Skip to content

WTF? On Film 4: The Running Man

As regular readers know, I’ve always had a soft spot for Arnie, probably becuase he’s always been in the kind of movies I favour – the ones with monsters, extreme violence and quirky quips. My Dad was a big fan in the middle of Arnie’s heyday, so it was kind of inevitable: he had all the Big Man’s movies on VHS. We’d watch Arnie’s comedies like Twins together – but I was told I was SO grounded if I watched the likes of The Running Man or Predator. Hah. By the time I got to secondary school in 1990, I had a full appreciation of the entire Arnold Schwarzenegger back catalogue, extreme violence and all.

I recall watching The Running Man then as a kid and feeling – underwhelmed. It was the first time I’d seen a movie with Arnie in I had not loved, barring that dodgy sex scene in Conan The Barbarian (I’d even loved Conan The Destroyer – especially the bit where the magician jumps off the cliff, thought it looked amazing… Watched it recently: aaah). I couldn’t really put my finger on it at the time, seeing as I was just a child. In a bid to figure out what it was, I read Richard Bachmann’s book ( I’ll never forget the Librarian’s face, trying to palm off Jane Austen on my instead “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather read this, dear?”) Bachmann’s book made me even more confused – the film was NOTHING LIKE the book! Of course, in those days I knew nothing about adaptation and its many approaches.

So I put The Running Man to the back of my mind for many years. In fact, as my peers – especially men – professed to love it. I would find myself agreeing. Yes, the film was great. Yes, Sub Zero was fab. “I’ll be back” hahahahahahahaha.

Then I watched it last weekend. WTF?

The film is misogynist. Yes okay, the female characters in Arnie’s films are never fabulous, but hell I never expected them to be – but I do expect them not to be subjugated and end up coming back begging for more! The way in which Maria Conchita Alonso’s character is treated is nothing short of scandalous. She comes back to her own home? Oh, Arnie’s there (it used to be his place: um, not her fault, this is a police state) – and he ties her up in her underwear! But instead of finding it a terrifying experience, she’s a little turned on by it – to the point she ends up risking her life for a chance with him. At least The Woman in Predator is a PoW who tried to shoot Arnie in the head, so one can expect her to get tied up, if not the fact they DON’T kill her when they kill absolutely everyone else (though she does provide some handy exposition). Anyway, back to Running Man: on top of all the above, her friend’s comment in the corridor in a breathy voice beggared belief: “He could’ve raped you… A man like that, you couldn’t stop him…”??? The subtext there suggests, to me anyway, that being raped, especially by a guy like Arnie, is *not that bad*. JESUS. And don’t even get me started on Dynamo’s attempted rape TWICE of Alonso either – *but it’s okay, she ends up killing him* (whatevs). Add to that all the scantily clad dancers and the COMPLETE LACK of female faces for longer than three seconds other than to provide a laugh (like the swearing Granny) and it appears women do not exist in 2017 at all.

It drowns in set up. Yes, we know Arnie is an innocent man – we don’t *really* need to see how he got set up (especially since he’s set up further on the news when Alonso says, “But that’s not true…” prompting her to attempt to “rescue” him), any more than we need to see his extremely convoluted escape from prison. Why not simply have the Gamespeople go into the prison and pick and some guys for the Running Man, one of which is Arnie? Simple. But of course that means he wouldn’t get his hands on Maria Conchita Alonso in order to subjugate her, so we can’t have that. But if he’s going to have a woman on his side, why couldn’t both roles have started “equally” in that they’re both from a prison and put in the game together? I saw Death Race a while back – and whilst not the film of the year, it certainly deals with these type of issues very effectively, barring a slightly fatty prologue.

There isn’t enough jeopardy. The game starts with Arnie and his mates Yaphet Kotto and …that other bloke being sped at high speed on to the “grid”: yet there’s nothing really waiting for them at the other end. In fact, they have plenty of time to explore the game before being attacked by Sub Zero. Excuse me, but if you’re walking on an ice rink, you have to expect trouble. What’s more, why are the two friends sent in with Arnie anyway? The Games people already know Arnie and these two guys have escaped prison together. What’s more, weedy guys only ever team up with strong guys when they’re up to something like hacking…. So it’s completely obvious the other bloke will find the code to get out of the game and be quick enough to give it to Maria Conchita Alonso before he dies (handy). And why was Yaphet Kotto even there? He seemed to add very little to the story, bar kicking Arnie out of the way of Buzzsaw. Then there were all the moments of dancing girls… Going on… and on… and on… Yes they have great legs and arses, where’s the rest of it?

