a pleasure to revisit time after time. First and foremost, we have the element of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role, which lends the film instant relevance. Sure he's made some bad films in his day, but when you command attention based solely on your physical presence, you have the makings of box-office gold (are you listening Vin Diesel?). Second, there's a certain undeniable appeal of pitting a protagonist against a revolving door of increasingly colorful antagonists. Any fan of the film likely remembers their favorite stalker, much like the audience participation aspect of the film. One of my favorite moments has always been the scene where the little old lady is asked who she believes will deliver the next kill. Everyone watching the show expects her to call out the name of one of the two stalkers in pursuit of Richards, but instead, she proclaims "Ben Richards", and effectively turns the tide of the film.
Now that you're aware of the nostalgic relationship I have with the film, I can ratchet up the honesty and play devil's advocate for a moment. Despite the cult following The Running Man has achieved, it still falls below the upper echelon of 1980's action films. Perhaps it's the tongue-in-cheek vibe, the cheesy special effects, or the recycled one-liners, but when I think of the greatest films of the decade (within the action genre), The Running Man fails to make the top ten. I'd largely attribute my opinion to the forces of father time, which sometimes erode the attractive exterior of aging productions until you find yourself more in love with the nostalgia than the actual film itself. I'm certainly not implying The Running Man has lost its appeal, but given my personal taste in action offerings, films such as Big Trouble in Little China, Predator, and Die Hard have done a better job withstanding the test of time.
The Running Man Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 28Mbps), The Running Man is a bit of a mixed bag on Blu-ray. On the one hand, the picture offers a noticeable improvement over the prior standard definition release. However, compared with other films from the same era (Red Heat, Big Trouble in Little China), the 1987 production seems a bit underwhelming. There's a good chance this is a direct result of the soft film style that plagued several action entries of the mid-80's (Predator, Robocop), so I'm willing to attribute the lack of fine texturing to the source material, but that still doesn't rectify the situation. Moving past the marginal level of clarity, this version of the film incorporates skin tones and coloring that still demonstrate a push toward yellow and red, but move the spectrum a bit closer to natural territory. Black levels remain appropriately dark through the duration of the film, and contrast appears a touch stronger than I remember on prior versions (revealing a greater level of shadow detail in the nighttime footage). Rounding out the assessment, I never detected the presence of edge enhancement, DNR was a non-issue (film grain is apparent), and artifacting remained entirely absent. As a minor side-note, I detected a slight video stutter at the 29:04 mark, which I don't recall on the prior DVD release. This could simply be a problem with the copy I received, but is still worth mentioning.
In the end, this is enough of an improvement over the DVD to warrant an upgrade if you're a long-time fan, but all others should complete a cost/benefit analysis and decide accordingly.
The Running Man Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Similar to the visual presentation, the audio offering generates varying levels of proficiency. One minute you'll find yourself frowning at the dismal reproduction of a gunshot, and the next you'll marvel at the wonderful sense of immersion during the tube slide. As with any raucous action/adventure film, we're given plenty of opportunity for creative sound use, and the film rarely passes up the opportunity. In most cases, the end result is as good as we can expect from a mid-80's production, meaning fans should appreciate the limitations in special effect sound design 23 years ago. Despite sending elements of the mix throughout the surround field, there's still an uphill battle to be fought, which can't be rectified through an upgrade to 7.1. On the positive side, the newly minted track exhibits excellent clarity from start to finish, never suffers from one element overpowering another, and occasionally incorporates subtle use of the LFE signal. Beyond those value-added elements of the mix, I never detected hiss or dropout throughout the duration of the film, leaving no reason to complain about the lossless audio upgrade on this release.
The Running Man Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lockdown on Main Street (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 24:37 min): This supplement focuses on the government's "repression" of American society since the 9/11 attacks. The Patriot Act is the primary focus, but the various interviews with civil liberties experts also evaluate the creation of internment camps, the erosion of privacy, and the use of technology to keep a watchful eye on the American public. I can appreciate the subject matter, but it seemed an odd inclusion with an 80's action film.
Game Theory (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 20:15 min): Introduced as an examination of reality television, this featurette looks back on the subject matter in The Running Man, and how it served as a precursor to the modern day reality TV craze. There's nothing eye-opening about the discussions, but it's still somewhat entertaining to look back on the history of America's favorite television category.
Rounding out the extras, we have a standard definition trailer for The Running Man and two feature-length audio commentaries. The first commentary features producer Tim Zinnemann and Director Paul Michael Glaser, while the second features executive producer Rob Cohen. If you only have time to take in one of the tracks, I'd recommend the first offering with Glaser and Zinneman, who talk at length about Glaser's late entry in the director's chair, and discuss some of the production difficulties they ran into. Cohen's track is also informative, but he focuses more on the themes of the story, and the pre-production efforts he undertook.
The Running Man Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Running Man may not be the greatest 80's action flick, but it's still a relevant entry in the genre and well worth your time. I wish the technical upgrades on this Blu-ray release were a bit more pronounced, but considering the limitations of the source material and the affordable price point at which it's being offered, this is a no-brainer addition to the collection of any long-time fan. Head to your closet, grab the first spandex jumpsuit you can find, and run to your favorite retailer for a copy of The Running Man.
The Running Man: Other Editions
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