Monday, February 13, 2017

The "Definitive" Running Man Power Rankings

So in this blog post, we are going to have a little bit of fun with one of my guilty pleasures of a movie, The Running Man.

Of all of Arnold Schwarzenegger's brilliant masterpieces, this one is probably my most favorite. I say 'most favorite' because I have a couple of favorites of his movies. Total Recall is undeniably one of my favorites, as is Kindergarten Cop (I know, right?!). Predator of course is up there, as well as True Lies and even Eraser. But none of them top The Running Man for me.

I think the reason for this is just at how 80s this movie is, and it is so dated. I find it very charming in that regard, I don't care what anyone says, I could care less if a movie doesn't age well. This is what makes movies cult classics isn't it? I love the synth music in this movie so much, and I can't tell you how pumped up I get for when they are getting ready to insert Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) into the game zone. The theme music for ICS's number one rated show is pure gold, as is the intro dance sequence (choreographed by the lovely Paula Abdul). This whole montage is epic. If you don't believe me, watch it here on YouTube.

Before I get too carried away, for those of you who haven't seen this movie: WHAT THE HELL?! This movie has been out since 1987! Just kidding, I don't blame you if you haven't seen this. Of all of Arnold's movies that play on television, I understand how this one might get overlooked, but it does feature some of his all-time great one-liners that he is known for.

Seriously though, this movie is set in a dystopian future of the world (before dystopia's were cool, and this isn't a young adult dystopia). It is based on a book of the same name by an author you might have heard of: Richard Bachman. Who is that you say? Well that happens to be the pen name of one Stephen King. That's right, never thought this was a Stephen King novel did you? However, the movie is drastically different from the novel.

This movie takes place in the 2017 (HEY-O!) and the world economy has collapsed. Ironically, the government controls the entire media so they use it for pretty much all forms of propaganda. Namely, they put criminals onto the number one show on television, The Running Man. This is their form of justice as they have Stalkers that hunt down the criminals and kill them. However, if the 'Runners' survive long enough, they win their freedom (somewhat).

The show is hosted by the Damon Killian (the inimitable Richard Dawson, who is absolutely fantastic) who comes across as the Bob Barker of the future to all the audience members. I still find it odd how people who get chosen to pick the Stalkers win prizes. Do they win prizes for the Stalkers simply throwing a punch? Obviously for kills, but what else? In the movie, the chosen audience members are continuously winning something for nothing. Side note: my favorite prize is the board game, The Running Man: Home Edition (How does one play this? Who cares?!).

So now, let's get to the fun part, ranking the Stalkers that appear in the movie. This is obviously something that the movie has built-in as you see odds makers taking in bets of who will make first kill, etc. Heck, they even reference a couple of them as retired 'Champions'. I guess they are, for all intents and purposes, the future American Gladiators I guess. Except these gladiators kill the contestants competing against them, not shooting Nerf guns at each other or hitting each other with pool noodles.


This dude is absolutely last. Dynamo is the lamest Stalker ever. First, he just isn't very intimidating because he looks like Drew Carey decked out in Lite Brites (cool retro toy reference!). He also sings classical opera tunes, which indicates a lameness factor of zero. His car is lame as well. Of course he can't ride something cool like a Tron Light Cycle. Despite the fact that he actually killed someone in this movie (which some others can't claim, we'll get to them), he loses all credibility when he begs for his life from Ben Richards. He then goes on to die simply because his supposed gimmick backfires on him when Amber Mendez (the lovely Maria Conchita Alonso) activates the emergency sprinkler system and he gets electrocuted. He is just so lame and I don't know why anyone would pick him to be their Stalker.

5. Sub Zero

Let's get this straight, this is not the same awesome Sub Zero from Mortal Kombat. MK Sub Zero is super legit. This Sub Zero? Well, we'll get to that. In all fairness, he starts out pretty well! He had a great chance of being pretty high in these rankings, but he gets absolutely owned by Richards after he basically gets clotheslined to death by barbed wire.

In the movie, he is the first Stalker chosen and immediately slashes a gong in half with his razorblade hockey stick (and yes I know it's a goalie stick). That's pretty cool! This guy probably single-handedly killed off the NHL quicker than Gary Bettman has tried to. He also has hockey pucks that explode when they hit the walls and stuff. He also gets bonus points because he was in PeeWee's Big Adventure as the Buxton's butler, but points here count just as much as they do on Who's Line is it Anyway.

