The 80s were a time of much prosperity for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie career. It’s too bad that it was also a time of some truly horrible movies. And it’s even worse when the two instances merged to form extreme mediocrity. While almost all of Arnold’s actions films were successful, there are always a few duds in any given group. Such is the case with The Running Man a movie based-on (but-not-really) a book by Stephen King of the same title. While instances between the two is wildly different, the same basic premise is the same…which is also the same premise for a number of other similar movies over the years (most recently Gamer). Considering the modest budget of $27 million, the domestic intake of $38 million still made this film a relative success, even if it didn’t blow away critics or audiences the way many of Schwarzenegger’s other movies had at the time.
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. The Blu-ray Disc is presented in 1080P High Resolution 1.78 Widescreen and 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio.
My excitement for this film kind of plummeted once I read the description. I’ve only just recently caught up on a lot of Schwarzenegger’s big titles from the 80s and 90s and with my enjoyment of Last Action Hero so high, I thought that maybe another ill-received title with Arnold in it would prove be as enjoyable. Sadly I’ve already seen this story too recently in modern productions, so as terrible and predictable a story as they always are, they usually offered some decent eye-candy or sound effects (the two most recent films that come to mind are Death Race and the aforementioned Gamer). But in The Running Man’s case, everything is dated and…just really not good at all.
It’s always a muscular man, ripped in every way imaginable, that gets tossed in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s always innocent, but for one reason or another he plays along with the prisons game in hopes of getting free. Sadly the prisons are always full of it and try to kill the winner anyway, so it’s kind of just annoying to watch so many similar movies. I mean they basically change the medium of transportation and…that’s it. Everything else stays the same. Hell, Stallone was in the original Death Race 2000 before Running Man ever came out, so in that instance Stallone had already done something Schwarzenegger hadn’t. And that movie also sucked, so why would they even try with this one?
I mean I can get the corny action appeal that these films have sometimes, but for the most part these are films that just genuinely annoy me. They’re never original and…I don’t know. I tried to get into The Running Man, hoping its 80s charm would win me over…but no dice. I couldn’t get over the dated visuals, the corny acting, and the lack of any real memorable Schwarzenegger lines (although there is one really brutal sounding one about him ramming his fist down a guys throat and breaking out his spine…I did laugh at that at least) just made this film incredibly forgettable.
It’s far from the worst Arnold film out there, but I still just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen this story done before…and in much better ways (and that’s not saying much considering Death Race and Gamer were pretty major disappointments as well). Of course this film is probably ahead of its time with the whole “reality TV forcing viewers to drool mindlessly as they watch,” bit, but there’s that going for it too I suppose. In the end if you’re a Schwarzenegger fan, then this is hard to pass up. But if you’re just a casual peruser of his works then you’ll find this one worth a Rental only.
Lionsgate releases The Running Man on Blu-ray in a standard Elite Blu-ray case. Included inside is the disc and…well, that’s it. No inserts or anything. There’s no fancy slipcover included and no new extras (but there are extras carried over from the previous DVD release at least), so only those looking for an A/V boost will be interested in this one. Or at least they would be if it actually looked or sounded good.
Now I’ll immediately preface this by saying that this isn’t a bad looking or sounding A/V transfer. It’s just that, for a Blu-ray, it’s really not up to par at all. It’s more akin to what your PS3 can do with a DVD and upscale it, because there just isn’t a whole lot of detail coming through here. Some sequences look fantastic, but others just look slightly Vaseline-smeared, with nothing really coming popping off the image. The film does have its moments, but between the sometimes questionable color palette that the film already rocks and the overall softness of the image, it just doesn’t look all that impressive.
Audio is the same way, although it is a tad bit better. The sound effects still sound dated and muffled (as is a staple with any movies that are pre-90s…and even then there are issues sometimes), but the sound field is pretty spread out for what it’s worth. LFE doesn’t pipe up as much as you’d expect from a Schwarzenegger movie, but, again, given its age it’s not all that surprising. It definitely sounds better than it looks, but in the end if you already own the previous DVD edition with the Dolby Surround EX and DTS 6.1 mixes, you really don’t have any reason to pick up this Blu-ray (although it’s so cheap you may as well if you’re a fan).
Coming over from the aforementioned previous release are the following extras:
Audio commentary by Director Paul Michael Glaser and Producer Tim Zinneman
Audio commentary by Executive Producer Rob Cohen
“Game Theory” featurette (20:15, SD)
“Lockdown on Main Street” featurette (20:37, SD)
The dual commentaries are the real focus here as they offer plenty of insight into the production of the film from multiple sides of the production angle. Discussions about the difficulty in finding directors to work on the film as well as a myriad of other issues it had are discussed here in great detail—definitely recommended listens for the fans. The other extras are pretty brief, but interesting looks at how the film would be received in today’s society…though kind of dated at this point, considering they were originally made for the 2004 DVD release.
Overall a Recommended package if you’re a fan and somehow don’t own the movie already. Otherwise stick to a Rental.
The Running Man is now available on Blu-ray.