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Featured Blu-ray Review: The Running Man

February 8th, 2010

The Running Man - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

It has been less than a year since The Schwarzenegger Collection, a four-disc set that included The Running Man. So no, I will not be watching the movie again to review it. In fact, I will mostly just cut and past the previous review and jump right into what makes the Blu-ray better than the DVD.

The Running Man is based on a novella by Stephen King and is set in the near future (2019, so it's less than a decade away now) after the economy collapsed and an authoritarian government took over all media. In order to pacify the people, the government broadcasts violent Reality TV shows, the most popular of which is The Running Man hosted by Damon Killian. In the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a helicopter pilot in the military sent in to stop a food riot, but when he refuses to fire on an unarmed crowd, he is framed and convicted of the very crime he tried to stop. At first he is sent to prison, but he manages to escape with the help of the resistance, although he is rather quickly recaptured trying to escape the country. Instead of being sent back to prison, Damon Killian pulls some strings and gets him sent into the game to help boost ratings.

However, there's a complication to this plan. A witness, Amber, who realizes the government's story about how he killed innocent people is a lie and becomes an ally. Sadly, she too is captured and sent into the game. At first Killian's plan looks like it will be a huge success as ratings are up, but that's because Ben starts winning. And people love a winner. Soon they are cheering for Ben, so Killian has to do something, anything, to stop Ben before he wins, and more importantly, before he can tell the world the truth about the game and about the government.

This movie earned reviews that are at the overall positive level, barely. (Literally, you flip one review from positive to negative and you would also flip its overall score from positive to negative.) At the heart of the movie, there's a great story by Stephen King that deals with a dystopian future where the government uses sadistic game shows to mollify its citizen. The filmmakers are cognizant of the dangers of corporate-controlled media and as I've stated in the past, they were ahead of the curve when it came to Reality TV. However, too much emphasis is given to the action instead of the story, which prevents it from being a great movie. Definitely worth watching, but it could have been a great movie.

As for the extras on the Blu-ray... there are extras on the Blu-ray! This is the fourth Lionsgate Blu-ray release I've reviewed this week, and it is the first one with extras. There are two audio commentary tracks, the first with Tim Zinnemann (producer) and Paul Michael Glaser (director) and the second with Rob Cohen (producer). The first talks more about the themes of the movie while the second details its behind-the-scenes troubles. There are also two featurettes, the first called Lockdown on Main Street, which talks about government abuses after 9/11 and touches on the theme of government reacting to a crisis by grabbing as much power as possible. The second featurette is called Game Theory and it discusses Reality TV, which is the other main theme of the movie. Both are only tangentially related to the movie, but are worth checking out.

As for the Blu-ray's technical presentation, it depends on your point of view. If one were to compare it to the previous DVD release, or even Blu-rays from films made around the same time, then the Blu-ray is a marked improvement. However, it doesn't stand up to movies made in the past decade, for instance, and there are issues with grain, sharpness, black levels, etc. The sound is a little better, as it's very clear, but the 7.1 surround sound doesn't really push the technology. That said, hard to beat that $14 price.

The Verdict

The Running Man is in many ways a prototypical Arnold Schwarzenegger action film from the era. It's got a great setup, thanks to the story by Stephen King, but it doesn't rely on a smart story but the action to carry it. It is more than entertaining enough to recommend, but it could have been more. As for the Blu-ray, it might not have any exclusive extras, but it is still worth the $14. Call it a solid buy.

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