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Sci-Fi film released in 1975. Directed by Norman Jewison, adapted from The Rollerball Murders, a book by William Harrison.

The film is set in the early part of the 21st Century. After a gigantic series of world wars, there are no more countries or governments, only Corporations. To replace the public's lust for war, and to release intercorporate aggression, the Corporations have got together and created The Game: Rollerball. See Rules of Rollerball for an explanation of the game.

The film focuses around Jonathan E (played by James Caan, with exactly the right mixture of practical intelligence and brutality), a star Rollerball player for the Houston Power City corporation. He has been in Rollerball for ten years without a fatal or permanently crippling injury, a record, and has led his team to countless victories. The public love him, and therein lies the problem.

The game was created to show that individual effort was futile; only through cooperation and self-sacrifice can success be obtained. In a team, individuals come and go, live and die, but the team continues. Through his longevity and popularity, Jonathan E has become a hero, something not seen since before the corporate age. The corporations find this threatening, but as Jonathan is too high profile to just bunk off, they try to force him to retire.

For various reasons, mostly involving the corporation 'taking' his wife away to be married to a top executive years earlier, Jonathan refuses to retire. The corporation then plunge his team into increasingly lethal games, removing all the rules in the hope that Jonathan will die during a game. The final game has no fouls, no time limit; the only way it can end is through the death of all players on one team. The ending is like a moment frozen in time.

The sequences of film showing the game are phenomenal; it's fast, brutal and suprisingly believable and well thought out (see rules). The non-game sequences suffer by comparison, seeming overly quiet and slow paced. A subplot sees Jonathan trying to find out anything about life before the corporate age, and invariably reaching a dead end, with echoes of 1984. The future is shown very much as an illusarily utopic dystopia, with a large class divide between the citizens and the executives, who can basically do and have whatever they want.

I first game across this film due to a childhood love of Speedball and Speedball 2 on the Amiga, both of which owe Rollerball their existence.



The film is currently being remade by John McTiernan, who also remade (well, I should add) Jewison's classic The Thomas Crown Affair. Chris Klein is cast as Jonathan Cross, with supporting roles from Jean Reno, LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Early leaked photos made the whole thing look hideously like Ice Warriors, but more recent ones recapture the feel of the original game, although rollerskates have made the natural progression to rollerblades. It may even be good, here's hoping.

Norman Jewison was apparently inspired to make Rollerball originally when he was watching a hockey game, and a fight broke out. The crowd was so excited about the fight (as opposed to the game) that Jewison was quite shocked...and decided to take the idea to an ultimate end. Not so much the death games of the Colosseum, but instead actual sport with extremely violent results, supported by the fans.

As an interesting side note, the movie adaptation of "The Running Man" (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) seemed to also take on the theme of corporate games (though with more emphasis on death) to appease the bloodlust of the public, although the movie itself is very different from the original Richard Bachman tale. It's uncertain if any inspiration was derived from Rollerball for that film.

The DVD Review: (the 1975 version)
Rollerball- 1975 - Directed by Norman Jewison
Running Time: 125 minutes. Rated R by the MPAA (though it seems more PG-13 by today's standards).

Special Features:
* 2-sided DVD with standard and Widescreen/Letterbox format
* Commentary track with Norman Jewison
* 10-Minuter Featurette with interviews of Jewison and Caan
* Cool DVD game of "put the scenes in order" with your remote's arrow keys
* Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish
* English and French audio tracks
* Trivia and production notes in the booklet within the box

The movie is pretty interesting, but the DVD doesn't have too many features to justify it over VHS. The sound and quality aren't great because it's an older print from the 1970's, but the box says Dolby Digital 5.1.

My advice? Get a friend to loan it to you, or watch the movie on VHS, even rent it. If you like the movie, then you'll be interested in hearing the commentary on the DVD, which is interesting, as it talks of violence and gladiators. All the reasons in the above w/u should be covered in the commentary. Aside from that, nothing worth the higher price.

More DVD Reviews...

Rollerball
(2002)

Scifi remake of the 1975 Norman Jewison movie by the same name. In 2005, corporations rule the world and the new sport is Rollerball - a high-impact combination of roller derby, rugby, motorcycle racing and pure violence, where ratings are more important than players.

Directed by John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard, The Thirteenth Warrior), this movie is chock-full of action (as you would expect from McTiernan), although the plot does leave a little to be desired. Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is a do-anything sort of daredevil: at the beginning of the movie, he's racing a street luge through Seattle streets (and traffic) when he bumps into an old friend of his, Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J), who invites him to join the Rollerball circuit. Jonathan's not so eager to leave everyone he knows, but when he sees the cops are waiting at his apartment for him, it doesn't take him long to make the decision. Months later, Jonathan has become everyone's favourite "good-ol' boy" Rollerball hero. Known for his recklessness and daring moves, shouts of "Jo--na--than! Jo--na--than!" raise the roof at every game. Unfortunately, as Jonathan soon discovers, players are expendable for the sake of ratings - but when he wants to get out before more people get hurt, he learns that he's expendable, too.

The rules (yes, there are rules) of the game are as follows: Each player is outfitted in light body armour, helmets and rollerblades (except for one player on each team who gets a motorcycle instead of 'blades). The track is a figure-eight, with a ramp and a jump over the middle. A target sits to the audience-side of the middle of the crossover. A solid-steel ball is shot out along the the track, and must be picked up and carried through a complete circuit of the track (including the ramp) before being hurled at the target at a high velocity. Hitting other players is only allowed to dislodge the ball from their control. Fouls are met with time in the penalty box - not that there are many fouls called.

Frenetic and violent, the action sequences in this movie are not unlike the strobe-light effects at a rave, combined with some pretty heavy bass-driven music ("The audience is now deafened") to create a raw energy-filled synergy that makes you want to jump over barriers and start a riot. The games move quickly (don't blink!), but with good pacing. Outside of the games, there are also some great car-chase and high-speed motorcycle scenes for the speed-freak in all of us. Add a little gun-play, and you've got yourself a great action flick!

I actually did enjoy this movie, despite the onionskin-thin plot, and amazingly weak character development (our introduction to most characters is combined with an inset shot of their bio - and that was about all we ever learn about them). The action sequences more than make up for it by dominating the movie to the point that you almost don't notice the minimalist plot. One of the things I really enjoyed (besides the visually appealing Rebecca Romijn-Stamos also known as Mystique in the box-office smash X-Men), were the costumes of the players. Each team had its own uniform colours and each player's helmet was customized for them, making the players look both unified and unique at the same time.

Keanu Reeves-lookalike Chris Klein, (also known for his role as Oz in American Pie) made a great "All-American boy" character, but still manages to be serious enough to believe during the finale, and he has great support from LL Cool J - who puts in a surprisingly good performance as the team captain. Jean Reno, the seductively evil villain from Mission Impossible also puts in a great performance as the team owner - equal parts charm and sleaze, shaken not stirred. The other entertainment comes from the only real narration we get - the near-constant patter of the sportscaster, who I could have sworn was played by a chubby Paul Rodriguez, but according to IMDB was actually Guy Ale.

If you haven't seen this at the theatre, it's not going to kill you - there are no Academy Award-winning performances here. On the other hand, the action makes it well worth the price of a rental.

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