Rollerball (1975) | The future is here… are you ready to play again?
In a corporate-controlled future, conflict is a thing of the past, but blood continues to be shed on the tracks of Rollerball – a violent gladiatorial spectacle that pits players in a televised battle of life and death. When Houston Rollerball captain Jonathan E (James Caan) becomes bigger than the game and the totalitarian government targets him for retirement, the sporting icon decides to make a stand against his masters… and that’s when the real games begin.
Based on the 1973 Esquire short story, Roller Ball Murder, by William Harrison (who also wrote the screenplay), this big-budget United Artists sci-fi action directed by Norman Jewison was a commercial and critical flop in the US, but ran for almost a year in French cinemas and remains, amongst fans of 1970s sci-fi, one of the best of the era.
Intended to be a condemnation of brutality as entertainment, this surprisingly violent ‘future sport’ flick came out just two months after Death Race 2000, Paul Bartel and Roger Corman’s live-action Wacky Races-styled exploitation thriler, which ended up trumping Rollerball at the US box office (well it was made for the fraction of the cost and had no pretensions to be anything but entertainent).
Rollerball‘s chilly Bafta-winning art direction and clinical cinematography, however, was wholly inspired by European arthouse cinema and Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 sci-fi A Clockwork Orange, especially in its use of Munich’s modern architecture (BMW’s HQ and the Audi Dome Olympic basketball park both feature) as a symbol of souless dystopia; while the use of classical music was another steal – and another reason to put off the popcorn crowd, but excite cineastes.
Jewison’s sci-fi certainly has some well-executed action sequences, but US audiences just didn’t ‘get’ its political agenda – as they were far more interested in actually playing the made-up game itself. Today, however, Rollerball‘s central themes are freakishly prescient, especially with regards to the power of corporations and the media on our lives, the unreliability of digital information (I still think cloud storage is suspect), and our growing desensitisation towards violence. There’s certainly a lot going on outside Jewison’s roller track, which only makes this is one of the smartest sci-fi’s of the 1970s, and a ‘future sport’ flick that the likes of The Running Man and The Hunger Games remain indebted to. It’s also far superior to that mis-guided, soulless 2002 remake.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Here’s what you get in the Arrow Video presentation of the sci-fi classic.
• High definition Blu-ray presentation of the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio from a digital transfer prepared by MGM Studios, and made available through Hollywood Classics, with optional uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
• Isolated music and effects soundtrack (this is kind of surreal, but I would have preferred just the musical score as an OST)
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentaries by director Norman Jewison (recorded in December 1997) and writer ‘Bill’ Harrison (this plays like a film lecture, but great to listen to)
• Return to the Arena: the making of Rollerball (Jewison and Harrison reflect)
• Blood Sports with James Caan: interview (at 75 – as of March 26 – he still oozes cool)
• The Fourth City: shooting Rollerball in Munich (film location junkies will love this)
• The Bike Work: Craig R Baxley: A look at the four-month shoot by one of the stuntmen.
• From Rome to Rollerball – The Full Circle: Unrestored archive short featuring interviews and on-set footage, drawing comparisons between the game and ancient Roman gladiatorial contests.
• TV Spots
• Reversible sleeve with artwork by Paul Shipper
• Collector’s booklet
Posted on March 28, 2015, in Cult classic, Must See, Must-See, Sci-Fi and tagged 1970s sci-fi, Arrow Video, Dystopia, Future Sports, James Caan, Must See, Norman Jewison, Rollerball, Sci-Fi, William Harrison. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.