Review for The Running Man - Limited Collector's Edition in SteelBook
I received this on what should have been Brexit Day. I love Blu-rays, and Europe is a Region B area, and there are plenty of films that have had releases in countries like Italy, Germany and France that haven’t had a release in the UK, and even more that have better versions available in Europe than the UK. I wanted to get one final order in before VAT and Royal Mail’s extortionate handling charges start to apply. Who knows, by the time this review is posted, we might have actually have left. The Running Man is one of my favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, a quintessential eighties action flick, and I have long wanted it on Blu-ray. It’s been available from Europe for years, but I kept waiting for a UK release. Last December, Germany gave The Running Man a second edition, with a re-mastered picture and audio, and a bigger extras package.
Ben Richards was a helicopter pilot serving the brutal government of America 2017, but when he was ordered to open fire on a food riot and refused, he went from public servant to public enemy in the blink of an eye. Now he’s the latest contestant on the Running Man game show, a gladiatorial TV show where prisoners get to fight for their lives and their freedom all to the benefit of the show’s ratings, and to keep a bloodthirsty audience blind to the iniquities of society.
The Running Man gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. It’s not the best that you could hope for, but then again, The Running Man was never a big budget movie, made all the more evident when you see the sets in high definition. Also, coming from the mid-eighties, these films never had the best film-stock, as films like Terminator and Predator can attest to, films that took a lot of money and time to get HD transfers of modern equivalent, and even then the results were controversial.
Thankfully they haven’t gone for the full DNR, edge enhancement option, and The Running Man looks passably filmic on this disc. I haven’t seen the original Blu-ray to compare, but this is watchable, clear and sharp, with a light level of grain suggesting a smidge of noise reduction, but avoiding the tell-tales of waxy skin tones. Detail levels are good in brighter scenes, but given that much of this film is in smoky or dark sets and locations, shadow detail can be lacking. The film is stable throughout, although there is the odd fleck on the print. The biggest complaint is just how much the reds are pushed. In that regards it’s just as tinted as the old DVD. But I have to say an HD transfer is a world away from that old SD letterbox disc.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English, 5.1 Surround German, and PCM 2.0 Stereo English and German, along with optional English and German subtitles. For the original authentic experience you have the stereo, but I gave the surround track a try, and it wasn’t bad. Certainly it presented the Harold Faltermeyer soundtrack in the best light, while the action and effects came across well. Like many remixes, it goes a little over the top when it has the opportunity to show off, and the launch tube sequences throw you right in there with the Runners. But this is one mix where the dialogue is a little low, and you might have to ride the remote while you watch the film.
If you pay a few extra Euros, you can opt for the Mediabook release, which comes with four discs, adding a DVD version of the film, and the CD soundtrack to these two Blu-ray discs, along with 20-odd pages of German essay about the film. I stuck with the Steelbook, which comes with an embossed Arnie cover, and a plastic o-card which emblazons the rest of the film’s characters across his chest, and has some blurb on the back. You get two Blu-ray discs overlapping on one side of the steelbook case.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Rollerball before booting to an animated menu.
With the film you get one Audio Commentary with director Paul Michael Glaser and producer Tim Zinneman. A second audio commentary features producer Rob Cohen alone.
You get the original trailer and the German trailer, both in PAL format.
Disc 2 has the rest of the extra features, with a handful of interviews.
“The Art of the Blockbuster” with Renato Casaro lasts 23:54 and is in Italian with German subtitles.
“Running on Empty” with Robert Grasmere lasts 23:52 and looks at the films effects.
“Back to Bachman” with Steven E. de Souza lasts 36:59 and examines the script.
“Muscular Memories” with Susan Jeffords lasts 23:04 and looks at 80s action movies.
“The Sound of Running Man” with Harold Faltermeyer lasts 15:52 and is in German.
“The Game Theory” lasts 20:15 480i and looks at the film and the subsequent explosion of reality TV.
“Lockdown on Main Street” lasts 24:37 480i, and is a bit of a reach, looking at Big Brother government following 9/11.
All of the video extras are in HD unless otherwise stated, and all of the English language extras have German subtitles, which you can only turn off via your remote.
Incidentally, the ratings logo isn’t on the Steelbook or the o-card. It’s actually on the cellophane wrapping, so you can have your artwork unmarred.
The Running Man has dated, but not completely. It betrays its eighties origins with every image of Lycra and big hair. But underneath the mindless violence, the slick eighties presentation and the cheesy dialogue, the social commentary is even more valid today than it was 32 years ago. When it comes to television and spectacle, we are as a society more voyeuristic than ever before. Governments are more about spin than policies and when you hear lines like “I’m your court appointed theatrical agent” or “Get me the President’s agent” they somehow sound far more plausible now than the obvious jokes they were in 1987. In this respect, The Running Man has a lot in common with Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, but it hasn’t stood the test of time half as well. The low budget is quite obvious now and the sets seem quite restrictive and cheap. Paul Michael Glaser directs with a light touch and it often feels like a pop video.
Despite that, the story is good even though it bears little resemblance to the Stephen King novel. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the peak of fitness here and every bulging muscle reminds us why he became such a superstar in the first place. This was when films were made around his prominent talents, being strong and shooting bad guys. Here he goes up against a whole host of kitted out WWF wrestlers and he outdoes any of his previous work in terms of wisecrack quotient. Every despatch of a bad guy warrants at least one comment and usually gets two.
The Running Man is fun when it comes down to it, the kind of fun that I can appreciate on a regular basis, and stacks up well against classic Arnie movies like Total Recall and Commando. The supporting cast establish a group of memorable characters, and Damon Killian as the malevolent game show host makes for an unlikely but effective antagonist. It’s a shame that the satire isn’t sold as well as the action and the odd moments of humour, but it works well enough to be enjoyable.
I waited for around eight years before I caved and imported this German release. Let’s face it; The Running Man is probably never going to a get a UK Blu-ray. If you want this film, it’s best to bite the bullet and import. From what I’ve read, these recent German Steelbook and Mediabook releases (There’s a retro VHS case version as well) have the best transfer of the film. It’s never going to look great, but at least it’s watchable.