The dialogue sucks. Yes, yes, Arnie’s films are never high brow – but they should be a laugh. Like when he kicks the door down in Predator – “Knock, knock!” – before blowing them all away. Or in T2: Judgement Day – “Hasta La Vista… Baby.” It’s just a laugh. But even the quips in Running Man aren’t *good*, they’re lame: “HERE’S YOUR SUB ZERO… NOW, JUST PLAIN ZERO!” WTF?

The game is over as soon as it begins. When Arnie kicks enough stalkers’ asses (about three), he’s offered a job by host Killian actually on the show. As a good bloke, of course Arnie declines. Would he? Wouldn’t he say, “Thanks! I’ll take it” then come out of the game and kill Killian and the rest of them? I know I would. Then of course the Games people fake the “end” of the game in order to take out Arnie themselves. Really??? Wouldn’t this be the ratings phenomenon on the century?? End of the day, no matter how hard Arnie is, he is just one guy. Why not send MULTIPLE stalkers in after him? Or better still, capture him somehow and dissect him live on TV? After all, they apprehended him pretty easily in a) the helicopter in the prologue and b) at the airport with that big net. Why can’t the Games lot do something similar?? It just doesn’t add up.

It hasn’t stood the test of time. What’s particularly WTF? about The Running Man is it came out the same year as Predator – 1987. Now, of course I don’t know if 1987 is the year it was actually made, perhaps it was in the can a while, but given Arnie was SO famous at the time, I doubt it. And in comparison to Predator, it looks positively old hat. Yes, I know Predator is set in the jungle and not the future, which gives it somewhat of a “get out of jail free” card – but the monster make-up looks pretty much the same as was available nearly twenty years later in the AVP Films. Similarly, whilst the invisible/laser effects, particularly around the time of Jesse Ventura getting blasted are a bit dated, the heat-seeking/Monster POV stuff I think still looks great. But going back to The Running Man, it’s as if the Filmmakers have built a few futuristic-style sets – then promptly forgotten it’s supposed to be the future. Everything about it screams 1980s, from music to hair to make up. WTF? Alien, made nearly ten years’ previously to The Running Man, *feels* more futuristic – even with that computer which isn’t vaguely *like* a computer. EVEN MORE WTF: Steven De Souza adapted The Running Man – never heard of him ‘cos you don’t pay attention to screenwriters’ names? Well, he wrote a little movie called DIE HARD which guess what, came out a year later and isn’t even remotely as dated… and the jeopardy is fab. So what happened here??

Anyway. Turns out ALL THAT was why I was underwhelmed by The Running Man as a kid.

What do you think of it?


The Running Man – novel

The Running Man on Wikipedia – Film

The Running Man on IMDB

The Running Man Trailer

The films of Arnold Schwarzenegger

Share this:

14 thoughts on “WTF? On Film 4: The Running Man”

  1. Yes, I remember being utterly confused when, as a 12 year old, I read Stephen King’s source novel. The plane crash and the guts falling out would’ve been great!
    And then I found out Starsky directed it! And what was Mick Fleetwood doing hanging around?!?!
    Personally, looking at De Souza’s track record (Commando, The Flintstones, Beverley Hills Cop III, bloody Street Fighter!!!) I wonder whether “Die Hard” was the biggest fluke in motion picture history…

  2. Die Hard worked because it had a better director (McTiernan, fresh off the success of Predator) and better source material – it was adapted from a novel as well but was much closer to the original source material than The Running Man was.

  3. DT – good point!!!

    Drac, I agree that Directors can make and break a film – however I disagree that adaptation has to stick to the source material to work. THE SHINING is very different to King’s book and was fabulous.

  4. Wasn’t really my point – more that because De Souza stuck more closely to the novel then he couldn’t really go wrong and that’s why Die Hard sticks out like statistical error on an otherwise unimpressive writing CV.

  5. “HERE’S YOUR SUB ZERO… NOW, JUST PLAIN ZERO!” – Err… Isn’t that an increase in temperature and, thus, an improvement, Arnie?

  6. Drac – ah, okay. Though adaptation in itself is a pretty big skill, so if he can do it in Die Hard, than why not Running Man? I’m unconvinced it’s just down to straying away from the source material… On a separate note, wasn’t aware Die Hard was a novel – who wrote it? And was it called Die Hard??

