80's Thriller Throwback: Runaway

As my slight obsession with collecting vintage RCA VHS tapes (I just love that classic red border cover and the side-loading action on some of them) continues, I realized that this Michael Crichton classic was originally released on this format for the very first time upon it's release. Once I realized I had to have it, it was easier said than done. Apparently, this specific VHS release is hard to come by, and if you do, it's not cheap. Sure you may find it in a thrift store for mere cents if you live in a big city, but sadly, I don't have that luxury. It took a while, but I finally came across one in excellent condition for under $10. 

This is a film that seems to get little attention all-around. If there's anything that anyone will take away from it, it will most likely be that it was Gene Simmons first gig as an actor, and the start of his triple threat as a villain in a few 80's cult classics. It's also one of the few films legendary author Michael Crichton directed himself. So let's dig in.

Runaway is an outstanding 80's thriller, and a severely underrated one at that. I just absolutely loved the world Crichton has created in this, a slightly futuristic world where robots and computers do almost everything. Now remember, this was 1984, so these things didn't exist, at least not for every day use. There are moments in the film that are eerily premonitory to where technology has come today. Though these things are but minor details in the overall story, it's these flourishes that really give this film a unique voice.

I think one of the best things this film has going for it is that it was made in the early to mid 80's. This very specific aesthetic really drives the film, giving it a tone that works really well. I seriously doubt that it would be nearly as fun or entertaining had they made this today, or in the last 15 years. Having been released in 1984 gives the film a time-stamp, even if they try to set it in a futuristic environment, it's still very much an early 80's looking film and it's really what makes it work as well as it does.

Gene Simmons being evil as Dr. Luther in Runaway (1984)
As much as I loved this film, I only have one single complaint. As a thriller, the film is superb. All the basic fundamental ingredients are here and as a film, it's structured incredibly well. The acting is top notch with everyone involved, and I think it's also the cast that really gives the film some of it's strongest assets. But if I were to complain about anything at all, it would be that Michael Crichton is not a visually arresting filmmaker. Much in the way John Badham shot Blue Thunder, Crichton chooses to shoot a good 90% of this film using handheld camera's. So there's no real style to be found anywhere. Sure there are momentary seconds of brilliance, but for the most part, it's essentially fast and loose freestyle filmmaking, which really kind of bummed me out because just with the whole set design and very specific 80's look, the film could seriously have used a more streamlined approach to the visuals. It's a great film, but it's not a visually impressive one.

All in all, it's pretty much a homerun in the 80's thriller department. It's also a solid entry in the tech-thriller genre. Everything comes together better than you expect for a highly entertaining film; killer tech, outstanding structure and solid performances, If only Crichton put as much emphasis on the visual eye candy as he did on everything else, it really could have elevated this several notches into "amazing". As it stands, it's still pretty "fantastic".

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