ROLLERBALL (1975)

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

BLU-RAY REVIEW: ROLLERBALL (1975) / DIRECTOR: NORMAN JEWISON / SCREENPLAY: WILLIAM HARRISON / STARRING: JAMES CAAN, JOHN HOUSEMAN, MAUD ADAMS, JOHN BECK, MOSES GUNN, RALPH RICHARDSON / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 23RD

If there’s one thing sci-fi movies taught us in the ‘70s, it was that we’re all completely screwed. If the world wasn’t about to end it was probably because it already had and you could be rest-assured that if by some miracle we were all alive and well, then there would be some world-class governmental conspiracy doing something awful in the name of the Greater Good. Well, that was until Star Wars (1977) came along. Although, to be fair, there was a last hurrah for ‘70s mores with Alien (1979).

But just when paranoid-dystopian-bleakness was reaching its zenith, along came a sports movie. Rollerball was set in the near future and the titular ballgame was a sort of ultraviolent roller-derby with a high velocity steel ball and, just in case it wasn’t quite dangerous enough, additional motorbikes. Don’t ask us the rules but you may remember 2000 AD “borrowing” the idea for their not-the-same-at-all “spinball” in Death Game 1999. [Totally different: it was on ice –Ed]. As those 1975 posters told us: “In the not too distant future wars will no longer exist. But there will be Rollerball.” No wars? Brilliant. In fact, there hasn’t been a war since the corporate wars and... The what wars? Oh dear. Yes the world is now run entirely by massive corporations and Rollerball is their creation. That’s never going to be good...

Amid the carnage a star has emerged in the form of Jonathan E (Caan). He’s brilliant at Rollerball but his corporate boss (Houseman) is rather insistent that he retires. Why? Could it be that Jonathan has got rather good at something no-one was ever supposed to be good at? Has he inadvertently subverted the whole point of the “sport”? So they keep changing the rules until he gets the message.

Make no mistake, if you’re at all interested in sci-fi of this era, Rollerball is essential viewing, especially in all its Blu-ray glory. Caan is actually rather good in a difficult role. Even he’s admitted there isn’t much you can do with a none-too-bright unimaginative sportsman who just happens to be in the way of the bad guys’ big idea, but nevertheless he’s convincing both in his uncomfortable scenes with Houseman and his natural environment with his team-mates. While it doesn’t seem quite as violent as it did on its release, it’s still capable of wince-inducing moments and the action sequences are still pretty compelling. The ending is also something you can write an essay on or debate down the pub if you’re not the essay-type. Perhaps the film’s only flaw is it’s pacing, which is way off. While there’s nothing actually wrong with the essential exposition, the scenes of near-future elite-lifestyle do drag on and leave you yearning for the next big game. Ah, now maybe that’s clever. Not the only thing the film got right about the future either.

Special Features: Two audio commentaries / Five documentaries / TV spots / Trailers / Collector's booklet
 

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Comments  

 
0 #2 John Knott 2016-06-12 18:26
You're quite right, it was Action. Memory failure on my part (it was 40 years ago!). I would edit it but that involves me emailing someone to change something I wrote ages ago so they'll think I'm mad. But I might anyway. They can think what they like. Thanks for pointing it out.
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0 #1 Ian Smith 2015-03-23 13:40
Hold on -- wasn't spinball featured in Action, the predecessor comic to 2000 AD? If I remember correctly, the rollerball-like sport that appeared later in 2000 AD was actually called aeroball. (And in an early bit of cross-strip pollination, one of the main aeroball players turned out to be the father of Judge Giant, who served as a rookie under Judge Dredd.)
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