158. The Running Man (Richard Bachman)

Sunday, April 07, 2013
I'm a child of the 80s.  While I was born in the first half of the 1970s, the most memorable parts of my childhood are from the decade of parachute pants, neon everything, the Walkman, and cocaine snorting yuppies.  Whenever I think of movies from the 1980s, alongside John Hughes, the one other person who figures prominently in my memories is Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It was the era of Conan the Barbarian, Predator and the Terminator.  While many of his best cheesy action films from this decade can be found somewhere on your cable television dial any day of the week, you don't often see The Running Man making an appearance.

While looking through the 100s of titles currently loaded on Hrothgar, king of the eReaders, I noticed a copy of The Running Man.  I had read some Stephen King in my late teens and early twenties but I had never picked up anything written under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.  Flashing back to memories of Jesse Ventura and Richard Dawson, I was overcome with a wave of nostalgia.  Why not?  LOVED IT.  Here's the GoodReads synopsis:

The Running Man is set within a dystopian future in which the poor are seen more by the government as worrisome rodents than actual human beings. The protagonist of The Running Man, Ben Richards, is quick to realize this as he watches his daughter, Cathy, grow more sick by the day and tread closer and closer to death. Desperate for money to pay Cathy’s medical bills, Ben enlists himself in a true reality style game show where the objective is to merely stay alive.

For some reason though, the story seemed completely different than what I remembered from the movie version.  To be honest, it has been at least ten years since I'd watched the movie and the mind has a way of playing tricks on you as you age so I figured I had likely forgotten parts of the film.  But, just to be safe, I decided to watch it.

Wow.  There were really only two things that stayed true to the original story - the name of the main character (Ben Richards) and the name of the game he competes in (The Running Man).  After that, the stories couldn't be more different.  Who Richards is and how he ends up on the game is so far removed from the novel that the story loses the Orwellian feel and message King/Bachman wrote.  Now, the film version is entertaining in its own right but this is further proof that the book is usually better than the movie.  Unless you're looking for an 80s flashback, skip the Arnold Schwarzenegger muscle-fest and pick up a copy of the book instead.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I don't think I have ever read The Running Man either, but I've always liked the movie, so perhaps I should. I was immediately reminded of it when I watched The Hunger Games, actually.

Karen said...

The book had me thinking of 1984, Brave New World and The Handmaid's Tale. While not quite as good as those three, it was filled with a lot of the same themes. I also loved how King/Bachman foreshadowed a lot of what is taking place today with reality television and the growing distance between societal classes.

S.M. Elliott said...

It's strange how some of the Stephen King adaptations of the '80s and '90s basically just borrowed the title of the book, then wandered off in their own directions (Lawnmower Man, prime example).

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