Rollerball (1975) Poster

(1975)

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The original and still the best of the genre
raysond13 January 2004
This film is a classic. A brilliant adaptation of the future and that is way better than the updated version that John McTiernan released which to this day cannot hold a candle to this science fiction masterpiece that was released in 1975. The year 1975 brought out some of the best movies of that year and some to this day still holds its own. From "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest",to "Jaws","Shampoo",the rock musicals "Tommy",and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to the performances of "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" to "Dog Day Afternoon",and not to mention "Nashville" and the sequel "French Connection II",and "The Eiger Sanction",these films represented what a year it was in motion pictures especially in the year 1975.

The film "Rollerball"(United Artists,1975),was screenplay by William Harrison and directed by Norman Jewison,who was Oscar nominated for his brilliant direction in such films,"In The Heat Of The Night",and the musical "Fiddler On The Roof",is no stranger to science fiction material. The film is set in the year 2018 where there are no wars and no crime,but there is only....the Game. In a world where corporations rule and no one asks questions-the vicious and barbaric sport of Rollerball satisfies the violent impulses of the masses. Tuned to their televisions,the people watch the sport of the future which is a brutal mutation of football,the Romanesque gladiator fighting,motorcross and hockey. Jonathan E.(played brilliantly by James Caan) is the champion Rollerball player-a man too good for his own good. The corporation has taken away the woman he loves(Maud Adams),but they won't take away his soul even if the diabolical corporate head(John Houseman)tells him he'd better retire..or suffer the old-fashioned way.

With some surrealistic imagery,Orwellian theme,and tense action with some of the best action sequences ever filmed,this picture will grip you from the moment the ball rolling out and zooms into the stadium to its chilling cilmax,this movie has haunted audiences as it takes a look into the future and what the future would become,and has a stunning effect. James Caan's performance is something to marvel at and John Houseman's performance as the diabolical corporate executive is a chilling and stalking cold and with some of the strong support from its cast including John Beck,Moses Gunn,and Ralph Richardson.

The 1975 version is worth seeing..it is the original and still the best of its genre...Don't even bother with the 2002 version with was directed by John McTiernan.
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Action-packed and insightful.
grendelkhan24 July 2004
Rollerball is another of those great 70's cult sci-fi films. It features a great cast of actors and a smart script. It was notorious at the time for its violence, although that was greatly exaggerated in comparison to some professional sports and entertainment. It features a futuristic reimagining of the Roman Empire, with gladiatorial games to distract the populace from their bleak existence. It also predates cyberpunk literature, with ts depiction of a world controlled by powerful conglomerates, a world not too different from the present one.

James Caan is fantastic as Johnathan E, the Michael Jordan of Rollerball. He continues to succeed in a sport designed to show the futility of individual effort. The sport is constantly changed to stop him, yet he continues to overcome every obstacle.

John Housman is electrifying as the head of the Energy Corporation, owners of the Houston Team. He has conspired with his peers to keep the masses down and use this sport to both distract them and show them that the individual can't succeed. He grows more desperate as Johnathan E defeats his schemes. He tries every trick without success.

The supporting cast is filled with great actors, like Moses Gunn, John Beck, Sir Ralph Richardson (not John Gielgud, as one reviewer stated), Maude Adams, and Shane Rimmer.

