THE RUNNING MAN
The Running Man was beset by some troublesome pre-production problems it started shooting under George Pan Cosmatos, the director of Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Cobra (1986), starring Christopher Reeve, in a vision that sounds truer to the Stephen King book, but this fell through and the project was then inherited by Rob Cohen, director of DragonHeart (1996), The Fast and the Furious (2001) and xXx (2002), to finally emerge under Paul Michael Glaser.
Only by the time that The Running Man arrived on screens it did not have a whole lot to do with Stephen Kings dark, claustrophobic near future fantasy anymore. In the story, Ben Richards is not a tough former cop, just an ordinary man who volunteers for the tv show in order to pay for food and expensive medicines needed by his family; while the pursuit is not conducted by costumed muscle-builders in a urban wasteland arena but conducted by bounty hunters who have 30 days in which to track Richards down anywhere in the country. In the film, the story has been scaled up as a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger and his awful puns, while Stephen Kings dark dystopian fantasy has been replaced with a version of Punishment Park (1971) or Rollerball (1975) rewritten as a comic-book for Superstars of Wrestling audiences. Indeed, this wrestling focus seems a deliberate one and the film even recruits several professional wrestlers Professor Toru Tanaka, Jesse Ventura, as well as pro-footballer Jim Brown as actors.
Not a lot of thought has been put into depicting the future it is just a generic totalitarian future. The US is supposed to have financially collapsed, but the future is just the same cliche downbeat, quasi-Cyberpunk milieu as usual and much of the connecting logic is fuzzy. As action, The Running Man is passable but as science-fiction The Running Man is entirely negligible, indeed negligible as almost anything other than a World Wrestling Federation comic-book. The concept of the television show where people survive against hired killers had previously been done in the French The Prize of Peril (1983), which conducted many of the elements here several years before The Running Man was made, and much of what is seen here was later borrowed by The Hunger Games (2012).
What is gapingly obvious about the film is a set of double standards wide enough to run a multi-lane highway through. On one hand, it has a plot that rails against a society that keeps the masses pacified with televised ultra-violence (in the peculiar belief that the yearnings for democracy and freedom can be calmed by watching ultra-violence); on the other, it co-opts the look and tone of televised wrestling to tell its story. Some have tried to argue that the film is being satiric but this is not particularly in evidence, at least when it comes to the overall message. The film has little interest in celebrating freedom as an idea or engaging in an ideological discourse, rather it is interested only in the triumph of Arnold Schwarzeneggers brute heroism. When the film reaches the end with Arnold Schwarzenegger triumphing over the game and sending host Richard Dawson down the chute to a nasty fate, it is not a celebration of freedom and democracy winning out but the film appealing to the same kind of black-and-white violent catharsis ie. to see the bad guy get a nasty comeuppance that it supposedly condemns this corrupt society for serving up to the masses.
The film does at least have a lurking sense of black comedy that makes it occasionally palatable. There is the odd line like Give me the Justice Department Entertainment Division, or Im your court-appointed theatrical agent and the recitation of the contract that Richards has to sign which adds somewhat to the cursory action scenario. Up against Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, previously known as Newkirk on tvs Hogans Heroes (1965-71), barnstorms with entertaining regard.
Director Paul Michael Glaser is best known for playing the former half of the duo in tvs hit 1970s cop show Starsky and Hutch (1975-9). After the series demise, Glaser branched out as a director with the silly action film Band of the Hand (1986). Subsequent to The Running Man, Paul Michael Glaser has concentrated on sports-related films, including the skating film The Cutting Edge (1992) and the basketball film The Air Up There (1994). Glasers only other venture into fantastic cinema has been the disastrous Shaquille ONeal genii film Kazaam (1996). That was widely pilloried and became an industry joke. Paul Michael Glaser has yet to return to the directors chair outside of tv.
Other Stephen King genre adaptations include:- Carrie (1976), Salems Lot (1979), The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), Children of the Corn (1984), Firestarter (1984), Cats Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), Pet Semetary (1989), Graveyard Shift (1990), It (tv mini-series, 1990), Misery (1990), a segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Lawnmower Man (1992), The Dark Half (1993), Needful Things (1993), The Tommyknockers (tv mini-series, 1993), The Stand (tv mini-series, 1994), The Langoliers (tv mini-series, 1995), The Mangler (1995), Thinner (1996), The Night Flier (1997), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (tv mini-series, 1997), Trucks (1997), Apt Pupil (1998), The Green Mile (1999), The Dead Zone (tv series, 2001-2), Hearts in Atlantis (2001), Carrie (tv mini-series, 2002), Dreamcatcher (2003), Riding the Bullet (2004), Salems Lot (tv mini-series, 2004), Secret Window (2004), Desperation (tv mini-series, 2006), Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (tv mini-series, 2006), 1408 (2007), The Mist (2007), Children of the Corn (2009), Everythings Eventual (2009), the tv series Haven (2010-5), Bag of Bones (tv mini-series, 2011), Carrie (2013), Under the Dome (tv series, 2013-5), Big Driver (2014), A Good Marriage (2014), Mercy (2014), Cell (2016), 11.22.63 (tv mini-series, 2016), Geralds Game (2017) and It (2017). Stephen King had also written a number of original screen works with Creepshow (1982), Golden Years (tv mini-series, 1991), Sleepwalkers (1992), Storm of the Century (tv mini-series, 1999), Rose Red (tv mini-series, 2002) and the tv series Kingdom Hospital (2004), as well as adapted his own works with the screenplays for Cats Eye, Silver Bullet, Pet Semetary, The Stand, The Shining, Desperation, Children of the Corn 2009 and Cell. King also directed one film with Maximum Overdrive (1986).