Back when Arnold Schwarzenegger left film and got into politics, I vowed I would never watch any of his movies again. It was a silly stand to take, which made sense at the time, but in retrospect seems really stupid. But it really wasn't that difficult of a decision to make, because by the time Schwarzenegger left the film industry, he had been on a losing streak of some truly craptacular garbage. Still, I had vowed to not watch any of his movies--even the ones I liked--and I made it a point to never buy anything with him in it on DVD. Like I said, it all seems pretty stupid in retrospect. But then this four-movie collection came along, and I had the opportunity to get my hands on it for free, and to be honest I really missed my annual viewing of The Running Man, so I decided to break my solemn vow.
So, here's the deal, I'm going to keep this review pretty short. I mean, come on...most of you reading this are probably Schwarzenegger fans already, and you probably have at least one of these four currently in your collection. Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Schwarzenegger Collection is that it is comprised of four titles previously released on DVD by Artisan--Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall, The Running Man and Red Heat. All four have been available for quite some time at fairly reasonable prices (about $10 each); but as near as I can tell, at least three of titles have been discontinued by Artisan. My original assumption was that this would simply be a case of a company repackaging existing product with the hope of unloading it as DVD goes the way of vinyl. Part of that assumption was correct, in that this is four titles offered by Artisan that have been shoved into one box--a practice we've been seeing with increased frequently as distributors no doubt look to unload inventory.
It is interesting to note, however, that all four films have not been repackaged, and are available exactly as they were as individual titles. This means that both Terminator 2 and The Running Man are the two-disc versions, and that all four titles are the ones that came loaded with bonus features. Terminator 2 is the 2003 "Extreme DVD" version, both The Running Man and Red Heat are the 2004 "Special Edition" versions, and Total Recall is the "Special Edition" release from 2001.
The Running Man (1987)--After the original Terminator, Schwarzenegger's best movie of the 1980s was Predator. That same year saw the release of The Running Man, a movie that best exemplifies everything that is right and wrong about Schwarzenegger flicks. Arnold stars a cop convicted of a crime he didn't commit. After he escapes from prison, he is recaptured, and forced to be a contestant on a deadly television game show where criminals are hunted and killed while audiences watch live. The film definitely has a twisted sense of humor, and an inspired casting move that has former Family Feud host Richard Dawson playing a sadistic version of himself, but Arnold's acting is just plain bad. For a moment it looked like he had found a formula that worked in the form of Predator--an action film fused with science fiction--and he could get away with being a terrible actor. But in The Running Man his performance is so bad that it makes the already dark satire seem all the more funny.
Red Heat (1988)--The weakest of the four films in this collection, Red Heat was produced during the height of Schwarzenegger's popularity, immediately following The Running Man and Predator (both 1987). Jim Belushi co-stars as a loose-canon Chicago cop who teams up with Arnold's communist-era Russian cop, who is in town hunting a sinister criminal. Not much more than a rehash of director Walter Hill's earlier 48 Hours, Red Heat seems more like a film Arnold would have done earlier in his career. And even though it is the weakest of the four films, it actually features one of Schwarzenegger's stronger performances (but that's simply because he's actually playing someone who can barely speak English).
Total Recall (1990)--Schwarzenegger returns in another futuristic thriller, where he may or may not be some sort of super agent whose had his memory erased. Looking for answers, Arnold finds himself on Mars, where terrible living conditions among colonists have sparked a rebellion that threatens a lucrative mining operation on the alien planet. Something of a culmination of his career up to that point, Total Recall feature everything from special effects to slam-bang action to the sense of humor and one liners that defined most of his films in the 1980s. Of course, there is also Arnold himself, whose limited range as an actor is the weak link in what is essentially the strongest film--story wise at least--in this collection. In an earlier conception of the movie, Arnold's character was supposed to be more of an everyman, making his transition to action hero more incredible. The problem, however, is that it isn't difficult to picture Arnold as an action hero, but damn-near impossible to see him as an everyman, especially given his limited range as an actor. For this reason, and a third act that just starts to become a bit tedious, Total Recall is something of a frustrating film.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)--Director James Cameron's 1984 film The Terminator was the movie that made Arnold a bonafide star, and it was only a matter of time before they two reunited for a sequel. Schwarzenegger returns as the cyborg killer from the future, only this time he has been sent to protect the future leader of a human rebellion against deadly machines. Highlighted by state of the art special effects and impressive action sequences, T2 delivered more of what made the original film great. And if that was all the film delivered, it might have aged better. But Cameron pads the film out with moody moments that bog the story down with too much emotional heft. The DVD version has an additional 16 minutes of footage not in the theatrical release, and though the movie holds up fairly well, it does run a bit too long. When push comes to shove, this is the best film in the collection, because even though it has some problems, it is the most consistent. And because Arnold is pretty much at his best playing a machine, meaning his acting is not a problem the way it is in other movies.
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