Sub Zero continues to do well when he manages to get them caught in a goal, but of course Arnold has to Arnold and takes him out by the method I mentioned above. Then he lays down the sickest burn ever, after the crowd is in stunned silence seeing a Stalker die for the first time, Arnold says, "Killian! Here's your Sub Zero. Now PLAIN ZERO!"

I'm sorry, when you get owned that badly, then you have no business being above anyone on this list... except Dynamo. Dynamo sucks.

4. Fireball

Now we are getting to guys that mean business. Fireball is one of the 'retired' Stalkers that gets pressed into action because Richards is kicking some major ass of the current crop of Stalkers. For any NFL fans, you might know him as the Hall of Famer Jim Brown, but here he is just a quiet, hot-headed dude.

Obviously, Fireball is a pyromaniac. Pretty much a better version of Garfield Lynns (a.k.a. Firefly of Batman lore), as he also has his own flamethrower and jetpack. The jetpack is key. Cool people have jetpacks. The Rocketeer. James Bond in Thunderball. Boba Fett. I could keep going, but where Fireball fails, is that his jetpack has a small moment of where it isn't cool. While Fireball thinks he is having a bad ass moment telling Amber that she found last season's "Losers", he completely leaves himself up to the stealth attack Richards pulls on him as he pulls out one of the fuel hoses and kicks him into the room drenching himself with fuel. Richards then proceeds to throw a freshly lit flare as him causing him to overheat in a massive way.

I think I give Fireball the benefit of the doubt in that he went too easy, but I think he is the one who killed the two guys who were thought to be last season's winners. And he basically was retired, so I'll give him a moment to act cool trying to impress a woman before he kills her. But he failed epically, just not as bad as Sub Zero did.

3. Buzzsaw

We are to the top tier of Stalkers now. Buzzsaw can be argued to be #1 on this list, until we get to the last two. Then there isn't an argument. From the moment Buzzsaw arrives to the ICS studios to get ready for that night's show (as seen in the awesome montage I described earlier), he tops the list. He lifts up a motocycle above his head for crying out loud. He even breaks some dude's nose just by pushing him out of the way, to which the guy is excited that Buzzsaw touched him. This guy is probably the most intimidating guy on this list, mostly because he has chainsaws. I don't know about you guys, but chainsaws are pretty terrifying. Even when I would watch the Stihl Timbersports on ESPN2 back in the day, I feared they would lop off a limb at some point. Plus, there is that whole Texas Massacre thing, too.

Buzzsaw gets his place on this list here because he does kill off one of the main characters, one of Richards' best friends, and comes pretty darn close to killing Richards. He also pretty much dies twice. Richards thinks he has him dead, which usually when Arnold kills someone in his movies, they die the first time. Not Buzzsaw. He gets the honor of pretty much dying twice. So due to all this awesomeness he portrays in his short amount of screen time, he gets the #3 ranking. That is, until he has to split.

2. Captain Freedom

Let me ask you this, if Jesse Ventura is a Stalker that is the all-time champion and retired because he's killed so many dudes over the years, would he be #1? Absolutely he would have to be! And for now, he is the highest rated Stalker, until you continue reading. Captain Freedom is eligible to be on this list because he also does come back after Richards defeats all the other Stalkers. During most of the movie, he is the lovable Stalker as he is basically the sideline reporter of The Running Man, giving the feel of the locker room and what not. I think my favorite part is when he tries to tell everyone about the days when he was a Stalker, only to be Howard Cosell'd by Killian who cuts him off mid-sentence all the time.

Captain Freedom gets precedence over the other Stalkers on this list pretty much because he is an undefeated champion, so to speak. He also is made out to be the one to kill Ben Richards because ICS edits footage together to make Richards die making the audience think their new favorite has been killed. Captain Freedom basically killed a dude with his own hands (as he was caught saying earlier that was how they used to kill the criminals in his time and not with gimmicks).

Also, which of the other Stalkers have their own workout video? The answer in none. So this hands down makes him better than everyone he is above in the rankings. Oh, and that thing where he tells Killian to basically pound sand with his new Captain Freedom outfit.

Yeah, that suit sucks.

1. Ben Richards

It was never going to be anyone else. How could it be? Ben Richards hands down is the best Stalker, and he counts as a Stalker because the audience members and gamblers start betting money on him making the next kill. Therefore, he definitely counts. But honestly, if you kill half of the guys on this list, you get special treatment. He sick-burned Sub Zero, killed Buzzsaw twice, and lit up Fireball, so yeah, he did some work. He even threw in Killian as a bonus.