    DT – my brother likes to shout Arnie quotes at my husband via walkie talkie when they’re out fishing – and that sub zero one is a fave! They never get tired of it… Aaah. Simple things, simple minds, etc. ; )

  7. Yep “Die Hard” was originally “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp, which was a sequel to “The Detective”, which was made into a film with Frank Sinatra in the lead role!

  8. Lucy – why not adapt well on The Running Man? Because that’s the way studios operate? Because they obviously had the option on the book they couldn’t wait until the option lapsed and then release a film that was similar but without crediting King because he had the clout and resources to sue them? (Compare with Michael Marshall Smith’s “Spares” which Dreamworks optioned, let lapse and then released The Island which has a lot of similarities but MMS felt it wasn’t worth his while to sue. Apparently The Island also bears more than a passing resemblance to a 1979 film called Parts: The Clonus Horror – the makers of which did sue Dreamworks and settled out of court for a considerable sum. I digress.)

    Also, looking at this undated draft it seems that it was written by Jeb Stuart with revisions by De Souza. So it’s good because, in fact, it wasn’t really written by De Souza?

  9. Lucy,

    Can’t stay long on this one, especially since I once caught about five minutes of this pile of flopsy and decided that was more than enough. What I do want to say is that these almost stream of consciousness postings sometimes come across as being so innocent that I just want to cuddle your bumps, pat you on the head, and give you a cookie. It’s only when you get a bit more cynical that the bigger picture starts to emerge from the fog of ideas.

    Let’s just consider some variables, starting with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I first saw him in Bob Altman’s The Long Goodbye as the henchman to a thug who whacks his mistress in the face with a Coca-Cola bottle. What would that have been, mid-1970s?

    So along with the body building and investing in real estate and whatever else the Oak was up to, he had already appeared in Hercules in New York some years before and, as the 1970s progressed, landing bit parts here and there, playing on the funny name and the fact that he was built like a brick shithouse.

    He lucks out by bagging the role of Conan. Obviously he got cast as Robert E. Howard’s legendary creation based on size and strength rather than acting talent. That probably played a factor in him getting the role of the Terminator. There he had to look menacing, unstoppable and be able to fire a gun. Obviously no Shakespearean soliloquies to perform there. Just unload a semi automatic, job done!

    By then – 1983/84 – he was relatively known for relatively low-budget pure popcorn action movies. I suppose you could say it was the start of his starring-roles career. Then come Commando and Raw Deal, both of which don’t make a spectacular amount of money, so it’s still early days. The audience that comes to see these movies is still limited. The kind of films that he will be offered is still limited. I doubt Merchant Ivory came knocking with a costume drama script.

    Both Predator and The Running Man are released the same year, as you mentioned. I don’t know which was filmed first. Some time ago I tried listening to McTiernan’s commentary on the DVD but it put me to sleep. The thing is, the Oak is still at the point in his career where if he’s offered a role and a cheque he’s going to take them, especially if they are the kind of films he has been making.

    Here’s the thing, the Predator budget was $15m. The Running Man had $27m to play with. Predator shows its limitations, like Carl Weathers’ arm being clearly visible after it was supposed to be lopped off. It’s one on many mistakes and continuity foul-ups. This is long before a digital clean up in post could sort out problems like that.

    What Predator had going for it were the visual effects by R/Greenberg Associates. The company had been involved with a number of title sequences. Most notably they had a hand in the titles for Alien, and The World According to Garp. When I visited their studio in New York around 1989/1990 they were pitching for the Black Rain title sequence. The boards were very interesting but they still didn’t get the job.

    Obviously they were looking to branch out so that when the Predator gig came up they pulled out all the stops. I wouldn’t be surprise if they even lost money doing it. If they did, the work screamed, “Look what we can do!” How different would Predator be without the thermal POV shots?

    Then you’ve got the Stan Winston Studio doing the creature effects. Check their credits and it is still relatively early days in the company’s career even though they had already done Terminator and Aliens. Didn’t Winston say in an interview that it was Cameron, sitting next to him on a plane who suggested the mandibles on the face? Every job is done to get the next job and they had competition from Rob Bottin at a time when Giger and Ridley Scott had raised the bar for alien creatures on film.

    That’s why Predator stands out. Also, because Arnie isn’t the greatest of actors he was surrounded by an interesting bunch of characters. The best lines in the script for this sort of nonsense come from the rest of the team, like Blain remarking, “I ain’t got time to bleed,” as he chews tobacco and levels the jungle with his mini gun.

