The Running Man appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen 1.33:1 version on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the latter has been viewed for this article. Although the movie looked a little drab at times due to the limitations of the source material, this seemed like a solid transfer.
Sharpness consistently worked well. The movie appeared nicely distinctive and detailed from start to finish. I noticed no signs of softness at any point during the flick. No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but some light enhancement seemed apparent at times. Print flaws stayed minor. The movie looked a little grainy on occasion, but not to a heavy degree. Otherwise, I saw a couple of specks and that was it; the movie mostly seemed very clean.
Eighties film stock often left us with somewhat flat colors, and that issue affected Man in a slight way. At times the hues were a little dull, but they usually came across pretty well. Most of the tones seemed clean and vibrant, and I noticed no signs of bleeding, noise or other concerns, though shots with red lighting looked a wee bit rough. Blacks appeared a wee bit murky on occasion, but they also mostly were reasonably dense. Low-light shots came across as acceptably well-defined, though they seemed slightly thick on occasion. Man betrayed its late Eighties origins but mainly seemed like a satisfying image.
Although those same source limitations kept the soundtracks of The Running Man from greatness, the mixes nonetheless appeared stronger than I expected. The widescreen version of the flick offered both Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 tracks. Both sounded virtually identical, as I noticed no differences between the pair.
Both presented very active soundfields. Surprisingly, the audio spread the music prominently to the rear. The score still mainly came from the front, but the back speakers blasted a lot of useful music as well. Effects cropped up from appropriate locations all around the spectrum. Both ambience and more prominent elements showed up all around the situation. Of course, action sequences fared best, and those demonstrated a lot of life. Helicopters zoomed around the various speakers, and bullets flew effectively. When the show contestants flew through their tubes, the audio put us in the same circumstances. The surrounds acted as very active partners in the mix, and that included a fair amount of localized material in the rear; the remix took the original monaural stems and gave them new definition.
Audio quality also seemed pretty good, but that was where the restrictions of the era caused some concerns. Mostly the effects suffered from age to a moderate degree. They seemed acceptably accurate but tended to be a little harsh at times. The effects did demonstrate pretty nice bass response, but they also showed some light roughness and distortion, and they occasionally came across as a bit dinky; gunshots especially lacked much heft. Music, on the other hand, was quite dynamic and engaging. The score was rich and vibrant. Speech seemed acceptably natural and crisp, and I noticed no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Overall, the audio of The Running Man seemed very solid, and it fell sort of “A”-level territory just because of some source concerns.
One caution about the audio: make sure you start your volume knob on the low end. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks seemed much louder than usual, so begin with that knob at the left and proceed cautiously!
Previously released as a movie-only edition, this new version of The Running Man packs a mix of supplements. (The anamorphic transfer and the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are also new to this version; since I didn’t see that one, I can’t compare the two releases.) On DVD One, we get two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Paul Michael Glaser and producer Tim Zinnemann, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. The commentary presents a modicum of decent information but mostly seems lackluster.
The pair cover a mix of issues related to the film. We learn about how Glaser came onto the project at a late date and why the producers dumped prior director Andy Davis. We also hear about set and visual design, some casting elements, stunts, and changes made to the original book, among other topics.
A lot of the time, the pair get into some semi-intellectual discussion of the current state of reality TV, news, and other media-connected subjects. That kind of material can be involving and compelling, but here it doesn’t work. It just comes across as banal and somewhat pretentious, and the commentary doesn’t manage to become anything terribly rich or intriguing. In addition, the track suffers from many stops and starts. Many gaps appear, and while none of these last too long, they pop up frequently enough to make the pacing uneven. I can’t call this a bad commentary, but it seems generally flat and mediocre.
For the second commentary, we hear from executive producer Rob Cohen, who offers his own running, screen-specific piece. Actually, to refer to this as “screen-specific” is a stretch, for Cohen doesn’t say much – if anything – that directly addresses the film’s on-screen action. Instead, he gets into how he acquired the property, adapting it for Schwarzenegger, financial structuring, other possibilities for the lead, the original director and why he didn’t work out, other directorial possibilities, specifics about the problems with Davis, why Cohen eventually got dumped from the flick, and a number of other facets of the production. As with Glaser and Zinnemann, Cohen indulges in some musings about the nature of reality TV and those issues plus a variety of political issues and thoughts about Schwarzenegger.
Overall, Cohen’s track seems much more interesting than the prior one, though it comes with its own faults. It starts very well and is very compelling up until the point when Glaser comes on the flick and Cohen ultimately gets the boot. Once all the players are in place, Cohen doesn’t have as much to say, though his discussion of TV topics seems better than the one in the prior track. Cohen makes at least one glaring error, however, when he states that he and Schwarzenegger were anxious to work with Davis due to the director’s production of Under Siege. Since Under Siege didn’t come out until five years after the release of Running Man, this is obviously way off base. Nonetheless, even with this mistake, Cohen offers a pretty informative and interesting chat.
Also on DVD One we find Lockdown on Main Street. This 24-minute and 36-second program examines “civil liberties post 9/11” via news footage and interviews. We hear from USC Professor of Law and Political Science Erwin Chermerinsky, National Lawyers Guild executive director James Lafferty, Center for Constitutional Rights senior litigation attorney Nancy Chang, ACLU associate legal director Ann Beeson, and Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Lee Tien. They discuss prior abuses of rights and the current climate, with a particular emphasis on the potential issues involved with the Patriot Act.
The piece offers a disconcerting look at how the government takes away rights in times of crisis and steps beyond appropriate boundaries, but “Lockdown” lacks any form of balance. It relies totally on groups opposed to laws like the Patriot Act and fails to temper this with opinions from the other side. While informative and provocative, that absence of an alternate viewpoint makes its usefulness more limited.
When we head to DVD we find another documentary called The Game Theory. In this 20-minute and 14-second piece, director Glaser, New York University Professor of Cinema Studies Toby Miller, Game Show Network Senior Vice President of Programming Bob Boden, Series 7 director Daniel Minahan, Fear Factor executive producer Matt Kunitz, former Survivor contestant Sarah Mariah Jones, College of Staten Island, CUNY Professor of Media Theory and Cultural Studies Edward Miller We hear a little about the history of reality shows and various issues connected to these series such as why they appeal to people, the different kinds, and where these programs may go in the future. It’s a decent examination of the subject but it doesn’t provide a lot of insight.
In addition to the movie’s trailer, we get Meet the Stalkers. This interactive feature gives us details about the dudes who try to stop the Running Men. We find pages for Captain Freedom, Dynamo, Sub-Zero, Killian, Buzzsaw and Fireball. These include character film clips and statistics, trivia about the personalities, and close-up looks at costumes and weapons. It’s all fairly tongue-in-cheek and only moderately interesting.
The package finishes with an eight-page booklet. This piece mostly presents some decent notes from director Glaser. Otherwise it rounds out with chapter stops and a list of special features.
A very broad mix of comedy and action, The Running Man fails to succeed mainly due to a severe lack of personality. From its generic characters to its bland action sequences, the movie enjoys a clever premise but it suffers from flat and listless execution. The DVD seems good, however, as it presents pretty accurate picture plus surprisingly active and involving audio. The extras vary in quality but provide a reasonably interesting set of materials. I can’t recommend this one to folks new to the flick, but fans of The Running Man should feel pleased with this new edition; it seems like a good upgrade from the older disc.