While reading Richard Bachman’s (actually Stephen King, of course) The Running Man, I leisurely compared the story to my fuzzy memories of the movie version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. All I really remembered about the 1987 flick was that an old game show host hosted the game, everything was pretty bright and colorful and the good guys had to fight themed bad guy villains with crazy gear. I did not remember that the movie version takes the character of Ben Richards and, instead of making him a down-on-his-luck dude with a wife having to whore for money, he’s a stand-up man who refused to fire on a bunch of civilians. This got him thrown into a kind of work camp/jail that he broke out of with a skinny nerdy guy and Bond’s Mr. Big (Yapeht Koto). There’s some nonsense about an underground resistance that’s manned by the drummer from Fleetwood Mac and Frank Zappa’s kid and on and on. Finally, Richards gets captured and thrown into the Running Man, which, just like the book, is a game show where people get chased and killed, but instead of normal people hunting them through the country, they’re launched into a field of play (still pretty big for what it’s worth) and chased by Stalkers who are themed villains. Essentially a mix of Silver Age themed supervillains, American Gladiators, Bond henchmen and slashers, the Stalkers include a killer hockey player, a dude with a chainsaw riding a motorcycle, a firebender and Jesse Ventura. The meat of the movie is really seeing Arnold figure out ways to best the bad guys, kind of like a video game. In fact, I would fully support an expanded video game version of this movie, it would be a ton of fun.
So the movie version is much different than the book. I’m fine with that. I’m glad I wasn’t a huge fan of the book and then saw the movie, though, because I think I would have been pretty disappointed. While reading through the story, I kept imagining a film version of the story that would be a lot more Children Of Men or The Road (but, you know, actually interesting, ZING!). I like that they went in a different direction with the source material for the 80s version, but still think there a lot of good cinematic potential in the novel that could be turned into a gritty, down to earth movie about a man on the run in a shitty future. The right filmmaker with the right vision could really do something interesting with that story.
Anyway, back to the movie for a minute. I really had a fun time watching it. Sure, it doesn’t make any sense (old ladies still get oohs and ahs from the corny game show host but also enjoy watching men–the supposedly bad men–getting torn apart on national television), but it’s a fun, 80s action movie that actually fulfills two of my blog subcategories: Friday Fisticuffs and Book Vs. Movie. I love a good double whammy, so this worked out perfectly.