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Before revisiting The Running Man, it is highly recommended that you make sure that your nostalgia goggles are strapped firmly to your head. The one-liners, bad effects, and '80s hair strangling this movie are sure to jar them loose, causing you to forget everything you love about campy, mid-'80s Arnold Schwarzenegger action. Supported by Richard Dawson and Maria Conchita Alonso, The Running Man -- without the safety of your nostalgia goggles -- will run straight out of your fondest memories and right onto the list of films that just don't hold up.
Stephen King, under his Richard Bachman banner, wrote The Running Man in 1982, chronicling a dystopian future where the most popular TV show of the same title is a reality series in which contestants are dropped into a 400-square-block death zone and are forced to fight for their lives against the "Stalkers," who are essentially American Gladiators with the authority to tear their opponents limb from limb. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, an enforcer of the peace who is wrongfully accused of slaughtering hundreds of innocent people. He's captured after his prison break and forced to participate in The Running Man.
The premise doesn't sound all that bad. Where the film falls apart is in the execution. Reading a novel, you can take a description given to you by the author and do whatever you want with it. On film, you're stuck with what the director chooses to show you. In The Running Man, director Paul Michael Glaser shows you the '80s, and there's no getting away from it. The film is so quintessentially '80s -- the hair, the outfits, the music -- that you find yourself lost in a futuristic Duran Duran video. The movie becomes secondary to the inevitable question: "How were these hair styles ever fashionable?"
If you're able to ignore the overwhelming scent of the '80s, the horrendous costuming will surely shake you free of whatever immersion in the story you've allowed yourself. Arnold and his crew of miscreants are sporting stylish skin-tight leotards as they dash around their game zone. As if these get-ups weren't ridiculous enough, it's magnified tenfold when we're introduced to the first Stalker, Sub-Zero (not to be confused with the Mortal Kombat character). Played by that big Asian bad guy from 3 Ninjas, he's an ice-skating hockey enthusiast who slap shots puck bombs at the contestants. Subsequent Stalkers only up the silliness, but not until you see Jesse Ventura show up dressed like a high-tech blender will you completely check out.
Underneath the layers of terrible production value, The Running Man still manages to provoke questions, especially in our reality-show-glutted 2010, about where entertainment is headed. If you manage to get through this film without having your nostalgia goggles shift, you may enjoy this film just as much as you did 23 years ago, but be warned, The Running Man does not hold up well when put under the modern-day microscope.
The Running Man special features feel pretty standard, maybe even a little below average, on this Blu-ray release. Packed in are two commentaries, the first from producer Tim Zinneman and director Paul Michael Glaser, the second from executive producer Rob Cohen. Both are interesting in their own right. Glaser talks about low-budget problems, changing Stephen King's book to fit the film, and working with the man himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cohen has fewer interesting things to say but still manages to make the commentary enjoyable. Sadly, though, none of the actors make an appearance here to reflect on their time on set.
Two documentaries are included on the disc. Lockdown on Mainstreet is a post-9/11 short that essentially spends 25 minutes condemning the Patriot Act and scaring anyone who watches it into never using electronic communication ever again. It's slow and heavy handed, but it gets its point across and will please any conspiracy theorist looking for some more ammunition against the Bush regime.
Game Theory takes a look at the corollaries that can be drawn between The Running Man game show and where reality TV is headed. This might be worth the price of admission alone, even though it was produced in 2003. It's almost scary to watch as it draws comparisons to Survivor and Fear Factor and makes it very easy to imagine that shows like this will eventually take the step towards contestants risking their lives to get money. It's possible this is the most interesting thing, feature or otherwise, that shows up on this disc.
You can find The Running Man for about $12, so it's not going to put a huge hole in your bank account if you're just looking to expand your Blu-Ray collection. If you've got a little extra money to spend and are looking for something you'll actually watch on a regular basis, however, spend your money on something else.
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