It’s hard to imagine the words “Schwarzenegger” , and “Social Satire” being used in the same sentence. Sure enough however, there’s a film that manages to combine both. 1987’s The Running Man manages to combine action, science fiction, and hammy one liners. All the while supplying social commentary on America during the Reagan years. Somewhat in the same vein of They Live, only more over the top.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, I’m utterly surprised. For those of us who have, in my case several times, here’s the story. Every day Americans everywhere tune in to their favorite game show, The Running Man. Convicted criminals are given a chance at freedom, in a carnival like atmosphere. Known as ‘Runners’, they have to elude capture and death at the hands of ‘Stalkers’, pursuers who have the appearance of comic book villains. The show is hosted by the charismatic, ratings hungry Damon Killian, played by real life game show host Richard Dawson. In this dystopian future, the public is hungry for blood and violence. Mirroring the massive boom of media in the 1980’s. The show itself almost resembles the gladiator fights of Ancient Rome, if it never fell.
Speaking of media, in this world it controls everything. People are told what to buy, wear, drink eat, and do. The only news that gets delivered, is heavily edited to maintain control. The 80’s were the decade of excess, much of the television shows, movies and trends reflected consumerist society at its’ height. However, this and other Cyberpunk films, such as Max Headroom suggested we were all being controlled like puppets.
That’s the serious side of the film. But much like every film he’s ever done, you’re not going to find subtlety when Schwarzenegger has top billing. Which makes it all the more enjoyable, hell I think I have all of Jesse Ventura’s lines memorized at this point. Our old pal Arnold plays convicted police officer Ben Richards, the shows newest contestant. He’s off somehow survive the contest, and aid an underground resistance group. They’re trying to alert the public to the truth, about the lies they’re being fed by the mass media.
Surviving a contest for Arnold means everything we’ve come to expect from a film of this nature. Over the top death scenes, cheesy one liners and testosterone fueled mayhem. Which is what makes this film as enjoyable as it is. You can combine a story about consumerism, adventure, and the power the media has on society. Sometimes, you can even sandwich it in between biceps and beefcake.
This one never disappoints.