Like Network and several other films before and since, Paul Michael Glaser's The Running Man (1987) seemed far-fetched decades ago...but it hits a little closer to home these days. Granted, this cheesy slice of cinema buries the brainy ideas a little deeper, as most viewers remember the colorful characters, goofy violence and terrible clothes more than the subversive cultural undertones. Standout performances by game show fixture Richard Dawson (as TV ringmaster Damon Killian) and---well, pretty much no one else except Arnold, maybe---all but guarantees that The Running Man needs to succeed on other levels. It does, for the most part, and that's the reason it's maintained a cult following for over 25 years.
The satirical concept of violence-as-ratings was hardly anything new by 1987, but franchises like The Running Man (and interactive copycats like the arcade hit Smash TV) eliminated any notion of subtlety. It wasn't a risky move, and the eventual release of TRM-lite shows like American Gladiators---not to mention the glut of reality TV we're still wading through---only cemented the film's pop culture fortune-telling abilities. Whether or not it helped cause this "fortune" remains to be seen...but on its own terms, The Running Man still feels more like a winking-on-the-sidelines comedy than a candid celebration of chaos, carnage and consolation prizes. As a loose adaptation of Stephen King's eponymous 1982 novel, this over-the-top adaptation is strangely entertaining, endlessly quotable and heavy on the cheese.
Obviously, it's not for all audiences. The combo of violence and camp is closely tied to films like Total Recall and Robocop, even though The Running Man isn't as good as either one. Many of the dangerous game show "hunters" are basically stand-ins for WWF personalities or, in the case of Jesse Ventura, actual WWF personalities. Some of the action set-pieces are, well, less than inspired. With a few more strikes against it, The Running Man would be as corny as Batman and Robin...and in certain spots, it is. Luckily, there's a brain behind the operation, reminding us that we're in on the joke and not part of it.
Since the home video rights were previously held by Artisan and Lionsgate, it's no surprise that The Running Man has had no shortage of DVD and Blu-Ray editions. The last high definition release wasn't an overly impressive one, pairing a limited but passable A/V presentation with a handful of 2004-era extras that focused more on "real-word similarities" than the movie itself. Since then, the rights to The Running Man have transferred to Olive Films; like their releases of Cujo and The Monster Squad, this is basically a barebones Blu-Ray with similar (but not identical) audio and video. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a slightly modified 1.78:1 aspect ratio (as opposed to the original 1.85:1), The Running Man looks about as good as possible under the circumstances. This was never a pretty film by design, as its color palette routinely shifts between dull and gaudy depending on the specific environment. This 1080p transfer appears to be similar but not identical to the Lionsgate Blu-Ray, as a mild boost in image detail replaces the slightly waxy, less film-like appearance of the previous transfer. It still isn't anywhere close to being a visual stunner, but Olive Films' new Blu-Ray appears to be the best that The Running Man has looked on home video to date. Does this make the film more enjoyable? That's entirely up to you.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio is slightly different as well...but once again, we're not necessarily losing anything essential. Lionsgate's old Blu-Ray featured a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio remix, which added to the chaos in artificial but occasionally enjoyable ways. The film's original six-track audio was created from a stereo source, so Olive Films' lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is probably more of an accurate presentation overall. The added punch and flourish of the older 7.1 mix is missed on occasion, but it's an even trade and I'm glad both versions exist (albeit on different releases). Unfortunately, no optional subtitles are included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the strangely patriotic menu (and matching cover artwork) looks more like The Running for Governor Man
. Navigation is smooth and simple, though a few trailers and warning screens must be dealt with beforehand. This one-disc release comes in a standard keepcase and includes a promotional insert.
As expected, this new release by Olive Films omits all of the extras from the previous (and now OOP) Blu-Ray edition from Lionsgate. Now, those older supplements weren't terribly special to begin with...but in all honesty, neither is the new Audio Commentary
with director Paul Michael Glaser that's exclusive to this release. Moderated by Olive Films regular Jeff McKay, this is a rather dry and dull session, with Glaser sharing only the most surface-level remarks about the production, crew and cast. That's not to say that die-hard fans shouldn't bother listening, but this is definitely something of a wasted opportunity.
You've more than likely seen The Running Man by now...and if you've gotten this far, you probably liked it enough to buy (or at least rent) the DVD. Though the original, OOP Lionsgate Blu-Ray might have a slight edge overall, this second attempt by Olive Films provides a minor but noticeable A/V boost. It also sacrifices the vintage extras while only adding a weak new commentary track to the package. Own 'em both if you're a huge fan; otherwise, pick the one that loves you and you love. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.