ROLLERBALL SPECIAL EDITION: DVD
It's 2018 and war, crime, poverty, nationality and even individuality have been snuffed out by greedy multi-national corporations who now rule the world and control the people. One such means of control is Rollerball, a blood-sport where corporate teams battle for the title. When Houston Energy's 10-year veteran Jonathan E (James Caan) is asked to retire against his will by corporate head Bartholomew (John Houseman), Jonathan fights for his freedom the only way he knows how; playing Rollerball. His moves might even threaten corporate control.
Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
Made in 1975 and reaching cult status in the last decade or so, this sci-fi actioner is a unique and bloodthirsty vision of a dystopian future where individual freedom has been replaced by corporate conformism. If only the film went as deep into its Individual vs The Establishment conflict as it does into the conflict within the ring, for director Norman Jewison never veers too
far from the bone-crunching, nose-bleeding spectacle of the sport itself. This somewhat negates the point he's trying to make; that the masses can be controlled by a bloody spectacle, for that's exactly what he's doing in centering on the sport and not the ideology behind it. In fact, Rollerball was a landmark for its boundary-pushing violence. Two years later, Taxi Driver would mark the end of the beginning.
In keeping with the film's shallow spectacle, the DVD - released as a special edition to coincide with the glossy cinematic re-make - doesn't shed too much light on the film's themes or messages. Only scriptwriter William Harrison involves you in his ideas of a society without individualism. His audio commentary reveals how his short story The Rollerball Wars was
published by Esquire magazine and how he collaborated with Jewison on transferring it to the screen. Jewison's separate commentary is more technical and not as interesting.
An original on-set documentary explores the difficulties encountered in devising the game itself and the arena it's played in, and how the production team based the enormous roller-rink arena on the Roman collesiums, where similar bloodsports once appeased the masses. Then there's
the action, where the stuntmen learnt to rollerskate at high speeds, beat each other up and take a fall. Much of it wasn't simulated, and several broken bones resulted. Not bad for then up-and-coming star James Caan, who had no idea how to skate when shooting began.
The look of the film has dated somewhat, and the DVD transfer doesn't really help. The almost camp uniforms, rollerskates and game of human pinball is not without its homoerotic under-currents. Then again, substitute Microsoft for Houstan Energy and Prozac for Soma and you have some idea of the film's prescience. Even blockbusters like John McTiernan's Rollerball "remake" might be the Rollerball of today.
Published March 13, 2002
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REVIEW - 2001 REMAKE
ROLLERBALL 1975 (M)
CAST: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn, Pamela
Hensley, Barbara Trentham, John Normington
DIRECTOR: Norman Jewison
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
DVD RELEASE: February 13, 2002
Audio Commentary by director Norman Jewison; Audio Commentary by author and scriptwriter William Harrison; Making Of Documentary "Return To The Arena"; TV spots; Theatrical Trailer; Theatrical Teaser; Featurette; Stills Gallery; Dolby Digital 5.1;
1.85:1 16:9 Enhanced ; Subtitles: Czech, Danish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Polish, Norwegian, Swedish, Turkish; English for the hearing impaired.