by Adam M. Wilcox
1984 was a scary time for people. It wasn’t because of some Orwellian nightmare, it was future shock. The microchip was the latest and greatest thing in town. Computers were becoming a household reality. Even my Grandpa once showed me a picture of a microchip on the cover of National Geographic, and told me that it was going to change everything. He was right of course.
Like any good science fiction, the latest and greatest tech must be presented in its worst form in order to scare us of things that could happen, if not regulated properly by mankind. Written and Directed by Michael Crichton, Runaway tells the story of a not so distant future where robots are a part of everyday life through the eyes of Jack Ramsey (Tom Sellek), a police sergeant who runs a small police unit that specializes in robots that malfunction. Ramsey has a job that nobody wants, but Ramsey pursued this career path, as a means to avoid his overwhelming fear of heights. To put it simple, he is the local expert, because he happens to know more about the field than anyone in the department. His chief thinks he’s an asshole, his chief is an asshole, and Ramsey is basically surrounded by assholes most of his day, so robots are a means to and end.
Most of the days, Ramsey is called upon to do meaningless tasks like chase farm robots, and gets scolded and scoffed at by anyone he comes in contact with. He’s less of a cop, and more of a high tech exterminator, or dog catcher depending on the situation. Every once in a great while, a robot goes really bad, and deaths are involved. It is during one of these encounters where Ramsey picks up the trail of a freelance high tech genius turned arms dealer named Dr. Charles Luthor played by a scenery chewing Gene Simmons in his cinematic debut. Luthor is trying to track down the templates for making bullets that track its prey using similar technology as a heat seeking missile. Luthor is also a futuristic James Bond type villain who also has deadly microchips that turn normal robots into lethal killers, and dispenses a small army of robotic spiders that inject people with acid, and explode upon completion.
The plot of this movie sounds pretty basic because it is. The acting in this movie is pretty stiff, and I am not sure if that is intentional, but it doesn’t bother me, in fact it kind of makes this movie work. The true star of this movie is the special affects and the technology in this movie that will blow your mind. Keep in mind this movie was made in 1984 yet police officers communicate with Blu-tooth headsets, use tablets with facial recognition software, use surveillance drones, remember drones in the early 1980s? They didn’t exist! It’s creepy and awesome. If somebody told me Michael Crichton went to the future, or had some friend working on next level technology I would buy it. In fact most of the technology in this movie actually looks quite believable. Of course there are some scenes that involve maybe a laser or two, but most of it is pretty practical stuff. Even the heat seeking bullet is in development. The steady cam view from the bullet itself as it tracks its prey around corners, circles back, and flies back towards its victim is some really fun stuff. The plot may be disposable, but the day to day life of a cop who handles malfunctioning robots could be a fantastic television series, if done properly. Does this maybe sound like I, Robot to you? This is in some ways a better movie. Oh, and of course that fear of heights thing, will play back into the plot again at some point, don’t worry.
I remember seeing Runaway as a kid on cable TV back in the 80’s. This film was abandoned in time, and forgot about, and since this movie came out the same year as The Terminator, it is not hard to understand why, but I think this movie does hold up well on its own. This is perhaps one of many lost flicks that may be finding its audience now. It might not have a lot going for it from the acting, but the special effects and world building technology are more than enough to carry it over the finish line. I give this one a 3 out of 5 cheese curds, its fun and worth a look. Runaway is currently available on Amazon Prime in wide screen HDX.