Last night my wife and I (mainly I, if I am honest) decided it would be fun to watch the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “The Running Man”. I am a big fan of Arnie’s slightly cheesy 1980s sci-fi work and remembered this film as being fun, but I was a bit disappointed in the re-watch. The one liners were mainly a bit too lame and the plot full of holes and inconsistencies, that made it feel like it was written by an excited 11 year old, on one draft and no one was allowed to tidy it up afterwards. Who’d have thought a film directed by Starsky (that guy needs Hutch to temper his wilder side) and featuring Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa could be such a disappointment.
I tweeted my disappointment and so spent today dealing with semi-serious defences of the film and outrage at my dismissal of it. Which, of course, I enjoyed as much as the people complaining did.
There are lots of things to commend the film. It is pretty prescient in terms of the way TV was heading and also the showbiz element that was coming for politics (but to be fair this was probably a response to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, rather than crystal ball gazing re Trump) and Richard Dawson gives a fine performance as the puffed up and weary Killan.
I love cheesy sci-fi as much as the next nerd, but I also like it to have an internal logic and jeopardy and too much of this plot falls apart without any poking whatsoever. The Running Man gameshow just doesn’t work on any level - an armed stalker chasing down an unarmed criminal - how does anyone progress beyond the first 30 seconds? Of course Arnie is a different kettle of fish and manages to defeat the odds, but he’s also the first contestant to ever kill a stalker, so how has anyone else ever progressed to win the game (as it is claimed three players have). Have they managed to knock out three or four stalkers but not killed them. And how?
But perversely the show also offers very little protection to its stalkers. There seems to be no security at all in the game zone, even though there are important satellites that can be hacked in there and amazingly the rebels have managed to set up a complex base hidden inside the boundaries of the game.
It’s unclear how Dynamo has managed to get through this show without dying before as he seems incapable of driving his vehicle without turning it over (a totally unforced error) and is killed when his suit gets wet, which is surely a massive design flaw that he was lucky had never happened before.
I mean, there are so many questions. What does the joke “Here is Subzero, now he’s plain zero’ mean? As someone on Twitter pointed out, that’s a promotion. When the three previous winning contestants skellingtons are discovered in the game zone, is that bit being broadcast on the TV show? It seems like it, because the action a few seconds later is definitely relayed to the audience and the stalker is discussing their demise with Amber openly. And why did the producers not dispose of the bodies somewhere outside of the game zone or at least take their name badges off so it wasn’t so easy to identify them.
Why do the rebels catch Arnie and Amber in a cage before revealing themselves? It must have been hard enough having a hidden base in the game without hiding a sliding cage in there, but did they just think it would be a bit of fun to make Arnie think he’d been captured before revealing that he hadn’t. Or was it a government cage and by luck the rebel base was just behind it, but no one had noticed?
I mean, there’s loads of stuff like this. I only really need lip service to logic in my rubbish sci-fi, but this film doesn’t care.
There was a fun discussion on Twitter about how Arnie knew that by putting Killan into the rocket sled would kill him. It had never previously done so. The nets, as it happens, have been removed (for some reason), but Arnie didn’t know that and had no way of communicating this. I thought there should be a long scene where some maintenance men discuss the fact that they take the nets down at the end of each show that Arnie overhears and I might write and film this and insert it into my own version of the film. In fact I wonder if it’s possible to do enough reshoots to make this film work.
I am not sure the rocket sled is all that clever a way to get people to the game zone anyway. It’s not that much fun to watch - more fun, one would imagine to take part in- and doesn’t really add anything to the game. Maybe if one in three times there wasn’t a net that would make it worthwhile.
The Running Man audience also learn nothing, changing allegiance and cheering the final deaths and not even questioning if the “real” footage of the murder of the civilians might be faked.
If you like the Running Man then you are a fucking idiot.
Let’s make it again, only good. And I don’t want another go at filming the Stephen King short story (which is very different), I want another go at making this one work.