Norman Jewison and William Harrison expand Harrison’s short story into a full length feature film, with great results. Story takes place in 2018 and the world is a global corporate state, a hegemony of six ruling cartels. There are no wars, poverty and etc, so the cartels provide the antidote to pent up frustrations with Rollerball, a bloodthirsty arena sport where no quarter is given or taken. But when the sports number one star, Jonathan E, becomes a free spirit and too big for the sport, the corporations aim to retire him…
Headed by a superb James Caan as Jonathan, the performances are from the high end, the photography superb and the action during the games themselves is beautifully choreographed. The use of classical music to run concurrent with the themes in the narrative is smartly rendered to the tricksy plot, while the writing is sharp and deserving of the utmost attention from the viewer. It’s folly to suggest that when the film is away from the Rollerball ring it sags a touch, so patience is required and a respect of literate posturing is also expected to get the most out of it.
A deft crafted dystopian sci-fier with literate smarts and lusty blood letting. 7.5/10
on 28 January 2015
Science fiction films date quicker than any other genre, not because the technology becomes obsolete per se, but because the storylines reflect the politics and attitudes of the time in which they are made. For example, The Day the Earth Stood Still, however watchable, is a clumsy effort to warn against the perils of nuclear warfare following the splitting of the atom and the bombing of Hiroshima during WWII.
Rollerball is a statement about freedom according to the Capitalist philosophies of the USA. Jonathan E is asked to retire by his controlling bosses because he has become too popular. Corporate Executive Bartholomew states that ‘the game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort’. This is quite clearly a metaphor for Communism.
Jonathan E is not a natural rebel. His beloved wife is taken from him by a Corporate Executive, a situation that he begrudgingly accepts but never forgets. This leaves him with an empty life of material comforts and courtesans provided by the Corporation for recreational sex. His only reason for living is the adulation he receives as the champion of Rollerball. When he is pressured into retiring from the game he starts to question why.
Jonathan E’s triumph as an individual says more about American ideology than simple material wealth or corporate success. For that reason alone it is an important film 40 years after its release. More importantly, it is a very watchable film, not least because of the well-executed action sequences within the arena. Forget the pointless remake and treat yourself to the unmatched original. In so many ways it is as relevant now as it was in 1975.
"Rollerball" is a superb film, possibly one of the best I have ever seen. Not only does it portray a futuristic dystopia where tyrannical global corporations have replaced nation-states as the sources of economic and political power(a 1970's vision which is now a reality), but it is also a compelling action movie and a poignant parable about tyranny versus free will; the collective versus the individual.
James Caan puts in a memorable performance as Jonathan E , the ageing Rollerball champion, whose cult of personality eventually becomes too much of a threat to the shadowy corporate directors' social engineering schemes. Rollerball, a vicious indoor combination of Speedway, Gridiron and Ice Hockey ,is supposed not only to distract and brutalise the masses , but to highlight the importance of the collective and the insignificance of individual effort. It is whenever Jonathan E starts to defy the Corporation that he begins to face serious danger.
"Rollerball" has a similar theme to the films "Network" and "Soylent Green" and of course Orwell's novel "1984" . In all of them ,an heroic ,messianic male individual fights an impersonal, omnipotent corporate tyranny in the name of free will and humanity. "Rollerball"'s triumph is its combination of this morality theme with as much visceral ,dramatic action as you could hope for, as rule changes make Rollerball progressively more violent. The action scenes as Jonathan E's Houston team play Tokyo and New York are right up there with the best in cinema and the ending is both emotional and uplifting.
I have never watched the remake of "Rollerball", nor do I intend to. How could they possibly improve on this original ?
on 13 December 2000
It is not often that one can look back at a film considered violent when it first came out and still agree with that opinion. Today we are so desensitivised by the constant violence in film and television that most old, 'controversial' films seem laughable. Rollerball, however, still packs a considerable punch.
The film is visually stunning. Although many 70s views of the future now seem tawdry, Rollerball still manages to convey a good sense of the future by keeping it simple and, therefore, believable. The acting is superb, with an especially strong performance from John Beck as Jonathan's anarchic colleague Moonpie. The moral dilemma of Jonathan is intruiging, and is contrasted with the society's moral decline by a series of unnerving visual sequences.
My one problem with the film is that it sometimes does not go far enough. Certainly the implications of a society controlled by a few 'executives' could have been explored more fully. But this is a small quibble. The film is all about Rollerball, and as a film about Rollerball it works fantastically well. The game sequences are relentlessley edited, even by todays standards, and by the end of the final game you really feel that you have been watching something truly special. A real gem, and even today, one woth looking at.
on 15 August 2013
This is one of my favorite movies. I actually already had a DVD of the regular one, but I ordered this because it's the special edition to the 1975 movie. What that means is you get one extra documentary, which I have seen and is really cool called "Return To The Arena" the Making of Rollerball" As far as I can can tell, you cannot get this special edition version of the 75 movie anywhere but Europe, which is why I ordered it from Amazon UK. Now your asking..."but the DVD is Region 2 and PAL?" ...Already taken care of as I have software that will convert it, then not only can I watch the movie again, but the documentary that I've looked for, for so long. One more thing...Don't get this confused with the Special Edition of the 2002 movie. That movie was terrible, but sometimes they bundle it with the 75 version...
on 8 October 2009
'Rollerball' begins with almost abstract shots of a sports arena in the half-dark, with workers assembling stuff. All we hear is J S Bachs timeless Toccata. After a while two teams of players enter the arena, some on rollerskates, some on motorcycles. It's Houston vs Madrid, and we hear their corporate anthems.
Corporate anthems? Yes. And when the play begins we soon realise that this is not exactly a normal game. People are seriously injured, or even killed. This is the future, but we are not told when.
'Rollerball' was made in 1975, directed by Norman Jewison and based on a novel by William Harrison. Harrison wanted to criticise the increasing violence in sports, and also what he saw as the rise of the corporate society. 'Rollerball' depicts a future when nations have been replaced by corporations, after 'the corporate wars'. When in the future the film takes place, or exactly how the corporations gained power and nations crumbled, is never stated. Rollerball is a game that has replaced wars, where the corporations can fight each other. But the game also fills more untold functions that we are shown later in the movie. The protagonist, the Rollerball-player Jonathan E (played by James Caan), is a star in this game. One day he is told to quit by his boss, the head of the 'Energy' corporation, but not why. The rest of the film is Jonathans quest for deeper knowledge of the game and the society, his wake up, and his fight against the masters. The film ends with the same chilling music as it began with.
There is much to like about this film. The music: classical music all through which gives a timeless feeling. And the acting is superb. I also like the absence of cgi special effects. This film has a gritty feeling, and though it takes place in a modernised future, it is the future as envisioned in the 70s. Parts are shot inside and outside the BMW-building in Munich, then considered futuristic. This gives the feeling of an alternative 2000s which is interesting. I also like how the viewer is not told everything (like the year, the background, the future scenario...). Instead we are much in the dark, like Jonathan himself who can't figure out who really runs everything. And the characters are realistic, and the violence as well. There is not much blood, but there is neither any violence for entertainment. Here people are floored when they get hit in the head, sometimes for good. We also get interesting glimpses of the future society, like the use of drugs and entertainment, the new classes, the supressed anger and the sexism (women are treated very badly).
This DVD is the double-disc 'special edition' from MGM, 2004. The transfer/picture is good, I think. The picture is stable but grainy, but I think it supposed to look like this. I watched it on a projector and it was fine. Maybe there will come sharper transfers someday. And there is a surprising lot of extras: no less than 2 commentary tracks, one by director Jewison and one by writer Harrison. They are both worth listening to and give insight to the ideas and how the film was made, and why. There are also trailers and two documentaries (I have'nt seen them, I think one is about a remake), and an informative booklet.
Altogether this is a superb film and a DVD with superb extras. Highly recommended!
I remember Rollerball as Seventies violence. I watched it last night as social enlightenment. “They buy you off with their Privilege Card,” says the challenging James Caan. The other day I was offered a list of 41 items from which I could choose six free of charge in exchange for my words and pictures of the products.
