The Running Man is based on a dystopian novella by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King), in which a working stiff named Ben Richards becomes a contestant on The Running Man, a game show that has its players trying to survive for 30 days while the entire country looks for them. Richards is a poor man (“scrawny, pre-tubercular”, in King’s own words) who was tired of his wife having to prostitute herself in order to afford medication for their young daughter. Throughout the novel, you want Richards to survive the game, though the odds are impossibly stacked against him from the get-go. The tone of the book is full of despair and pathos, and there really is no bright side to look forward to.
Now, the film the Running Man stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards.
Do I really need to say more? Remember that “scrawny” description King gives of Richards? Yeah, that’s gone. We get Arnold. Actually, the only similarity between the novel and the film is that there is a game called The Running Man. Just about every other aspect between the two works is different. In the movie, Schwarzenegger is a police officer that was ordered to fire upon protesting civilians from a helicopter (I should mention here that the movie takes place in 2017. Coincidence? Probably). Arnold refuses the order, but is overpowered by four other men (barely). He is taken into custody and put in a labour camp where he meets a couple other political prisoners and Mick Fleetwood, playing himself for some reason.
After escaping the camp, Arnold is recaptured and put on the Running Man, along with doctored footage of him firing on those civilians after being told not to. He is also given a ridiculous spandex body suit to aid in his escape. Maybe it makes him more aerodynamic. Or they just wanted to better show off his muscles. Either way, it’s a silly suit and if it wasn’t there, we’d all be the worse for it. At some point during the lead-up to the game, we are shown a commercial of our favourite wrestling governor, Jesse “The Body” Ventura with a ridiculous head of hair and a mustache, calling himself Captain Freedom. He doesn’t really serve any real purpose in the movie, but the commercial for his workout routine is glorious (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LazUZz3K6IY).
Once released on the streets, Arnold takes up the namesake of the game and begins to run. Released on his tail though are the Hunters: Sub-Zero, a large man in goalie pads and wielding razor wire; Buzzsaw, another large man with a motorcycle and..well, a buzzsaw (and one of the greatest theme songs ever); and an even larger man named Dynamo, a future-y centurion who sings opera and wears Christmas lights. Throughout the movie, they each face off against Arnold and are beaten, always ending with Arnold dropping a great one-liner (“Sub-Zero? Now Plain Zero!” “What a pain in the neck” “He had to split” “I’ll live to see you eat that contract, but I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I’m going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamn spine!” Seriously, I can go on all day).
The film ends with Arnold living through the game show, winning the crowd over to his side, making his way back to the TV studio and killing the host by strapping him to a sled that explodes on impact with a billboard. The book ends with Richards’ family being murdered, and him driving a plane into the TV studio, killing himself and probably a floor of executives.
They’re basically the same thing.
Anyway, watch the movie, read the book, and then listen to the soundtrack over and over again for the former. It’s pure 80s greatness. I give the Running Man four broken spines out of four.