Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

"I 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 god-damn spine!"

(no-one can deliver this line funnier than Arnie)

I watched the first half of this film with Rob back in 1991, so this morning in 2012 it seemed about time that I watched the second half.

And my, but in 21 years, how my viewing context has changed.

This adaptation of the 1982 book by Richard Bachman (cough) finds Arnie jailed for a crime that he didn't commit, and agreeing to have his own jailbreak televised for the bloodthirsty public on LWT, sorry I mean ICS.

Upon its release in 1987, this was probably intended to be viewed as based upon the violent videos which at the time were called 'video nasties'. That and/or the reputation of TV shows from Japan like Endurance.

By the time I got to see the first half in 1991, the gameshow Gladiators had become all the rage on real TV, and indeed the WWF-type supervillains who Arnie and friends have to defeat are as colourful and farcical as that genre too.

In this millennium however, it can be viewed as being all about reality TV, even including the routine passing-off of body doubles as the actual contestants.

And tomorrow?


Oh dear…

Truly, a movie that has remained fresh and relevant down the decades then.

Well, as fresh as it was when it was first released anyway, which is a bit of a veiled compliment. The opening scene has some appalling back-projection, which starts off bad and just keeps on getting worse. It's quite unfortunate that the story required this scene to be replayed later on in the film, twice.

Funnily enough, the opening credits probably looked futuristic in its day too, whereas now they look seriously retro, helped along enormously by the 1980s synth music.

Even the sub-credits only start over scene two, resulting in one of those creditless opening scenes reminiscent of the way that British TV used to bump back the prologue from American TV shows to just after the theme.

Perhaps the biggest change in my attitude though is that back then this depiction of the future was supposed to look hideous. Now, in the actual second decade of the 21st century, it looks so 1980s and retro as to seem extremely cool.

Other smart predictions for 2018/9 include widescreen TVs (yes they were already available in the 1980s - I saw them), and the phrase "Digital Video" to describe TV recorded on a small diskette.

Plot wise it's pretty thin. The TV station have laid out the show in such a way as to make it embarrassingly easy for contestants to kill their employees, destroy their property and overthrow their station. They even televise the room in which they have left the bodies of previous secretly deceased winners - duh! (whoops, sorry, wrong decade creeping in there… like, whatever)

Even the hero, supposedly a good guy for letting Dynamo live for being "a helpless human being", later kills both Fireball and Killian while they are similarly unarmed.

But this is not intended to be high-brow, or even average-brow, stuff. Pretty well the only thing on this film's agenda is fun. The gags come thick and fast, and there are plenty of extra jokes to be found in the background if you're enjoying repeated viewings on one of those home video-recorder machines. Anyone else spot the poster for the TV series The Hate Boat?

But I'll leave the final word to Arnie's apathetically named nemesis Killian:

"This is television, that's all it is. It has nothing to do with people, it's to do with ratings! For fifty years, we've told them what to eat, what to drink, what to wear... for Christ's sake, Ben, don't you understand? Americans love television. They wean their kids on it."

I guess that would be why, at the end of the movie, the public is okay with the exposure of lying on TV… on TV then! :)

(available here)

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