Ben Richards was basically Maximus before Maximus in Gladiator. Well, movie timeline speaking, since Gladiator obviously is set way before this movie, since well, this movie technically happens later this year. He wins the crowd, just as the Spaniard does, and since he becomes the crowd favorite, the ruler (Killian) tries to kill him in a cheap way (the faking his death on TV) but it backfires massively. Oh crap, did I really just put it together that Ridley Scott got his Gladiator idea from The Running Man?! Hell no, but that is kind of awesome.

So there it is everybody, THE definitive Running Man Power Rankings. These cannot be argued at all, these are set in stone, let it be known. (Editor's Note: these still can be argued.) I hope all of you had fun reading this, I had an absolute blast writing it.

Ben Richards, you da real MVP.

Thanks for reading,

Mike G.

P.S. Dynamo still sucks.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

StarCraft: Evolution Review

Hello everyone!

Over the last month, I read a brand new book that came out in the fall titled StarCraft: Evolution by Timothy Zahn so I figured I'd post a quick review and some of my thoughts on it.

First of all, you may have heard of Timothy Zahn if you are a big science fiction reader, or if you are a huge Star Wars fan like I am. He has authored numerous Star Wars titles that were a huge part of the extended universe after Return of the Jedi. Namely, he was the author of the hugely popular Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy, of which I'm a huge fan of that character.

He now turns his attention to tackle another one of the huge staples in my life, StarCraft. I've wrote about my love a little bit about StarCraft before when I posted my review of the WarCraft movie, but it is certainly no joke. I've played countless hours of StarCraft since it came out in 1998 and I still play it to this day. In fact, I fired up the old StarCraft just the other day to play a couple hours. The language and imagery from this game is so ingrained into my head that I can spout out most of all the lines of the characters just like movie quotes (which is funny because a lot of them are actual movie quotes, especially the Terran dropship's 'Alien' quotes like, "Hold on, we're in for some chop" or "In the pipe, five by five"). So much so that when playing Cards Against Humanity, someone always knows to throw out the "You Must Build Additional Pylons" card out there at some point when I'm the judge.

So, naturally, when this book came out, I was really interested in reading it to see how a critically-acclaimed author would handle something so dear to me. I was curious to see how he would continue the storyline from the end of StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, which is the third and final chapter of StarCraft 2. So far, to this point, the continuity of the game's storyline progresses through the initial StarCraft, then StarCraft: Brood War (its expansion pack), then StarCraft 2 which composed of the trilogy of Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm, and Legacy of the Void.

In my opinion, the one of the best stories ever told in video games is the one that exists in StarCraft and Brood War. I was okay with the story that continued in StarCraft 2, but it felt a lot like many things in fiction right now, a being that seems hell bent on destroying the universe. StarCraft 2, however, did tie up a bunch of loose ends from the original two games, which were somewhat satisfying. I won't delve into the stories of the games too much here because there is a lot there if you haven't played any of the games, but you can look up the plots online.

That being said, there is so much in this book that relies on having somewhat of a knowledge of the games. I think that when Zahn wrote this novel that he figured that the audience would pretty much be anyone who played the games and not a general audience. Understandably so, but at the same time, I feel that StarCraft is a niche here in the States. I don't feel that it has as big of an influence on the larger population as say, Korea where it seems almost everyone plays it. I know many of my friends played it growing up, but it doesn't seem as large in the pop culture sense as some other Blizzard properties. Obviously World of WarCraft is their largest, but I think in quality of game, StarCraft far exceeds WarCraft.

Many of the characters that survived StarCraft 2 make an appearance in this novel and once again are major players in pushing the plot forward. Zahn does a great job though creating his own new characters that we get to learn about and care for throughout the book. As in any StarCraft game, the three main races here in the Koprulu Sector are the Terrans (humans), the Protoss (psionic ancient aliens), and the Zerg (bug-like killing machines). Each of these factions have their leaders that all appeared in the StarCraft games like Emperor Valerian Mengsk of the Terrans, Hierarch Artanis of the Protoss, and Queen Zagara of the Zerg. All of these characters became leaders of their groups by means of different avenues that can be learned from the games that came before them. Some of this is touched on in this novel.

The plot of this book is as follows (SPOILERS): After the end of the Second War (StarCraft 2), all three groups are in a period of peace. The Terrans and Protoss basically formed an Alliance at the end of StarCraft and were in a tepid Alliance throughout StarCraft 2. These tensions between some Terrans and the Protoss is elaborated in this book, but for all intents and purposes, they are allies. Emperor Valerian gets a distress call from Queen Zagara saying that Artanis is threatening to destroy her planet of Gystt that the Zerg were allowed to rebuild on. Artanis claims that she is building another army to start another war.