The film demonstrates that the individual can triumph over insurmountable odds and cautions against corporate control of society. It uses both allegory and speculation beautifully, and packages it with thrilling action. The remake was destined for failure because it couldn't see beyond the action. The action was only window dressing for the greater themes. If only more recent sci-fi films were this thought-provoking, or other films for that matter.
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9/10
As remote from the average film-goer's awareness as 2001: A Space Odyssey
uds314 March 2002
In deference to Stanley Kubrick himself and the wondrous achievement that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is, was and forever will be, I do not speak of ROLLERBALL in the same breath. Having said that however, here is a film that although lacking the scope, budget and monumental depth of its compatriot, is a totally brilliant piece of film-making, equally awesome in its implications and social comment. Norman Jewison created a masterpiece with Rollerball - understated, misunderstood and undervalued both at the time of its release and later. Perhaps ultimately to its its greatest benefit - the release of the plebeian 2002 re-make which will stand for all time as the most nauseatingly insulting and tastelessly gratuitous reminder to recall the original with perhaps more relish than might otherwise have been the case. No purpose in re-hashing the plot - anyone reading this will already know it. Suffice to say, James Caan's Jonathan E stood for that most basic of human principles - the rights of the individual! As John Houseman, the corrupt and ubiquitous head of the all-powerful Corporation that owns and operates ROLLERBALL inc worldwide, tells Jonathan at one point, "Rollerball was meant to demonstrate the futility of resistance, no man was ever intended to become bigger than the game." This was a society (set in 2018) with media censorship in place to such a degree a centralised computer stores the worlds' entire literary knowledge (physical books being a thing of the past as in FAHRENHEIT 451. Marvellous interspliced sequence with Sir Michael Redgrave as keeper of the world's centralized computer to which Jonathan is drawn, seeking answers to questions he was never supposed to ask. You have to really watch and LISTEN to ROLLERBALL to EXTRICATE from it, what the makers are offering you in terms of reflective contemplation. So many saw the film's middle section as "boring!" So is looking at the sky if you have no knowledge of cloud formation, atmospheric beauty or even indeed WHY there IS a sky and what it means in the grand scale of things! Caan's gradual self discovery as to his own identity and purpose is hand-crafted for you during these middle scenes - THIS is what the film is about..not merely the superb action sequences which are so richly photographed and presented in that gladiatorial arena, a colosseum for the new millennium, no more no less! The highlight of the film, if you are able to see it, is the party for Jonathan E, supposedly to mark his resignation but which in fact might be seen as the Energy Corporation's Last Supper! The scenes of the amphetamine-fed yuppies, destroying the trees with the flame-gun has always made me cry, not because I'm a wimp, a greenie or even an anti lobbyist for hand guns, but because of what those terrible scenes stand for and bring to my own emotional recognition...a directionless society that we are right now so unerringly headed for. Look at the expression on the face of Jonathan's ex-wife as she comes to realise where its all gone wrong - not just for herself but for them all. Now tell me this is boring!!!! As has been recognised by some fellow critics, the absolute last scenes of the movie are perhaps the greatest. The point being less subtly made as we see Houseman staring through the glass at Jonathan E, the last man standing, his corporate outline encircled by the reflected flames on the track - hello? does anyone understand this? One of the greats! Watch this film...don't just see it!
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Underrated 70's film
JeffG.19 November 1999
This movie presents a dark, disturbing look at a possible future. The movie portrays a cold, sterile society where humanity is generally absent. Corporations run the world and the global pasttime is a violent sport reminisent of the Roman Coliseum. The rollerball scenes, which get more and more violent as the film progresses, are disturbing enough. Equally disturbing is a scene where a group of drunk partygoers blow up trees with some sort of gun. The citizens of this future society are really lacking feeling and humanity. Despite the film's dated look, it's still a future that seems quite possible.
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8/10
You can't watch it, you can only re-watch it...
nico_wabe3 August 2001
This is a film that demands repeat viewing. When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to just fast-forward all the slow, `talkie' scenes to get to the action. We couldn't understand why the whole film wasn't just composed of game sequences (a criticism also leveled by at least one reviewer on this site).

Now, having just watched the movie twice in a night, the second time with the director's commentary, I have finally got to grips with the scenes between the action, and discovered that I like it more than ever. The view of the future is not highly original; tipping its hat to the stratified societies foreseen by Orwell and Huxley, amongst others; but nevertheless the portrayal is engaging. Jewison astutely realised that only by filling in the image of the future society, the characters, and the political background against which the tournament unfolds, would the game be seen as truly REAL for the characters. In the meanwhile, he also has the chance to build suspense, upping the stakes for both the heroic gladiator/combateur Jonathon, and his would-be puppet master Bartholemew. In this way, when we come to watch the actual contests, our enthusiasm is whetted, and by making the rules progressively more dangerous with each passing game, the stakes grow ever higher.

The central themes of the movie are (i) loss-of-soul/nihilism/sensual-vs-spiritual-happiness, and (ii) individuality vs state control. Perhaps the best scenes elucidating these themes are the famous `tree killing' scene, and the conversation between Jonathon and Ella in the forest. The use of imagery and metaphor is widespread; I will mention only the terrific concept of the roulette wheel as game arena, with the players INSIDE, instead of outside; and the Circus Maximus parallel. You may draw many interesting conclusions from this about the director's and writer's intent.

My final word is: watch it once, soak up the action, and be bored by the rest. Then view it again, feel yourself in Jonathon's dilemma, experience his wrenching disappointment with the people in his life who betray him, and try to tear yourself away if you can as he is pushed inexorably to his fate in the arena of ROLLERBALL.
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10/10
Controlling the beast within
patrick.hunter26 July 2000
Why some people have called this film shallow, I will never understand, considering it focuses on character more than most all sci-fi films, especially those action ones made today. Not surprisingly, the recent remake dwelt more on action than character, and perhaps it's significant that director Norman Jewison normally avoids making science-fiction films.

Also, I personally don't interpret ROLLERBALL as an anti-sport drama. It doesn't attack sports per se as much as violence. In his audio commentary to the DVD, Jewison, like many Canadians, admits he's a hockey fan, and once, while witnessing a game get bloodily out of hand, he was inspired to adapt Harrison's marvelous short story.

All in all, I think of the movie as a plea for all of us to find our own basic humanity (and those who say the film lacks humanity really baffle me). In our present competitive world, where the U.S. speed limit is 65 MPH but everyone drives 75 or faster, this motion picture reminds us to control the anarchistic, power-driven beast within.

To offer one example, in its final scene, Jonathan E is about to murder the last opposing team player...but relents. If the film were truly anti-sport,then I think Jonathan would drop the ball and leave; he would mock the game as Mandy Patinkin's character does hockey at the end of SLAPSHOT. Instead, Jonathan E still plays it: he baskets the ball to earn his point because, though he may have touched his humanity, he still retains the drive to win and the thrill of the game. Unlike other--often more sentimental and simple-minded--anti-sports dramas, ROLLERBALL represents the positive aspects of sports (such as ethical aspiration, etc.), while at the same time its negative aspects (such as triumphalist violence, etc.). Afterwards, as the crowd roars, the film might have concluded with a standard, comforting triumph-of-the-human-spirit message, but instead it freezes on a deliberately distorted shot of Jonathan with Bach's portentious music indicating what awaits. Yes, he may be a winner today, but in this world, where the corporation is everything and the individual nothing, his future is dim indeed.

A shallow film? Nonsense! I think this movie taps into ones humanity more than most of the sentimental tripe hyped as significant drama these days.
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8/10
An Action Classic With Brains!
Dan1863Sickles14 March 2005
I first saw this movie on HBO at the age of 14 and I sensed immediately that it was a classic, a combination of action, sports, sex, and social commentary. All the years of viewing other films have only made me more and more appreciative of this movie's many strengths.

On one level, I believe this is the best sports movie ever made. It is miles ahead of more "realistic" films like NORTH DALLAS FORTY or SEMI TOUGH or even critical favorites like COBB and EIGHT MEN OUT. The very fact that Rollerball is a make believe sport adds believability to the action sequences. Watch a baseball film and you can see at a glance that Robert Redford or Kevin Costner are not real athletes. But since rollerball has never been played, James Caan as Jonathan E really looks like the best in the game. There are no "clichés" like home runs or long passes to spoil the danger and excitement -- every crash and goal is new, never having been seen before. And there are no clichés about the fans, the athletes, or "win one for the Gipper" or gamblers or shady ladies trying to make Our Hero throw the game. From the beginning we sense the stakes are higher -- Jonathan E will either conform or die.

That brings up the fact that ROLLERBALL also shares a central theme with a lot of other powerful movies, like FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, COOL HAND Luke, and even A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. What happens when a uniquely gifted individual refuses to participate in a corrupt system? This movie is so powerful as a drama you hardly notice the sci fi trappings. The rugged action scenes are so real you hardly notice that rollerball is a make believe game.

James Caan as Jonathan E turns in a sensitive, nuanced performance, deliberately underplaying the tough guy side as much as possible. Michael Beck as Moonpie is the foolishly overconfident one, playing Frank Sinatra's Maggio to Caan's Robert E. Lee Pruitt. But unlike the hard luck privates in this man's army, these rollerball stars get to have glamor, luxury, and unlimited sex between vicious games of rollerball. The movie captures so much sensuality and glamor that you can see why men risk death game after game to be known as "great rollerballers who bash in faces." This movie is spectacular -- an action classic with brains!
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8/10
What do Bach, Princess Ardala and Fiddler on the Roof have in common?
rooprect4 October 2012
At first glance you'd never guess the same director who did the wonderfully charming "Fiddler on the Roof" would turn around 2 years later and do the dark, dystopian chiller "Rollerball". But he did.

But in both films, we see the same powerful strategy: a complex, philosophical brain-twister beneath a deceptivly simple exterior. "Fiddler on the Roof" was seemingly a linear story about a struggling Jewish family's good & bad times. But the real meat of the story was about the conflict between old ways and new (tradition vs. progress). Here in "Rollerball" we have another seemingly linear story about an athlete in a violent, futuristic sport. But the real meat is the conflict of brutal human nature vs. suppression (again, a sort of "tradition vs. progress"). As with "Fiddler on the Roof", director Norm Jewison doesn't hit us over the head with any preachy sermon but instead leaves us to digest the situation.

"Rollerball" has the same powerful, brooding quality that we see in many of the 70s scifi masterpieces, like "THX 1138", "Soylent Green", "Planet of the Apes", "Blade Runner" (yeah I know that one was 1982), and the one that started them all, "2001: A Space Odyssey". Cold, sterile sets, disturbing situations and powerful use of silence characterize these films. By today's standards they might be considered slow, but depending on how you like your scifi, that might be right up your alley.

In a nutshell, the story is about a futuristic society that has largely done away with civilian violence. It has done this by "subsidizing" violence by way of a global pasttime: a hyper-violent sport called Rollerball. Note: as a parallel story, we learn that cut-throat corporate competition has been similarly squelched by the government creating monopolies. And thus society finds peace. Or does it? You can probably see the brilliant metaphors being woven here. This isn't an ordinary scifi romp, it's a powerful socio-political allegory. It cuts to the heart of human nature the way the great writers H.G. Welles, Mary Shelley and George Orwell did. No, you won't see a lot of laser battles, spaceships and aliens. But here you'll see an excellent example of what scifi was designed to do: comment on our current human condition by creating a fictional (extreme) scenario as a cautionary tale.

Excellent, and I mean EXCELLENT performances by James Caan (The Godfather, Misery), John Houseman (The Paper Chase, The Fog), Maud Adams (3 James Bond films), Moses Gunn (every 70s TV show from Hawaii 5-O to Shaft), and a particularly gripping performance by Pamela Hensley (Princess Ardala in "Buck Rogers" homina homina) make this an all-star powerhouse of 70s talent.

The music deserves a special mention of its own. From the opening notes of Bach's Toccata in Dm (the creepy "Dracula" theme) to Albinoni's haunting Adagio in Gm (check it out on YouTube... saddest song ever), "Rollerball" doesn't hold back.

They don't make 'em like this anymore. But there are a few modern scifi films that come close: "Moon", "District 9" and "Solaris" come to mind.

If you liked the films I mentioned in this review; if you liked the 70s classics "Catch-22" and "Coma" and "Stepford Wives"; if you like films that are both entertaining and works of art, do NOT miss Rollerball.

For laughs, after you watch Rollerball (1976), check out the remake done in 2002 ...and see how far we've come :/
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Dated Look But Top-Notch Filmmaking
Jubal283 August 2001
"Rollerball" is one of those classics of sci-fi that I somehow managed to miss for all of my 30 years. Whilst browsing the local store, I found the DVD for ten dollars and figured I had nothing to lose -- to rent it, if I could even find it on DVD, wouldn't cost THAT much less.

I had some vague notion of the storyline, but I tried not to read the case or liner notes and take in the movie on a first impression. Released in the summer of 1975, there are definite and readily apparent influences of earlier films, not the least of which being Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange." The colors, the film stock, the editing style are all reminiscent of that earlier, similarly-themed master work, yet I don't believe it detracted from this film at all.

Supposedly set in the year 2018 (though this is never established in the movie, that I could tell), corporations have replaced governments and managed to eliminate war, poverty, disease and bad hair days. People don't have too much of a say in what goes on around them, but they're all very physically comfortable. Of course, the violent nature of the human beast must be satisfied, and it is -- in the gladitorial ring of the world's most popular sport, Rollerball. The game consists of two teams (from cities all over the world) skating and motorbiking around a 1/8-mile track, trying to get a steel ball into a goal. As the course of the season progresses, more and more limitations as to what constitutes fair play are removed, and by the final, the melee is total.

James Caan plays the Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana of Rollerball, Jonathan E.. He's the biggest star in the world, but he's also a thinking man, and when the corporation which owns his team wants him to retire, he refuses, wanting to know first why they'd want him to retire when he's playing at his best.

The rest I leave to the viewer to find out. I can only say it is a very well-crafted script with plenty to say about violence, the spirit of the individual man, and the bloodlusts that a happy and idle populace can muster. Very well-filmed with touches of brilliance in editing and framing.

A detraction which really couldn't be helped involves the portrayal of the future. Director Norman Jewison couldn't know what the world of forty years in his future would be like, so he took the wise route of not making it all that different from 1975, but with subtle changes (such as the interesting but impractical "multivision" concept in which all TV sets have a large screen and three smaller screens above it, each showing different but related pictures). The result, though infinitely preferable to lots of neon and superfluous antennae, is that the place looks like 1975 with slightly cooler gadgets. I can't tell you what 2018 will look like, but it won't look like that.

Interestingly, the "corporate inevitability" concept of the future, which I believe Jewison meant earnestly, plays out much more as a satire of the opposite, a communist world. Much of what the coroprate culture says, as personified by John Houseman's Mr. Bartholomew, sounds much like the rhetoric of communism -- people are fed and comfortable and happy, but the individual is beholden to the group at all costs. Indeed, some of the words of description of the culture seem lifted straight from Marx and Engels.

The DVD leaves something to be desired, though. The picture is a lot dirtier than I'd like, especially in still-shot scenes. The color is muted, though this may be part style, and some shots seem positively muddy.

The remastered 5.1 soundtrack is a disappointment. The rear speakers get very little play. One particular effect of note, I must concede, is one moment when you can hear the ball roll all the way around the arena, and it's as though you're standing in the center.

In all, it's an excellent movie, which I can't recommend enough, but if the disc had been any pricier than it was, I would have felt as though I was somewhat taken.

Perhaps after the release of the upcoming remake, there will be a better special edition.
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9/10
Genius is energy
krorie8 October 2006
This much neglected futuristic film from the 70's deserves a second look. Like "A Clockwork Orange" the amoral violent future "Rollerball" showcases is in reality a projection of the amoral violent present at the time of its creation. The movie lampoons the dress, fashion, and look of the 70's decade, spoofs the Texas cowboy ethos of the period, and takes jibes at the deification of athletics, in particular football, which dominates American culture and to some extent world culture. Comparisons can be made between Rollerball mores and the mores of the hedonistic Romans where humans were gnawed to death by hungry animals in the arenas and gladiators fought to their deaths in the Colosseum as crazed spectators cheered and slobbered as they ate their daily bread. "Rollerball" even foreshadowed the political correctness of the 1990's with the generic Bach-like Corporate Anthem played before each game.

When the film was produced, roller derbies were hot items on TV and attended by large gatherings of blood-thirsty fans who egged on the pugilistic elements participating. Jim Croce even had a hit record parodying the game, "Roller Derby Queen." Add bikes, spike-studded gloves, the roller ball, change a few rules and there's Rollerball.

One of the more interesting elements of "Rollerball" is how it differs from the futuristic societies depicted in the two classics, "1984" and "Brave New World." Rather than Big Brother watching you, an anonymous board of directors who run a corporate global conglomeration rule the world. No one, apparently not even their spokesperson, who is also the manager of the Rollerball team, Bartholomew (John Houseman), even knows who the directors are. The vote is taken via closed circuit TV. A soma-like substance is taken to induce dreams and visions but is used sparingly, unlike in Brave New World. And instead of book burning utilized by traditional totalitarian governments, books are hidden away. The only way to read one is to view a summarized and sanitized version, à la "Reader's Digest," on a computer.

Acting honors go to the consummate Thespian John Houseman as the corporate spokesperson. His facial expressions alone convey what few actors can communicate with all their skills. James Caan as superstar of Rollerball, Jonathan E., gives one of his best performances on the big screen. John Beck incarnates a Houston redneck appropriately named Moonpie with all his pride and prejudices. The weakest part of "Rollerball" is the lame attempt at romance in a nondescript relationship involving husbands and lovers. Therefore, the women roles are ill defined and not well written. The only important part for a woman in "Rollerball" is when a pistol is used to set trees ablaze making the depletion of the rain forests seem like child's play.

The story concerns Rollerball idol of millions, Jonathan E., who for some unknown reason the corporate ladder orders to retire at the height of his career. The big game between Jonathan's Houston and Tokyo is coming up to determine the world championship. The global conglomerate suspends the penalty rule and limits the substitutions making it a fight to the finish. Disobeying the command to leave the game, Jonathan E. puts total effort into winning, even causing a small riot of the Japanese fans. Will Jonathan survive his assault on city hall (the Conglomeration), or will he die in the quest?

The dazzling camera work by Douglas Slocombe with emphasis on icy white interiors and cold shades of white exterior structures delivers the images director Norman Jewison intended. The angles and movements during the games as well as the closeup shots enhance the viewers enjoyment of the action scenes.

Oh, and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is as mesmerizing as ever.
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8/10
A flawed gem of a film that nonetheless makes great viewing.
mkm-hermanjnr4 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Rollerball is an intriguing film that makes excellent use of symbolism, dialogue, aesthetics and decent all-round performances to convey a chilling message, yet a message which ends on a high note and not a depressing one.

In the future, there are no wars and no crimes. The whole world is ruled by a multitude of faceless Corporations (which all seem to be part of an even larger whole), and apparently exists in a state of utopia - almost everyone lives in luxury without poverty, disease or famine.

There is a dark side to society however - both the violent tendencies and thirst for entertainment of the populace are subjugated by a violent blood sport known as "Rollerball." The game takes place in a large domed stadium, around a banked circular track. The players all wear skates and various items of protective clothing (none of which are truly adequate for keeping them safe). Some players on each team are allowed to ride motorcycles (futuristic looking mopeds) which of course is extremely dangerous.

Added to the mix is the heavy metal ball, which is fired at high velocity from a gun at the beginning of play, and nasty spiked gauntlets. This all adds up to a recipe for destruction.

Indeed, the game is designed to kill the players, with the rosters for each team constantly changing - the game is designed by the Corporations not only to keep the masses entertained, but also to make them realise that individual effort and thought is futile, and so keep them suppressed.

Jonathan E (played convincingly and with feeling by James Caan) essentially breaks the purpose of the "sport" by living through a ten year long career, apparently the longest ever, and becoming a superstar whose name everyone chants. He is loved by the people and is a shining example of the individual's triumph over the system.

This obviously makes him a thorn in the Corporation's side, and so they attempt to get him to retire. When he refuses, they use everything in their power to force him to do so.

The film has a surprising number of themes and symbols for its at first simple appearance - and has many moments that are sad and thought provoking.

One of my favourites is the scene in which a group of drugged-up revellers use a futuristic weapon to destroy large, aged trees for no reason at all other than for a quick jolt of mindless entertainment.

Somehow the scene, which could have been boring or confusing, manages to be a grotesque and almost horrific symbol of the excess of such a society.

The 1975 imagining of the future also manages to avoid feeling dated. Even the old grey panelled computer banks are believable - many supercomputers today look very similar still.

The action sequences feel believable and brutal, in a way I enjoy them far more than the CGI-infested stuff in almost all films these days.

My one criticism of the film is that occasionally the themes of the film are unnecessarily laboured, and some scenes are a little slow as a result. This clumsiness takes a little impact out of the punch of what would otherwise be a fantastic film, but ultimately the depth is there more when it isn't being obviously stressed.

People over than Jonathan and his teammates are also almost universally cold and unlikable, but there is a deliberate point to their characterisation.

Finally there is the ending. I won't spoil it here, but it is a masterpiece of tension and ends the film on a real feeling of hope. Even though we don't see it, we get the impression that Jonathan may be the one individual that spurs the rest of the world into action. I highly recommend the film to anyone who fancies a film that is both viscerally exciting and yet has room to toy with deeper and darker themes.
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10/10
Insightful and Brilliant
sbox24 September 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers Ahead:

While most of us worried about nuclear war between capitalists and communists, Norman Jewison and William Harrison depicted a future of corporate monoliths which ran society. War and poverty were abolished and the masses need for bloodlust was satiated by the gladitorial sport of Rollerball.

Jonathan E. was the champion of "powerful Houston," the "energy city." The "executives" around the globe, fearing Jonathan E.'s popularity decide to set him up for the fall, the rest is the plot of the film.

What strikes me is how insightful this film was. I know many people who live where their corporation tells them. Congratulations, you are going to love Columbus. And they go! As for Jonathan E., it sounds like an e-mail address to me (e.g. JonathanE@www.corp.com). In addition, all information in the film is kept on a central computer. Sounds like modern servers to me. I personally know people who buy books based on their appearance, not content (i.e. "that book will look nice in my new bookshelf").

The drama and acting by Caan, Adams, Houseman, et. al., make for a top shelf film. Why they are remaking this film, I haven't a clue. The original is par excellence. I should hold back, but I won't. Rollerball ranks 10 out of 10.
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7/10
"There aren't any rules at all!"
classicsoncall1 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Watching "Rollerball" today provides an interesting perspective if you've been around say, since the 1950's or so. Every time I see a picture that has relevance to the present day I have to wonder whether the film makers were making a futuristic statement or were simply reacting to their times. When this picture came out in the mid-Seventies I would never have given a thought to the threat of globalization by a handful of dominant world bodies like the U.N., or corporate entities like RCI Energy, the company depicted here sponsoring the Houston rollerball team. But here we are, and the threat of statism and global governance has never been more palpable.

At the core of the story is Jonathan E's (James Caan) fierce determination to find out why he's being forced out of his starring role with the Houston team. As his team owner Bartholomew (John Houseman) makes clear, the elites at the top make global decisions for the greater good. That greater good requires allegiance to an authority that keeps the masses subjugated by means of a classless society whose attention is diverted by a game in which the rules constantly change. Jonathan E poses a threat to a society in which individual effort must be extinguished and never rewarded. It sounds a lot like liberals versus conservatives to me.

Rod Serling took up this theme in a number of his Twilight Zone episodes, and those were done in the late Fifties/early Sixties. I'm thinking of a couple of stories that tread on similar ground - 'The Obsolete Man' and 'Eye of the Beholder'. The whole idea of conformity and group think is one that just drives me crazy and yet we see it every day with stuff like reality TV (which isn't) and the growing chasm between the major political parties. The film that really makes the point came out a little over a decade later, and if you want a real good two and a half decade sneak preview of where we are today, check out 1987's "The Running Man".

One quick observation before I close with this film. In the opening minutes of the picture, the scoreboard for the first rollerball match is shown being set up for the game between Houston and Madrid. You don't know that at the time, and all you see are the graphics 'HOU MAD'. By the time the story's over, I had to think, 'HOW MAD' indeed.
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9/10
This film is the don/Ubermensch.
foolfm8 December 2004
I thought id right this as some other comment said it was disappointing, and i had to put them straight.

This is a flawed masterpiece, yes. But still a masterpiece. The slow bits that other commentators point out are in contrast to the super fast game scenes. And what a Dirty Little Game it is.

But hey thats life, I think this ranks up there with 1984, as one of the few films that realistically depicts life as it really is.

I think the strength and ultimately the weakness of this film is the simplicity it achieves.

Strength, as usually a film with this sort of scope becomes rather convoluted and philosophical; but this film uses some visually stunning symbols and very little dialogue - remember those fools who say that there is no depth of character, this film is based in the world of "the last man", where everyone is a weak victim of the state, they don't have any depth of characture. Thats the point, the state has achieved its ideal.

Its weekness, as people don't get this film (people generally don't get many films), as in the case of Donnie Darko, but DD is so obviously complicated people think that they are missing something. With this film blink and you miss it - its so simple people don't see its masterful and sublime use of symbols. Also you get the feeling the directer thought his film would be banned for glorifying violence, so he made a special effort to hammer his point home(take the losing an epoch scene).

And at worst think its some film about violence. I first saw this film when i was 14, and it opened up my eyes to the use of symbols and structures in films. Watch it, it changed the way i view films and life.

Not an exaggeration.
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10/10
Would this be the future?
Lee Eisenberg5 December 2005
Coming out as it did right after the Vietnam War ended, it seems that "Rollerball" accurately reflected the sense of cynicism - inherent in the idea of dystopia - that had taken over the country. It portrays a corporate future in which the only entertainment is an ultra-violent sport called Rollerball. The thugs who have taken over are able to use this sport not only to control their players, but also to control the population. But one player, Jonathan E. (James Caan), is seeking to change all that...

Aside from looking at the use of violence for entertainment, "Rollerball" also employs some interesting camera angles (mainly in the zooms). Apparently, director Norman Jewison got part of the inspiration from "A Clockwork Orange"; you can certainly see it here. A great movie.
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7/10
The Action Scenes Are Good But The Message Is Heavy Handed
Theo Robertson7 August 2013
In 2018 corporate capitalism has abolished war , sickness and poverty and the masses of the human race watch Rollerball a violent sport . The world's greatest star of the sport Jonathan E finds himself being manipulated by a global corporate company

Believe it or not after THE GODFATHER films were released it wasn't Pacino or DeNiro who was going to be the biggest star from the films but James Caan . As ridiculous as it may seem now you can understand that his manly , rugged all American physical features would be ready made for New Hollywood unlike the somewhat ethnic background of Pacino and DeNiro . As it turned those two Italian Americans became two of the greatest actors of their generation while Caan quickly disappeared in obscure forgotten films like FREEBIE AND THE BEAN and THE KILLER ELITE . This film by Norman Jewison ROLLERBALL was probably Caan's career highlight

ROLLERBALL is another dystopian science fiction film popular from the period where the future vision of humanity has seen the upside where war , illness and poverty has been eradicated . The downside is that with it individuality and democracy has effectively become a thing of the past too and world is ruled not by democratically elected governments but by corporate companies who control the population by giving them what they want but on the corporate terms

This is a persuasive idea and one that's not really exaggerated . George Orwell described sport as " War without the shooting " and as someone who grew up in the west of Scotland I can testify that most peoples obsession revolves around two football clubs Rangers and Celtic who attract a lot of sectarian pond life and there's a blackly comical joke that there's only six letters in the West of Scotland alphabet - IRA and UVF , so the idea of corporate companies controlling the masses wasn't a ridiculous idea when this film was made

The problem is that the message is a bit too heavy handed to be entirely credible . It's true that people belong to tribes and this never truer than where sport is concerned but you have to think why would a sport like Rollerball make headway in to Europe or South America where football or soccer as it is known in America be the world's most popular game . Likewise would Rollerball be popular in the third world like Africa or Asia or any failed state ? The more you think about the premise collapses that the concept of war and poverty has been abolished

Where the film works best is the scenes of the game itself . I'm not entirely sure what the rules of the game are but it's certainly an exciting sport that might best be described as " carnage porn " . Director Jewison tries hard to make the game scenes spontaneous via the use of editing and sound mix and probably tries a bit too hard to make it appear spontaneous but the action scenes are exciting and it's this that makes the film a success . Compare it to the wimpish remake from ten years ago to see what I mean
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This is an excellent, unique movie.
mrosen-121 June 2001
This movie uses the characters of those involved in the game to question the wisdom of a supposedly perfect society where corporations rule. The corporations use the game as an opiate for the masses and to show the futility of individual effort, but the force of will of the main character shows how wrong that is. The effects and the game were remarkably well done for the time, and the characterizations are very good. Highly recommended.
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10/10
The music of this version makes the movie
jwysack8 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
One late night while staying at a friends house babysitting their kids, I was flipping through the movie channels looking for anything decent and came across this movie.

What immediately struck me was the music that was chosen - the writers chose some of the most darkest and haunting music ever written by the great masters - who could teach some whippersnapper kids a thing or two about writing music.

As another reviewer pointed out already, this version makes total sense and the remake doesn't at all. It was like the people who did the remake had to try and out-do EVERYTHING the original did with disastrous results. Had I not known the rules of the game from this movie, the new version would have been even worse.

My favorite scene in the entire movie is at the end where he survives everyone and then picks up the ball and stuffs it in the goal. It is totally quiet and you hear a loud CRANG, the scoreboard then adds to the goal total, and then he starts skating around while the crowd starts chanting - first very lowly and then louder and louder his name. He builds up a huge head of steam as he whips faster and faster around the track, and then goes right for Bartholomew.

In one of the most brilliant moments in cinema, they don't show him actually attacking him - instead they freeze him in mid-flight as he leaps into the stands and they fade out and then the music starts to "Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor" by Bach. You undoubtedly have heard this piece on Halloween and they don't credit it, so you don't know what organ player they used, but it is HAUNTING. You can literally feel the creeping doom as they roll the credits and the music continues until the piece is complete which is over 8 minutes long.

It's the touches like this that make this version much better than the remake. The remake reeks of badly done heavy metal and lacks any punch whatsoever and they even changed the ending.

I was so taken away by the music I went out and bought a performance of "Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor". And for you "so called" keyboard musicians out there, if you can play THAT piece on a real pipe organ and play it properly, then I will give you your due. It is the most technically complex organ piece ever written ( try 9 simultaneous parts which each finger playing a part plus your foot playing pedals ). For writing and performing this piece, Bach was nearly permanently exiled from his job of music director at the church and the equivalent today would be every employer blackballing you and not giving you a job. It's amazing given what the church thought of it that it survived.

I didn't sleep the rest of the night - that music haunted me until daybreak due to that movie. I thought this movie was far scarier than anything I had ever seen - it totally freaked me out and then add that music to it - they should have left this movie alone.

Hopefully you can get a copy of this version as opposed to the new one, don't even bother with the new one - it's not even worth the 5 cents it cost to make the disc.
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10/10
Intelligent vision of our possible future
Darnoc15 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What is "Rollerball"? An action movie? A science-fiction movie? A social-critic movie? I guess a bit of everything. And it succeeds on every level. It is an action movie for its well made action sequences, but it is also a sci-fi movie and at the same time it is a critic of our society, especially the society we have today which comes nearer and nearer to what is described in "Rollerball".

Yes, "Rollerball" isn't really about the game and the action. "Rollerball" is about the worth of individuality and individual effort and a warning about not letting higher powers in the economy take our freedom away. "Rollerball" is about a globalised corporate society and why this isn't good for humanity. Guess where we are today... Right, in the globalised corporate society. Or at least almost. They just have to abolish the governments now.

Therefore "Rollerball" is not a film about violence or just a stupid action flick, it is a deeply philosophical and sociological films. One could also say that it is about heroes, for what are heroes than individuals who stand out from the masses in a positive way? Freedom cannot be achieved through collectivism and that is where Karl Marx got it all wrong.

And that is where we have to watch out. For our globalised, capitalistic, free-market-society can easily lead to oligarchy and dictatorship of the rich. I even fear that this is almost the case in the USA. Both ways can go wrong. Capitalism is good, as long as there is really a competition and when it doesn't go to far (for then we have oligarchy and predator capitalism). Socialism is good, as long as it only protects the individual from exploitation by other individuals and doesn't try to control everyone (for then we have totalitarian socialism).

