Posted on Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 by Fred Topel
Before Paul Michael Glaser directed The Running Man, four other directors worked on Stephen King‘s big screen adaptation. Here are the three The Running Man alternate versions we almost saw.
Earlier this week, Alamo Drafthouse Los Angeles presented a 30th-anniversary screening of The Running Man. Yes, it’s 30 years old this November. Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza spoke with “I Was There Too” podcast host Matt Gourley after the film and elaborated on some of the classic sci-fi film’s IMDb trivia.
The Running Man seems especially prescient in 2017 when reality TV is so popular, and the President of the United States is best known for hosting one such series. The film centers on a game where convicts are given a chance at freedom if they survive rounds of stalkers, flamboyant killers sent after them. Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed and put on the show.
It’s been reported that four other directors worked on The Running Man before Paul Michael Glaser. De Souza elaborated on those early visions. First, George P. Cosmatos, fresh off Rambo: First Blood Part II, saw Running Man as a serious Holocaust allegory.
“His family suffered under the Nazi occupation in Greece,” de Souza said. “In the draft I did for George, there were roundups, there were concentration camps. He went way into that. His vision was that the 1% people lived in a complete biodome. He wanted to film all the upscale scenes in the Edmonton Mall, the biggest shopping center in the world at that time. So we were going to shoot in Canada and we scouted it. When he broke out of the city, there was going to be a river raft chase. I think he was just trying to get the movie back in the wilderness where he had done Rambo. He wanted the whole chasing part of the game to be in the wilderness.”
Cosmatos left over budget disputes. In the end, he wasn’t far off.
“When the budget was done for that draft, it was $27 million,” de Souza said. “They said, ‘No, no, no, you have to do this picture for $18 million.’ He was right. It ended up costing $24 million.”
Then, Alex Cox wanted to direct The Running Man but was committed to Walker. Carl Schenkel was only in talks for two weeks, de Souza said. “I saw the back of his head in an elevator.”
Ferdinand Fairfax had a meta idea for The Running Man which might not have worked in execution.
“He had an interesting idea that the movie should be the actual broadcast, which would have had some narrative problems because how did [Ben Richards] get in trouble and stuff like that,” de Souza said. “He was making it very British. He said on an English crew, you have a tea lady who comes around with a cart of tea and biscuits. When the tea lady came through, the show stopped the crew stopped, the stalker stopped and the runners stopped and they all took a break, then started up again. It was kind of a Monty Python bridge too far. Before you could say, ‘What is the capital of Assyria?’ he was gone.”
The Running Man actually began production under Andrew Davis, who would later make classics like The Fugitive and Under Siege. But he was falling behind in the first week, and had some disagreements with de Souza and producer Rob Cohen.
“I got a call from Rob Cohen who said, ‘Listen, I need you to come to dailies right now. We have a real problem,’” de Souza said. “I had to pick my daughter up from dance class or gymnastics and bring her to the screening room. Arnold comes from the set and he’s in the yellow outfit. The director is not there. It’s the ice skating sequence with Subzero. I hear a voice saying, ‘Ew, that’s gross. Mister, can you put out the stinky cigar?’ It was my daughter. Arnold, very chivalrously puts the cigar out. Then she falls asleep on him.’”
The problem became apparent when they watched the Subzero fight scene.
“In a meeting earlier, Andy said, ‘Listen, I have a great idea. At the end of the movie, when they break into the studio, they’re cornered. They’re trapped. Then Arnold reaches into his pocket and takes out one of the exploding hockey pucks, throws it and kills the guards. Rob and I look at each other and he says, ‘That makes Arnold pretty shitty. He had this thing in his pocket for the whole movie where the whole supporting cast is getting killed and he uses it to save his own ass. We’re not doing it.’ Then he’s behind schedule several days. He shot and improvised that scene and had Arnold pocket one of the hockey pucks.”
It was actually Michael Mann who recommended Glaser based on his work on several Miami Vice episodes: “He was able to hit the ground running and finish the movie,” de Souza said.
Except for the explosive hockey puck, de Souza said Davis’ footage wasn’t all that different from Glaser’s, but remember Glaser finished the movie on schedule.
Cool Posts From Around the Web:
“He really only shot the hockey sequence and some of the stuff with the guys with the motorcycles when they’re like the picador rushing them into the arena,” de Souza said.