    The Running Man obviously didn’t have these kinds of factors on its side. And it was directed by Paul Michael Glaser. You can’t compare this film to Alien. The latter directed by Ridley Scott who trained at the Royal College of Art and after working at the BBC went on to direct hundreds of award-winning commercials before he started making feature films. The former directed by the guy who played Starsky in Starsky & Hutch. What are the odds that The Running Man looks pants. I bet it even looks worse than Norman Jewison’s Rollerball from the 1970s.

    In fact reading up about it, it seems closer to Robert Sheckley’s novel The Prize of Peril which had been made into a movie a few years earlier. Why did they buy the rights to Richard Bachman’s book? Because by then it was discovered that the author was Stephen King writing under a pseudonym and the adaptations of his books were drawing an audience.

    As for Steven de Souza… Well, the guys have put you right about Jeb Stuart being the scriptwriter of Die Hard. De Souza was brought in for revisions. The copy of the script I brought back from LA – the Second Revised Draft, dated October 2, 1987 – lists the dates of the eight sets of revisions. They had gone through blue, pink, green, yellow, goldenrod and salmon pages and were back on blue and pink.

    The budget was $28 million. If I remember correctly, $1 million went to pay Bruce Willis’ salary which was a big deal then for someone who had become a face from being in Moonlighting. Even the initial posters for the movie had the office building on it because they didn’t think his mug would sell the film.

    Why did the film work? Was it the concept? The sequels haven’t been as impressive because they take the story out of the confined space of the original. Willis, playing the underdog role, created an easy-going character who could stand up to a fight. Along with the thrills and spills there was some nice comedic touches that gave it a bigger appeal, especially when it tweaked the nose of authority figures or, in the case of the FBI agents, just took the piss of them.

    One thing Arnie can’t do is comedy. When he is in a film like Twins or Kindergarten Cop or Junior he plays the straight man or the foil. As the years went on the one-liners became more and more strained.

    It’s not an exact science. Some films get lucky breaks and audiences respond to them more than others. De Souza certainly dined out on the success of Die Hard for as long as he could, and good luck to him.

    …so much for keeping it brief!

  10. GD, I can never count on you to keep it brief.

    And you can count on me to NEVER let you, ahem, “cuddle my bumps”. I’ll go for the cookie though.

  11. Keep it brief or keep it in my briefs?

    They're M&S cranberry & orange cookies. Very nice too with a mug of steaming drinking chocolate.

    You said that The Running Man looks horribly dated. That's the big trouble with science fiction films that went for the whacky, out there approach. Stanley got it right with 2001: A Space Odyssey as did Scott with Alien.

    When you look at something like Logan's Run it's a case of… what the hell are they wearing? Oh, Jenny Agutter's thighs!! Blimey, this is nonsense. Woo-hoo, Agutter's tits!!!

    And that's about it.

  12. So many comments…

    1) Steven De Souza was the 80s equivalent of today’s David Koepp, or David Goyer, or Zak Penn.

    In fact, I’d argue his influence was even bigger considering he had a very solid career in both film AND TV. Knight Rider anyone? Knight of the Juggernaut — you know the 2 part episode that gave KITT super pursuit mode :p.

    We wouldn’t have the action movies we had in the 80s without him paving the way. And really… can anyone argue that the 80s wasn’t the decade of the action movie?

    2) The Running Man — I loved it as a kid. I love it, now.

    I think the biggest thing going against this movie is that, it IS very dated. In terms of production, it didn’t age well at all.

    However, the concept isn’t dated. At all.

    In fact, the rise of reality TV makes it even more prevalent imo. Isn’t the eventual extreme of reality TV, death on television?

    Random Die Hard facts:

    a) Die Hard is an adaptation. The book was called NOTHING LASTS FOREVER.
    b) In interviews, both writers talk about the fact that they went into production with a script that was only 35 pages long. It was actually finished AS it was being shot.
    c) The scene where Hans confronts John was added to the script after McTiernan heard Alan Rickman doing an off the cuff “American” accent onset. He thought it would be a good way to put hero and villain face to face. And, boy, was it.

    Arnold trivia:

    There was no luck involved in landing the role of CONAN. No one remotely looked like Arnold at the time, in terms of physique. Both Milius and Oliver Stone knew this.

    He really didn’t break as an actor until James Cameron’s TERMINATOR.

    That’s the movie that made both Cameron and Arnie’s careers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *