Rollerball (1975)

DVD Cover (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Reissue)
Movie Connections:
> Rollerball (1975)
> Rollerball (2002)
Action, Sci-Fi Action, Science Fiction, Sports Drama
Norman Jewison Norman Jewison
James Caan James Caan
John Houseman John Houseman
Maud Adams Maud Adams
John Beck John Beck
Moses Gunn Moses Gunn

6.6 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: October 20, 2012
I remember reading about Rollerball sometime in the late '90s; it grabbed my attention and I made a mental note to put it on my to-see list. Still, I never got around to firing it up until today.

In the far off future, the global political systems have all fallen and are now run by a series of connected corporations. Each corporation is in charge of a different responsibility (water, power, food, etc), and each city is under the control of one of the corporations. Furthermore, these corporations have the entire world addicted to the uber-violent sport, rollerball. It's an insane, full-contact bastardization of roller derby with half its players on motorcycles and played with the objection of throwing a solid metal ball into a magnetic target. Needless to say, an average career lasts three, maybe four years before the athletes' bodies are so broken down they can't compete anymore, if they haven't been outright killed on the track. On the other hand, Jonathan E. is enjoying his tenth year in the game, rocking a career impressing not only in its longevity, but he's the league's best player year in and year out. Naturally, these accomplishments have made him an amazingly popular player, and chants of "JOHNATHAN! JOHNATHAN!" ring throughout every arena he plays in. Despite all this, the corporations have strongly suggested to the athlete that he retire from the game immediately, a suggestion he summarily ignores. In response, they begin to remove the few rules in place, bringing the sport to a whole new level of violence, hoping to either drive him out or kill him. Weathering all of this, Johnathan's biggest concern is why they're trying to kick out their biggest star.

So, straight up, I really liked Rollerball, but I guarantee that twelve-year-old me would have hated it if I had seen it back when I had found out about it. You see, it's not really that engaging of a film at face value. Sure, there's the three short games featured though out, but the main focus is on Johnathan himself, calmly and introspectively investigating why the corporation wants him to hang up his skates. An edge of your seat experience this is not, and in truth, even as I was watching it, I wasn't sure if the movie was more than just slightly above entertaining. But as the film wrapped up, the more I found myself thinking about it, and the more I liked the story. Granted, really digging into the motifs and messages of the movie would have to go a bit further into spoiler territory than I'd feel comfortable, but just know that it goes a lot deeper than the tired "People love extreme violence." In fact, the violence inherit in the plot is just incidental to the bigger picture.

While there's a whole host of secondary and tertiary characters, James Caan as Johnathan is the one who really carries the movie. Despite his ten year reign in the world's bloodiest sport, he's far from a mindless jock with his brains in his biceps. Indeed, his longevity has more to do his intelligence and strategy on the track than anything else, and Caan is able to play both the thinking and physical aspects of the character, as well as his steadily smoldering anger, without a hitch. On the other hand, John Beck's character IS that jock, and while the polar opposite, he was just as good, bringing to mind that old-school pro wrestler appeal. Finally, the last character that actually matters is John Houseman as Bartholomew, the corporate head that runs the Houston team and thus the one Johnathan has been dealing with. Like the other two, I loved how he was portrayed here. Sure, he's the closest thing to a villain we have, but he's not really an evil man, he's just a part of the system and acting in what's in the best interest of it.

Rollerball is not a fast-paced movie. Sometimes, it's almost dull. With that said, it's a movie you'll be thinking about long after the credits roll. Any film that can accomplish that serves its purpose beautifully. 9/10.
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