Archive for August, 2016

When reading through these posts, you may get the idea that most movies don’t settle very well. Mainly, that as I get older, I tend to think about movies differently and my perspective changes and now movies I used to like all stink. Or that maybe I just don’t like any movies. I have actually been accused of changing people’s minds on movies before, which is certainly not my intention (well, perhaps subconsciously), but I spent four years in film school, so I apologize if that changed how I watch movies. Also, someone has spent trillions of dollars on these movies. The least I can do is give it some thought. Lord knows, sometimes no one else has (directors included.)

So, I’ve been wracking my brain a little for a suitable movie that has settled well, but not necessarily because I’m older and grumpier now.The one I came up with has settled well simply because it was so prophetic, which is saying something considering it was a semi-brainless Arnold Schwarzeneggar action movie. I give you… The Running Man.

Set indownload 2017 (thirty years in the future when the movie came out in 1987, but a few months away now), the movie takes place in a world where the most popular show on TV is  a reality game show that is part-American Ninja Warrior, part-WWE Raw, and part-Family Feud, with Richard Dawson even playing the host. He even gets to kiss an old lady from the audience.

Sure, in 1987, it seemed pretty far-fetched.  When the book it was based on was originally published by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman) in 1982, it was even more out there (TV shows that debuted in 1982: Family Ties, Cagney & Lacey, Square Pegs and Knight Rider. Not exactly what King had in mind.)  In this 2017 – 2025 in the book – television networks pretty much rule the country and “The Running Man” is it’s undisputed ratings king. The show offers convicted felons a chance at a full pardon (and apparently a trip to Maui) if they can survive a run through the Game Zone while being chased by “The Stalkers.”  Sounds preposterous, right?  It certainly did even to my ten year-old ears, until several years later when I saw Survivor for the first time.  Obviously, there are no Stalkers, and inaugural winner Richard Hatch was actually convicted of tax evasion after his big win, but the similarities are still there.  Although Survivor host Jeff Probst can’t hold a candle to Dawson’s Damon Killian, who encouraged one of his minions to tell the State Department to “go f*** themselves.” It was one of the most hilarious moments of my youth. And I really didn’t even know what the State Department was.

According to the movie, there has been a worldwide economic collapse, forcing the U.S. into a totalitarian police state (must have been the Trump Presidency). Consequently, all the fun stuff, like art and music, has been censored unless mandated by the government. With no other entertainment to turn to, the public is pacified by government-sanctioned television. It all sounds very diabolical, but, really, are we that far away from this?

This particular episode of The Running Man follows Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s Ben Richards quest to finish the game.  Richards was a military helicopter pilot wrongly accused of massacring a crowd of people during a food riot.  Obviously, Richards is the one good cop in the bad town, screaming, as only Arnold can, “All dey want is food, for God’s sake!” Unfortunately, Richards is subdued when he disobeys the order to open fire on the rioters, and then his evil colleagues carry out the massacre, anyway. With the help of some snazzy, 1980’s video editing, they are able to pin it on Gentle Ben, and he goes to prison. Months later, Richards, because he’s Arnold, leads a jailbreak, and his asked by his fellow convicts to join The Resistance, a rag-tag group of dissenters who oppose censorship and oppression and good TV. The Resistance is oddly led by Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa, so no wonder they were trying to snag a guy like Arny.

Richards turns down their offer, and seeks out his brother, but finds Maria Conchita Alonzo living in his brother’s old place. He promptly kidnaps her and tries to make his getaway to Hawaii, but she turns him in and he is arrested again. When Killian finds out that it may be possible to get “The Butcher of Bakersfield” on his show, he makes a few call (hilariously to “the President’s agent”), and Richards and two of his weenie Resistance buddies are the newest runners.runningman1

As the game progresses, though, something different happens when Arnold starts killing The Stalkers. Instead of the trip to Maui, though, which we learn isn’t a thing because the winners were all rigged and those chumps died just like everyone else, he and Alonzo (who got tossed in for trying to help him) look for a secret and rather convenient Resistance base in the Game Zone. They find it and present evidence that Arny was framed and broadcast it all over the world during the show, since everyone is watching The Running Man, anyway. Even though that should have been enough to bring the whole network down, it’s not enough for our hero, who has to go in guns blazing to take out Killian, who, despite being the main villain in the movie, is actually just a game show host. Imagine a former Price is Right contestant getting so disgruntled that he felt he had to go back and murder Bob Barker?

As I said earlier, the reason this by-the-numbers, 80’s action flick settles well is because it was kind of ahead of its time, even down to the pre-Draft Kings gambling that went on in the streets as the show was happening. One of the turning points for Killian was when he realized that people started betting on Richards to win the game, which was apparently never done. People love the underdog, even when it’s Arnold Schwarzeneggar. It is pretty interesting, though, when you watch wrestling, UFC and even football games these days, the resemblance to what was depicted in the movie is uncanny. For years, I actually thought that UFC was rigged, much like The Running Man, because it seemed like the fighters who won just happened to be the most popular. Ronda Rousy’s huge loss proved that I was wrong, but the very fact that I was suspicious probably says all that we need to say about that.

It’s not just the physical competition TV shows that remind me of the movie, though, because there are about a million so-called reality shows that also fit the bill. Chefs, tattoo artists, car builders, gold-diggers, hicks making moonshine, or whatever. They all have a little Running Man in them. Other than Dawson, the best performance in the whole movie might be by future-governor Jesse Ventura, basically playing himself as a former Stalker who believes, like a lot of former athletes, that the game shouldn’t be messed with in the name of ratings. When Ventura refuses to come out of retirement to face Arnold on the show, the network folks simply digitize the real faces over stunt-doubles and stage the fight, anyway. That’s a trick that happens in every action movie these days, but this was 1987, remember.

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So, if all that other stuff has happened, how far away are we really from watching people kill each other for money on a regular basis? Honestly, if The Running Man was on today, would you check it out? Or at the very least, bet on it in Draft Kings?

 

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