by Sherry Lipp
The 1975 film Rollerball portrays a futuristic society that is entirely controlled by corporations. These corporations loathe individualism and will do anything to keep society thinking as one. Rollerball has replaced baseball as the national past time. Its cutthroat nature keeps fans riveted; they don’t have to think about the lack of control in their own lives. Things turn deadly when one of the players becomes a bigger star than the corporation controlling him. That’s the basic premise of Rollerball, and it’s not a bad one. Unfortunately the execution is lacking. The film fails to engage any serious thought on the subject of individualism and society or be all that exciting in its murderous gameplay.
James Caan portrays Jonathan E., a longtime player on the Energy Corporation owned Houston rollerball team. Jonathan has become a sports hero and the Energy Corporation finds that threatening. They want him out and constantly change the rules of the game in an effort to force him into retirement. The problem with this film is that its ideas are conveyed so poorly. There is very little tension as Jonathan begins to realize what’s really going on. The long scenes of rollerball play are pretty boring. Too bad no one could have foreseen inline skates. It all looks pretty hokey to have people zipping around on traditional rollerskates.
What was likely meant to be a commentary on a consumer-driven society ends up falling flat in favor of endless scenes of guys battling it out on the rollerball rink. It could have explored the idea that over-consumption leads to a loss of individuality, but it spends very little time with the notion. We are told that’s what this film is about, but we aren’t really shown. We wait and wait for one of these characters to realize they aren’t in charge of their life and get mad about it, but it never happens. Even our hero Jonathan E. knows he has to beat the bad guys, but he never really seems to know why.
Rollerball was released as a limited, 3,000-copy edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time in May of 2014. As of this writing, it is sold out. The picture quality on this Blu-ray looks pretty good – it is fairly free of flaws and the colors are bright. The audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0. Like the picture, the sound quality is good. I certainly have no complaints about the look and sound of this release. If you are a fan of this film and can get your hands on the Blu-ray via the collector’s market, you won’t be disappointed in the technical aspects.
The special features are pretty decent. There are two commentary tracks, one with director Norman Jewison and the other with writer William Harrison. There is also an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that nicely highlights André Previn’s score. Also included are a couple of vintage promotional featurettes and the original trailer. The packaging includes a booklet with an essay by film historian Julie Kirgo.
Overall, anyone who is a fan of this film or wants to check out this lesser-known James Caan film, should be pleased with this release. While the film itself is disappointing, it’s not completely without interest as a relic from its era.