Book Vs. Movie: The Running Man

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.

Conan The Boring

Netflix is a funny thing. I have no idea why I put Conan The Destroyer (1984) on my queue, though it’s probably because I had never seen it before. Even more mysterious is why it was at the very top of said queue. Anyway, I got it in the mail right before we left for Disney World (I’ll probably do a post with some pics later in the week) and actually thought it was the first one (Conan The Barbarian). But, hey, it’s an 80s action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (even though I copied his name from IMDb, it’s creepy how good I’m getting at spelling his name) with swords, so how bad can it be right? Well, pretty bad.

Unfortunately, Destroyer is just a boring movie. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by ridiculously fast paced action sequences like those in Crank or Dark Knight, but I was astonished at how slow Arnold attacked some of his foes. It was like the squared off against each other, circled a time or two and then leisurely swung swords. Sure there are some cool decapitations, but overall the action just felt kind of stale.

Another problem I had with the story is that they give away the double cross in the beginning of the movie. You see, this witch lady tricks Conan into helping a young girl get her hands on a gem that will allow her to get a horn that will bring a god to life. She tells Conan that he can bring his dead lady (I’m assuming she’s from the first movie, which I haven’t seen in a long, long time) back to be his queen. Conan agrees to help the girl find the gem and then, right after that, the witch tells the girl’s bodyguard (played by crazy-tall sex machine Wilt Chamberlain) that, once the girl has the horn, he can kill Conan. That’s about 15 minutes into the movie. Didn’t they have spoiler warnings back in 1984? I think simply cutting that scene and revealing the double cross later would have been a lot more dramatic.

One more problem I saw was the huge cast. In addition to the girl and Wilt, Conan’s hanging out with the annoying thief who also acts as comic relief (though he’s nowhere near as annoying as Chris Tucker in Fifth Element), freed bandit Grace Jones and a magician dude who mostly seems to just put his hands together in odd configurations and chant (he voiced Uncle Iroh in the incredible awesome Avatar cartoon). I got excited after the team was assembled because I figured they would start tearing shit up, instead, most of them just stand around pointlessly. Why couldn’t you have combined the non-character of the magician with the comedy relief? It’s called economy of story folks (I may have just made that up, but it makes sense in my head).

Overall, I can’t say that Destroyer is a bad movie because, even though it’s slow and boring, it delivers what you’d expect: super-buff Arnold killing all kinds of people/stuff/glass monsters (don’t even get me started on how a monster made of reflections shouldn’t turn to glass when it dies), Grace Jones and Wilt Chamberlain doing their own thing (you know, being scary and being tall respectively). Seriously, seeing Wilt standing next to his charge is hilarious at certain times as she only comes up to his waste. All that being said, I also can’t say it’s a good movie. So, if you’re already a Conan fan, like Jim Gibbons , this might be right up your alley. Or it could be kinda boring.

Oh, one last thing I wanted to point out for my comic book fan readers. You may have noticed that I included the Comic Movie label for this post. That’s because Conan comic writers (who also happen to be big time comic writers all around) Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway got credited for the story, but apparently disliked the finished script so much that they turned their script into a graphic novel called Conan: The Horn of Azoth through Marvel and just changed some names. Cool huh? Maybe I’ll check that out, I bet it’s rad.