Zagara claims there is no ill-intent, they are simply minding their own business and have no intention of attacking anyone. Valerian arrives to the planet and both him and Artanis plan a meeting on the surface of the Zerg planet to see that they aren't up to making trouble. Artanis and the Protoss have never trusted the Zerg and is extremely skeptical of their intentions the entire time.

While the leaders meet to discuss how the Zerg have turned a barren landscape into a veritable jungle in such a short time, Valerian sent a team to investigate and research other areas of the planet to look behind the curtains, so to speak. This team is comprised of entirely new characters to the StarCraft lore created by Zahn. It consist of Lieutenant Halkman (a.k.a. Dizz), a Reaper class, Sergeant Whist who is a Marine, Tanya Caulfield who is a Ghost operative, a xenobiologist named Erin Wyland, and a Protoss "researcher" named Ulavu.

This team goes to investigate the source of some odd shaped geological features and find odd patterns of sounds and vegetation growth. The sounds are primarily psionic as both Tanya and Ulavu are extremely sensitive to being telekinetics due to being a Ghost and a Protoss. They end up finding out that this new class of Zerg they've never seen before is extremely powerful psionically and are capable of causing enemies to basically have a brain overload and pass out making it easier to kill them. They call this new class Psyolisks to go along with the basic naming convention of the Zerg up to this point. They are basically mini versions of the classic Hydralisks which you can see below.

These psyolisks attack the group with other classes of Zerg aiding in the attacks and Valerian and Artanis demand what Zagara is up to. She claims that she is not ordering the attacks as all the Zerg are under her control (just like an army of ants who work under the Queen). The Zerg Evolution Master Abathur claims he doesn't know what the Terrans are talking about. Zagara says that her newly created species, what she calls the Adostra, only create life, not attempt to kill anything.

This creates a mystery for the Terrans and Protoss to figure out what is going on with this information as the psyolisks attacking them speaks directly against what Zagara had been saying. It eventually gets to the point where Valerian and Artanis are about to incinerate the planet but the team finds out that there are two new species, the psyolisks and the adostra. Zagara had no idea the psyolisks were created by Abathur and he created them to be freed of the Queen's control and neutralize any unit with psionic capabilities. The psyolisks were actually going to destroy the adostra because Abathur didn't agree with the Queen's plan for the Zerg.

I won't get too much into what happens after the big discovery that I briefly wrote about, you'll have to read on your own to find out that information.

Overall, I thought it was a fun read as a StarCraft fan. Knowing the majority of the characters and history up to that point made it extremely easy to follow. Also knowing all the classes of units was very beneficial. However, if you aren't as familiar with the games, I can see this as being problematic. There isn't a whole lot of descriptions of the units that are mentioned, so having a base knowledge is almost a must. Granted, many images of the units can be found online, so if you are that desperate to know, you can find them.

I really enjoyed the new characters and I feel that is when the book is at its best. Delving into new characters really expanded the StarCraft universe because it looked into more of the foot-soldier mentality of the overall whole. In the games, you were always in the point of view of one of the leaders of the groups and never really got to see or hear the thoughts or opinions of the guys doing all the dirty work. It was very interesting to read how individuals felt about all the conflict that had taken place. You get a sense of how many Terrans still don't like the Protoss, despite being in an alliance with them, due to the fact that the Protoss early on incinerated entire planets of Terran cities because the Zerg had overrun them.

On the other hand, despite the advancement of events after StarCraft 2, I feel like this didn't really introduce anything new to the overall nature of the story. And maybe that can't be avoided. This is always going to be three warring factions, with the Protoss and Terrans mainly working in tandem against the Zerg. Yes, there are a couple new things like psyolisks and what not, but eventually you pretty much end up at the same thing that always happens. The Zerg go all Starship Troopers and try to kill everyone.

I'm interested though to see where this leads. Blizzard has said they don't anticipate working on StarCraft 3 for a while, but that doesn't mean that novels like this won't or can't continue. The story ends without completely tying up the loose ends, so there is still more of this story to tell.

Overall, I'm glad to have read this book to deepen the StarCraft universe that I love. Zahn did a great job expanding the feelings of individuals that were the grunts throughout the games, and it was much needed. Anyone who enjoys StarCraft will probably like this novel. For those who have never played the games, I'd be interested to hear your opinions if you read this book. To me, it could come across as a fun sci-fi adventure/mystery, but it could also come across as confusing and too broad of scale in some instances.

So if any of you read it, drop me a line and let me know you thoughts and see how they compare to mine or if you want a StarCraft nerd to get into extreme detail!

Thanks for reading,

Mike G.