Article

ROLLERBALL


STARRING: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, Moses Gunn, Pamela Hensley, Barbara Trentham, Ralph Richardson

1975, 124 Minutes, Directed by: Norman Jewison


Description: In the year 2018, violence and crime have been totally eliminated from society and given outlet in the brutal blood sport of rollerball, a high-velocity blend of football, hockey, and motor-cross racing sponsored by the multinational corporations that now control the world following the collapse of traditional politics. James Caan plays Jonathan E., the reigning superstar of rollerball, whose corporate controllers fear that Jonathan's popularity has endowed him with too much power. They begin to pressure him according to their own ruthless set of rules, but Jonathan has rules of his own--the rules of a man determined to retain his soul in a world gone mad. 
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1975 vision of the future as one in which violent sports are presented for the gratification of the masses, nation states have been replaced by huge corporations and people have exchanged freedom for comfort.

Mmmh, scary. What once served as dire prophecy looks like a documentary today. Scarier thought: that we might be living in a ‘Seventies nightmare version of dystopia. The sport in question is called rollerball and is a mixture between American football, ice hockey and Battle of the Gladiators. If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, the 1980s Schwarzenegger starrer Running Man employed a similar theme and obviously, ahem, "borrowed" a lot from this movie.

But what served as an inane action movie in the 1980s was presented as a more thoughtful drama a decade before. The plot centers on a ball player (played by James Caan) who has become too popular for the tastes of the Executives who pull the strings behind the scenes.

In this brave new world, based more on the identity-less Japanese version of corporate existence than its American counterpart, individualism is frowned upon. It is, after all, teamwork which does the trick they argue. Naturally James Caan refuses to retire when requested to do so (there wouldn’t too much of a plot if he gave in, wouldn’t there?). Thus, the stakes are upped: the game progressively becomes more violent, partially to keep spectators’ attention but mostly to get rid of the Caan character.

Rollerball may not appease modern audiences weaned on such fast-paced action epics (they may also cringe at the thought of their parents dressing like Tom Jones back then), but it does feature some rollerball sequences which are (I am ashamed to admit) exciting to watch. I would have hated being a stuntman on this movie!

Also, for classical music fans there’s the added bonus of music by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Albinoni chosen by well-known conductor Andre Previn. Previn also composed some of the corporate anthems featured in the movie.

Remade in 2002, also as Rollerball by director John McTiernan (of Die Hard and Predator fame) with a cast of largely unknowns. By all accounts an incoherent mess, but one I'll probably end up seeing it to review it for this site. Sigh . . .


Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: Is it just me - or is there anyone else out there who believes that the 'Seventies were actually more of a Golden Age for celluloid science fiction than the much over-rated 1950s? Or maybe it's just because the early to mid-1970s pre-blockbuster movies now seem a whole more interesting, experimental and off-key than most the dreck served up by Hollywood today? Anyway, watch this 1975 movie to see where Stephen King, er, Richard Bachman got most of his ideas for The Running Man, later made into a movie starring Arnie . . .


 



 

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