"Rollerball" gives us a warning. Best we take it seriously, or else "Rollerball" might come true.
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Far superior to any "future sports" film that has been made since...
mentalcritic15 April 2003
...and that includes its own remake. Rollerball circa 1975 chooses a much more logical starting point, to begin with. The game has been in existence for a good decade or three, enough so that a firm sense of its purpose in society can be created. It is here that the writers of the 2002 remake so utterly failed - they didn't realise that the game itself only existed to move the greater plot along.

In this unspecified point of the future, nations no longer exist. In their place are corporations that control every aspect of human society. The upside to this is that citizens have everything they need to live - food, energy, a place to work, and so forth. The downside is that they are not allowed to seek any knowledge the corporations don't want them to have, and they must accomodate every whim of the corporation's executives or risk serious consequences. Rollerball star Jonathan E, as played by James Caan, knows this all too well - his wife was taken from him by one of the corporation's executives.

The game known as Rollerball fits in as a sort of enforcement of these rules. As Jonathan is told several times, the corporation masters created the game in order to demonstrate that individual effort is futile. They also make it pretty clear that above all else, no one player can become bigger than the spectacle of the game. But because these same corporate heads have given Jonathan too many reasons to not believe in them anymore, he is determined to defy them, regardless of the cost. He is told by the head of his team to retire or suffer the old-fashioned way. One of his star pupils gets it in the neck, and yet he still persists until the grand final, where almost all the rules are discarded.

Unlike the 2002 production, where one announcer contradicts himself in the description of the rules within three minutes, the 1975 production had a clearly defined set of rules that became self-explanatory as the game went on. So much so that the players could play the game (minus the well-staged attempts to kill one another, of course) in between takes. The difference this makes is obvious in every single frame. The simulated matches make sense, the tactics that each team use are very distinct (and they make sense), and Jonathan E's story makes sense.

You might wish to skip this paragraph if you haven't seen the film. Go get the DVD and watch it, it is well worth it. The ending is another major point where the 1975 original shows its superiority to the 2002 remake. After all the fuss about the game being created to show individual effort as futile and how no one man is allowed to become bigger than the game, Jonathan does just that. After a match in which the corporate masters do everything shy of giving Jonathan's opponents chainsaws in order to ensure he will not survive the game, he not only survives, but he refuses to descend to the level of the game by killing the last opponent, despite the fact that this is the same belligerent idiot who was rejected from Jonathan's team for not being able to follow his instructions. Unlike the remake that had to end in a typical action film style, the original ends with Jonathan putting the ball in the goal and doing his victory laps as the audience chants his name, signifying that not only has he become bigger than the game, but that the audience has regained their humanity as a result. A truly satisfying conclusion, and not a single Hollywood cliché in sight.

I also like the manner in which Jonathan's thirst for knowledge is suppressed by his corporate masters. Instead of simply denying him the reading materials he seeks, he goes to the one big computer that stores all the knowledge and records, and asks it who makes the decisions in society. Said computer throws a hissy fit, and it soon becomes clear that nobody knows who is truly in control of this society except they themselves. The party at which Jonathan is supposed to announce his retirement on a previously recorded television show is a good example of this. The guests wander off into the forests, shooting down trees with what looks like a really powerful flare gun, and the night rolls on with everyone drunk on their belief that there are no consequences, or that they don't have to face them.

The sad thing about Rollerball is the same sad thing about the real Black Sabbath's music - that it has grown more relevant to our society as time has gone on. We are told to recycle our packaging material, so we put it in seperate bins with no idea of what actually happens to it. We are told to filter our water or install taps that restrict the amount of water we use, but little or no research is done into the simple chemical process to create synthetic water. All it would take now is a sport or a game show in which the losing contestant is killed, and we'll have the beginnings of a Rollerball society. Here's to hoping that things might stop where they currently are.
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10/10
Tremendous and so underrated.
jackbenimble8 October 2011
I can't understand why this film only has 6.5 stars. It really is an incredible piece of film. It has everything and it is so unique. The action sequences are superb, I mean, like you're really THERE. Absolutely riveting. The acting is brilliant. The story is really great and really has so much to say and is so relevant today like with MonSATAN taking over the world's food supply. Just as a piece of social commentary it excels. I'm lost for words really. Just that this film really ought to be right up there with the all time greats with an 8 point something rating. I guess people either don't get it or they need to be TOLD it's great before it becomes great for them. Shame.
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The Original "Extreme" Sport
madcap00713 June 2003
This movie is outstanding for several reasons. The first being, it's view or "guess" at the future. This film was made in the 70's, and takes place in the "future." Rather than the usual post-apocalypse scenario, or the trite "there is no violence in the future" theme, there is little in the film (other than clothing and hairstyles) that dates it as a 70's film. The concept of giant corporations becoming more powerful than governments is nearly a reality today, some would say. The sport of rollerball itself is no more dangerous or extreme than many events televised on ESPN2 or FOX sports today. Don't think I'm going overboard here. This is not a masterpiece or anything. However, it is FAR superior to the recent remake and holds up very well in contemporary times even though it's over 25 years old. As you watch the movie, think about this: can you imagine how much fun those stuntmen had while practicing for the movie? I have no way of knowing, but I'd be willing to bet that there were several "real" games of rollerball played by those guys, and I bet they had a blast! At last check, the DVD was available for $9.99, and it's well worth every penny.
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