Runaway (1984)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Tom Selleck, Kirstie Alley, Gene Simmons, Cynthia Rhodes
Extras: Theatrical Trailers, Talent Files

There was a time once, when our perspective of the future included robots. Real robots, with a lot of mechanics, hydraulics and small electronic brains. Judging from Michael Crichton’s "Runaway," this time hasn’t been too long ago. Today no one really believes the future would be dominated by crawling robots of any sorts. We all have learned to worship small devices and the Internet, and sophisticated electronics will more likely determine the look of our futures than little robots scuttling around the house. But then again, you never know…

Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck) is a police officer in a very special unit. The face of the world has changed a bit and most of the recurring tasks in our lives are executed by robots of all sorts. Whether they harvest crops, clean the floors, or distribute the mail in office building, robots are everywhere and have become a significant part of life. Tin case some of the little hydraulic critters cause problems or have malfunctions, Jack Ramsay and his Runaway Squad team come in to salvage the problem. Usually the job is limited to turning off robots with burnt out diodes or leaking valves, but more recently Ramsay observed that a number of these robots have turned violent.

During one such incident a household robot shot a whole family when Ramsay is brought in with his new partner Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes). With his experience he manages to disable the robot, but upon closer examination it becomes obvious that the robot had been tampered with. A highly sophisticated microprocessors had been inserted in the machine that caused the disorder, and more of the sort soon make their appearance.

Ramsay and Thompson try to find out who makes these replacements and where the chips come from and their investigation soon leads them on the trail of microchip dealer Charles Luther (Gene Simmons), an electronic genius and madman who has already begun pushing his technology to a new level of violence. While Ramsay has the skills to disable robots with ease, will he be able to face off against a real-life opponent?

"Runaway" has a sense of whimsical sophistication, as I pointed out before, and I have always enjoyed the set-up with the robots run amok. Tom Selleck makes a great impression as the nerdy cop who is suddenly pulled out of the sleepiness of his job to face real life danger. The film also presents us Kirstie Alley in a great parts as the criminal mastermind’s love interest against her will – and hellishly stubborn on top of that. KISS-bassist Gene Simmons play Charles Luther, the memorable madman who has his sights on Ramsay and the rest of the world. With a slick haircut, his poignantly delivered dialogue and his icy stare, Simmons turns out to be a great and menacing bad guy.

The story of "Runaway" is somewhat predicable, especially the climax at which is repeatedly hinted during the first 30-minutes of the movie. The characters are also a bit shallow, which is rather typical for Crichton’s narrative style, keeping the audience emotionally detached from the events happening on the screen. However, the pacing of this sci-fi thriller is very good, pulling the viewer along for ride, plunging the audience in a believable world of machines that sprang from Crichton’s imagination. "Runaway" is not a very sophisticated thriller, and never really tries to be. Instead it is atmospheric, funny and simply entertaining. While it may not be up-to-date anymore and cyber-police seems much more of an issue in our day and age, during the 80s, a robotic world and threat was something more palpable, helping to make the movie work.

On this DVD, Columbia TriStar Home Video presents us "Runaway" in a 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation as well as a full screen transfer on the disc’s flip side. The transfer is clean and without print damages or blemishes, producing a very detailed image. Some slight edge-enhancement has been applied to the transfer, resulting in occasional ringing artifacts. Blacks are deep and solid and mostly without pixel break-up, although occasionally detail is lost in the shadows as a result of light artifacting. The movie has a slightly muted look on this DVD with colors that appear de-saturated. Fleshtones are naturally rendered and pleasing. The compression has been done adequately, although some slight <$pixelation,pixelation> is evident in a number of scenes.

A 4.0 discrete <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track can be found on the disc, which works quite well. It is supplemented by a <$DS,Dolby Surround> track, as well as Spanish and Portuguese mono tracks. The differences between the Dolby Surround track and the 4.0 mix is noticeable, although not overly dramatic. The discrete mix has a better spatial integration, creating a wider and more immersive soundstage than the matrixed track. With good surround usage, the discrete channels have a noticeably better separation that gives the audio depth and spatial volume. Especially Jerry Goldsmith’s score benefits from this added dimensionality, as well as numerous of the directional sound effects. As extras the disc only offers selected talent files and the film’s theatrical trailer, complemented by trailers for "Gattaca" and "Johnny Mnemonic."

I had fond memories of "Runaway" and I always enjoyed the movie. Today it appears almost nostalgic with its clumsy robots and clunky chips but it hasn’t lost much of its appeal. It is a cool science fiction thriller with a different touch, off the usual run-of-the-mill material despite the fact that it is in fact very formulaic. A racy-looking movie through and through, "Runaway" manages to intrigue, amuse and thrill at the same time. Columbia TriStar Home Video’s release of the film on DVD leaves a good impression, making this a welcome release for all fans of this scifi movie. To me the film has lost nothing of its appeal and I had a great time revisiting the rogue runaway robots and Tom Selleck trying to catch them.