I know it’s not great cinema, but I’ve always had a weakness for the movie The Running Man, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a framed convict selected for a sadistic game show. I legitimately think Richard Dawson’s performance as the game show host is one of my favorites.
The book, originally published under Stephen King’s infamous pen name Richard Bachman, is quite different from the movie. While Ben Richards is still pushed into appearing on the nation’s most popular game show, here it is because of the extreme poverty his family is facing, as well as the sickness threatening his young daughter’s life. The campier aspects of the movie are not present within the book either. Gone are the colorful nicknames of the assassins hunting down Richards, replaced by a grim police state and a compliant middle class all too eager to turn in the running man for the reward money.
King’s novel is a dystopian look at a future world where profits are prioritized and people are expendable. The ones who aren’t being rendered sterile in unsafe manufacturing plants are being placated by state-run television, piped into homes to keep people indoors where they won’t have to breathe in the foul air.
Ultimately, The Running Man is a bit of a trifle, using its dystopian tropes as the backdrop of an entertaining thriller as opposed to an examination of the serious issues raised but not explored. The countdown gimmick used to title the chapters also has little to no bearing on the book, which is frustrating. All in all, a book that people who aren’t Constant Readers can feel free to skip.