You may say that I am not being asked to hurt anyone. Unlike Caan. Unlike the Roman gladiators. But is the Individual killed with such a lob-sided transaction? Is my mind diluted if I accept the ‘gifts’ without a face? I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer. Watch this movie and make your own conclusion.
It is as much a sports film as it is science fiction. The old ‘its not your night’ Rocky and how this is responded to. And as for the hot and cold running women on tap; as one of them says: ‘it’s a game.’ And that is true. Sick but true.
Politics without countries with only Companies is, of course, highly salient. I would go further and suggest our current tax farms will be privatised. By that time the last vestiges of Individual influence will have disappeared into some computerised redaction. Not even a memory.
Get hold of this blu ray from hmv for nine quid or three for twenty. My store of choice these days as I cycle there. Amazon using stealth to force us to become Members of their Product Provider Service. At the moment it is voluntary. They call it Prime. Not Privilege. As well as the excellent print of the movie (Seventies colour hues) it also includes what looks like a very interesting eight page essay by James Oliver which I shall digest in my own time.
I watched on my own in a Home Cinema 120” projection. The director puts you in the stadium, in the High Offices, not just with startling pictures but with the sounds of waiting. No music as I recall, save for the phony Corporate anthem played before each game. And the piped classical muzac forced in their homes.
When science fiction engaged the brain. Before Star Bores.
on 1 December 2012
I liked this movie then, and I like it now. To be frank, it's surprising that it's lasted so well. it just goes to prove that much modern cinema hides rubbish behind glossy effects.
A good reason for liking this is James Caaan. He is a great actor who has chosen his films, and perhaps not always well. In this, sometimes he is so good at being a "normal" guy lost in the corporate puzzle, it is astonishing, and engenders real sympathy. Houseman, of course, is also and always marvellous.
It is rather slow, especially off the game arena, and we see too little of the society, though enough to see the vacuous low end corporate types; in some of this it was truly prophetic. Also prophetic, when we see today Corporations setting their own rules, too powerful for Governments and the law to touch them, is the Corporate World culture in this movie. A warning we perhaps need to heed.
The "game" is great to watch; I have not seen claims of bigotry over the Japanese team and the related issues, but would not be surprised if it happened.
In the end, as was intended, Jonathan triumphs but it seems wins nothing. The Corporations have lost, as the game is defeated, but Jonathan wins nothing either. I may be crediting the quote I titled this review with with more depth than it has, but for me it has a great double meaning, perhaps distinguished by whether that's "Game" or "game". Anyway, delivered by the always excellent Shane Rimmer, it's a cruncher either way.
A slow burner, more complex and sophisticated than it seems on the surface. A great survivor, and certainly it has survived better than, say, Death Race 2000, which now looks frankly silly, but better than its remake.
on 9 January 2013
I first saw this film in my early teens and loved it. The extras contain interviews with the cast, producers and writer, sadly not James Caan though. For the time it was quite violent, the game sequences are pretty full on and fast paced.
The basic story line is a society controlled by corporate powers and Rollerball keeps the citizens entertained and engaged , much like Roman gladiators. If your a fan of late sixties / early seventies sci /fi its worth your time.
I would put in the same league as Solent Green and the Omega Man.
on 27 March 2015
I've seen this film many times, the first time was at my school film club , then later on vhs , on dvd and now the Arrow bluray. The Arrow bluray is a definite improvement over the dvd ( I have just played the two side by side just to make sure ), this film will never look as crisp as a modern blockbuster so don't expect too much. There is grain in the picture but not as much as the dvd in my opinion , if you find the picture too grainy or it has a lot of picture noise try reducing the sharpness on your tv ( I know this sounds obvious but some people don't like to fiddle with their factory settings but buttons are there to fiddle with ), this may sound counter to viewing a bluray film but if done carefully you can reduce the grain / noise and not lose a noticable amount of definition, this is just my view and it's worth trying rather than sitting through a film seething over the PQ. Arrow have produced another great release , plenty of extras, reversable sleeve , 28 page booklet, it even smells quite pleasant to me in a new shoe/car/book sort of way. The bluray is region B and not region free which would have been great for fans of this film everywhere.